Maibock: A Light Bock or a Heavy Helles?

Style Profile by | Apr 2010 | Issue #39

Sitting alone and quaffing the most widely sold Maibock brewed in America, the daydreamer can’t help but drift toward a quagmire of imponderables. Like: Exactly what the difference is between a Maibock and a Helles Bock. And: Is Maibock, as even the normally unequivocal sages at the Beer Judges Certification Program ruminate in their darkest hours, a pale version of a traditional bock or a Munich Helles lager brewed to bock strength?

And, more immediately: How can Rogue say this delicious glass of Dead Guy Ale that I’m about to finish is a Maibock when it’s called an ale? Last time I looked, a Bock was a lager.

Why do I agonize over such things? I need to be more like Dan Gordon, the renowned California lager brewer. The first time he tasted Maibock, he was an exchange student sitting outside of his dormitory in the university town of Göttingen in northern Germany, enjoying the finest from the nearby brewing town of Einbeck.

“I loved it immediately,” Gordon said. “I never had anything like it before. It’s a very unique style, and only two or three breweries were making it at the time.” He took a day off from schoolwork for a tour of the Einbecker brewery and firmly decided, “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

No doubts, no questions, no mundane worries about the stylistic heritage of this luscious glass of strong, pale German lager. Gordon enrolled at the famous brewing school at Weihenstephan, got himself a job and launched what would become one of the world’s most successful brewpub chains, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group. “Without Maibock,” Gordon said, “there wouldn’t be a Gordon Biersch.”

I like that story: uncomplicated, certain. Which is the best way to answer some of those questions that nag me from time to time, like: The difference between Maibock and Helles Bock? None, other than the former is what we call the latter when the calendar pages turn to spring. It’s a fitting lager for the changing seasons, stiff enough to shake winter chills, yet refreshing enough for the season’s first go-round with the lawnmower. Brewed with Pils malts and balanced with distinctive Noble hops, its pale color seems a harbinger of the ice-cold lagers that we’ll be cracking open after Memorial Day.

And: A light Bock or a heavy Helles? It’s a black hole, like asking if the glass is half empty or half full. Don’t go there. Which brings us to: My now-empty glass of Dead Guy. How can Rogue say it’s made “in the style of a German Maibock” when they acknowledge that it’s fermented with the brewery’s famous Pacman ale yeast?

The last swallow from my glass is why it’s not worth troubling ourselves with imponderables. Like any decent Maibock, Dead Guy fills the mouth with a toasty, caramel flavor. Not too heavy, not too light; sweet with bready malt, but never cloying; creamy yet refreshing with a crisp, slightly bitter finish. Finish one pint, and you’ll want another.

As Dan Gordon himself discovered, it’s the flavor and drinkability that are so appealing in this style. Drink up, and stop asking so many questions.

Aroma: Bready or toasted, with no apparent hops
Flavor: Rich malt flavor in a medium body, mild sweetness with a bite of hops in the finish
IBU: 20–35
ABV: 6–7.5 percent
Examples: Mahr’s Bock, Einbecker Mai-Urbock, Hofbräu Maibock, Victory St. Boisterous, Summit Maibock, Smuttynose Maibock, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Stoudt’s Blonde Double Maibock, Sierra Nevada Glissade, Dundee Pale Bock, Capital Maibock, Schell’s Maifest, Gordon Biersch Maibock

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