Though they were not the originators of beer, the German people embraced the drink with a passion akin to obsession. Because of their love of the stuff, beer and Germany are inextricably intertwined in the collective consciousness of the entire world. Traditions sprang up around the consumption of beer, some commonplace like bier gartens and bier fests and as esoteric as using bierstacheln.
Bierstacheln, or beer spikes, are red hot metal pokers – pubs and taverns often used loggerheads, a common tool for 19th century shipbuilders – to rapidly warm beer that was too cold. In the process, the sugars in the beer became caramelized and carbonation was decreased leaving a sweeter, smoother beer. The spikes were also used to warm up other drinks such as toddies and a unique beer cocktail known as a flip that contained beer, rum, sugar and sometimes egg and cream. Disturbingly, the spikes were reportedly used to cauterize wounds, too.
According to German beer website, was-mit-bier.de, “Beer spikes were invented by blacksmiths in the Middle Ages. If their after-work beer was too cold for them, they briefly dipped a glowing poker into it. So they could quickly bring their beer to drinking temperature after hard work.”
The best beers to use bierstacheln with are bock beers. First brewed in the northern German town of Einbeck in the 14th century, bock beer quickly became a favorite in the southern German city of Munich. Because of the differing accent of southern German speech, the origin city of Einbeck was pronounced “ein bock” a phrase that referred to a billy goat. As the heavy, malty and highly alcoholic lager grew in popularity the name stuck and brewers often included a goat on the label as a bit of visual humor.
Bock beer gave rise to several variations; dopplebock, literally double bock, is a stronger version of bock at 7% to 12%; maibock is a lighter, yet still strong version; eisbock is a version that is froen to remove some of the water and raise the alcohol content; and finally weizenbock is a wheat version of the brew.
For the purpose of beer poking, the darker versions of bock are the best as are stouts, browns and porters.
The practice of beer poking – some American breweries call it gustungling, but I could not find a translation for the word – has become something of a novelty in the U.S., particularly at breweries in the colder climates of the country.
Minnesota seems to be the epicenter of American beer poking with both Fitger’s Brewhouse and Lake Superior Brewing poking their beers for several years now. But, it was Strange Land Brewery in Austin, Tx. that made headlines when it held a beer poking in 2017.
While sticking a hot poker in your beer may not sound like something you might want to try here in the warm climate of Florida. The novelty of how it might bring new flavors from beer is appealing. Just be sure to not attempt this technique after too many beers or you may end up cauterizing yourself wound or not.
Minnesota has been ground zero for the phenomenon. Fitger’s Brewhouse and Lake Superior Brewing have been giving bocks the brûlée treatment at their joint Bockfest for some years, and just last month, Northbound Smokehouse offered patrons the chance to warm up their Eisbock with red-hot Rebar.