Maybe it's just breweries running out of things to do. Maybe it's an attempt to tap into an older market. Maybe all of these breweries have simply found old recipes lying around and didn't know what to do with them. But, the fact is, there has been a resurgence in old recipes. For example, Miller has dug out the "original" recipe for Schlitz. August Schell, celebrating its 150th year of brewing, is producing a series of Anniversary beers based on old recipes (available in draft only). Potosi Brewing Museum has (re)opened in Potosi, WI in a brewhaus that's been there since the 1860s - it also has a brewpub where patron can sip original recipes. Fauerbach, a Madison-based brewing company dating back to the late 1800s, has resurrected and is brewing pre-macro lagers, including a "bock" that is based on an original recipe.
And finally, it wouldn't be a trend unless Leinenkugel's jumped on board, Leinie's has jumped on board. Leinie's is releasing an "original" 1888 Bock recipe. It will be available from January to March 2009. They probably wanted to celebrate its 121st Anniversary. Call me skeptical, and really, I hate piling on Leinie's because Leinie's really isn't as bad as someone who reads this site might think, but I am really skeptical on this one. First, why now? 121 years later? Can't wait four more years and at least call it 125 years? Where was this recipe 21 years ago in 1988?
Second, any old American recipe that is billed as a bock is immediately suspect in my mind: while they were called bocks, they bear little resemblence to what we would now think of as a "bock" and they bear even less relation to true German bocks of the time (decoction mashing, moderately high ABV, continental hops). One of the things we noted in our review of the Fauerbach Challenge, another revitalized bock, was that while these beers were called bock, problems with logistics prevented the use of high quality grains that don't (or didn't, or weren't) grow(n) in Wisconsin (e.g., 2-row barleys), and that these beers were supplemented with grains that did grow well in Wisconsin, like corn. For this reason, it was difficult to attain the moderately high alcohol levels common in bocks (typically 6.3-7.2% ABV - by the way, Leinie's claims that this one weighs in at a mere 5.1% ABV). Not to mention the falling out of favor of brewing practices like decoction mashing and the use of noble hops.
That doesn't make them bad beers, they are what they are, but they aren't bocks. And now, Leinie's is claiming that this recipe, allegedly from 1888, not only uses all 2-row malted barley, but caramel and chocolate malted barleys and cluster hops? I refuse to believe, without proof, that Leinenkugel's was using cluster hops (by the way, not a noble hop - not to mention a malted barley like chocolated malt) in 1888. The fact is, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin is and was in the middle of nowhere - Leinie's would have had a very difficult time sourcing such high-quality raw materials at a time that not only predates the highway system, but cars and modern transportation logistics that could have kept a cluster hop anywhere near fresh.
So, we have a beer that is called "1888 Bock" that is, in all likelihood, neither brewed in 1888, nor a bock. Great marketing on that one, Mr. Secretary.