the KEG (Eastern Coast Breweriana Association) Fall 2006

White Bock - It’s About the Goat Not the Beer!

By Rich Wagner

One of the things that has maintained my interest in researching Pennsylvania’s brewing history is the “lure of the hunt.” There is so much information out there, and this “history detective” gets just as excited about finding an obscure fact as the serious collector does when unearthing a heretofore unknown item of breweriana.

When I began compiling information on Philadelphia’s Jacob Hornung Brewing Company (PA 459) for descendants of the family, they put me in touch with photographs and information that might not usually surface at a breweriana show. One photograph showed a child driving a wagon loaded with small barrels that was hitched to a goat. The handwritten caption read: “1911 Albert Westerman, age three seated in the wagon. The goat was a gift to Mr. Jacob Hornung who liked it so much he trademarked his beer for it.” A.J. Westerman was Jacob Hornung’s grandson. He went on to become president of the brewery when Jacob’s wife, Elizabeth Hornung died in 1940.

Another family member came up with a three page type-written chronology entitled “Highlights of Hornung History” that included this entry for 1908: “Jacob Hornung at this time was seeking a name to proclaim the real superiority of his beer over other brews. It happened that a man with a handsome big white goat (bock) came to the brewery one day offering to sell the bock to Mr. Hornung. When Mr. Hornung saw the animal he exclaimed, ‘That’s it. I’ll call the beer White Bock.’ As everyone knows Bock was always considered a superior beer and Hornung’s was a superior beer also, so that White Bock splendidly conveyed the idea of Hornung’s superiority.”

Well, that goat looked familiar to me! I went through my photographs and found a close-up I had taken of a detail in one of Don Fink’s many beautiful Philadelphia brewery lithographs, and sure enough it was the same goat! There was something about his beard and the look in his eyes that made it unmistakable. The trademark was a portrait of the famed “White Bock,” for which Hornung named his celebrated brew that won Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition in 1912.

This got me wondering about the beer. Most of us think of bock as a dark beer that comes out in springtime. I did a little research online and found that the first bocks had actually been brewed in the northern German town of Einbeck, were made with 25% malted wheat, and became known as “bock” due to the pronunciation of the town’s name. Since the German word “bock” means billy goat, the association was a natural. In the 1600s the Bavarians brought a brewmaster down from the north to show them how to make bock beer, but the water was different and the malts in the south were darker, and so the resulting beer became more like what most of us think of as bock.

So it’s interesting to speculate on what Hornung’s White Bock Beer was really like. Was the brewery’s flagship brand the same as the seasonal specialty? Or was it a “blonde bock” like many microbreweries make today that is a little stronger but not as dark? The trademarked “White Bock” is pictured on a variety of Hornung brands including the near beer that kept the brewery in business during prohibition. After repeal Hornung’s White Bock Beer won first prize at the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association competition in Atlantic City in 1934.

And while we will never get to taste the beer or know for sure what style it was, I have a feeling it was more about the goat, not the beer.