Know your brew: German-style heller bock and maibock

Hands off maibock

Endo Brewing Company’s Mister Bock is one of several well-executed local takes on the maibock.
Michael J. Casey

Much like with the seminal Oktoberfest brew, märzen, there is a bit of ceremony that goes along with ushering in maibock drinking season. The first kegs are tapped at Munich’s Hofbräuhaus during the last week of April as they bid auf wiedersehen to winter and welcome the warming days of spring with a lager strong enough to withstand cooler nights but aromatic enough to match the flowering trees and budding plants outside.

Maibocks (mai-, pronounced “my,” is German for May), like other bocks (stout lagers) are malt-forward, full-bodied beers with a stronger alcohol content (6.3 to 8.1 percent alcohol by volume  than your typical helles or dunkel. The origins of the style date back to 1614, with Hofbräuhaus laying claim to brewing the first. But maibock didn’t truly take off until the pale beer craze of the 19th century. While most bocks are dark in color, maibock came at a time when the availability of pale malts changed how brewers approached beer, which is why you will occasionally find the term “maibock” interchangeable with heller bock or helles bock (helle is German for bright). Do note there is some dispute as to the direct relationship between maibock, often darker and maltier, and heller bock, paler and softer, but brewers — especially in America — like to play fast and loose with styles, often making the style suit them and not the other way around.

Back to the bock: Like those Lent-inspired doppelbocks, maibocks are strong and rich and can stand up to a sudden cold snap in the weather. But, unlike their darker brothers, maibocks highlight floral hop characteristics that keep the sweet, malty experience light and bouncy. Take Endo Brewing Company’s Mister Bock: a crystal clear golden brew underneath a loose collar of foam. Like most lagers, the nose is muted — maybe a hint of honey — but the mouth explodes with flavors of chewy bread, sweet caramel and flowery hops. It’s soft and full, and as a good lager should, has a delightfully clean finish to keep you coming back for more.

At Prost Brewing, a German-inspired brewery through and through, the maibock has a bready nose and a mouth that is a true expression of malt — slightly grainer, richer and fuller. There is a ghostly echo of potpourri on the back, like a naked tree just starting to bud. Pair it with a hot pretzel crusted with kosher salt if you’re looking for the perfect snack, roasted ham or spicy Pad Thai during dinner, and cheesecake or apple streusel if it’s time for dessert.

Maibock also pairs nicely with an afternoon of yard work. Bierstadt Lagerhaus’ Maibock is so bouncy and herbaceous you might as well drink it while trimming the hedges. Trader Joe’s Spring Prost — brewed by Josephsbrau Brewing Co in San Jose, California — aptly sports a lawnmower graphic on its six-pack.

Maibocks are wonderfully versatile. And thankfully so considering May in Colorado can contain three of the four seasons in a single week. Enjoy them while the days still sport a slight chill.