After a long, dark winter spent sipping dark beers, drinkers are finally ditching sludgy stouts and inky porters and replacing them with more sprightly beers better suited to the breezy spring. While crisp pilsners, smooth-sipping pale ales, and bitters IPAs are first-rate quaffs, there’s one seasonally appropriate style that’s criminally overlooked: maibocks.
Basically, a bock is a stronger German lager, something with more oomph than a boring Bud. Bocks come in a couple different forms. Souped-up doppelbocks (“double bock”) were originally brewed by monks, who used the massively rich and malty elixir as sustenance while fasting. (Recently, Iowa newspaper editor J. Wilson spent the 46 days of Lent subsisting on a doppelbock, aka “liquid bread.” Even burlier are eisbocks, which are made head-spinningly strong by freezing the beer and removing the ice, leaving only sweet, sweet alcohol behind. But these beers are best sipped sipped during snowstorms while banshee winds blow.
With May coming this weekend, may I turn your attention to the humble maibock. Consider the “May bock” the ideal encapsulation of the changing season. The amber-hued, generously hopped lager is nimble enough to savor while sitting in the sun, yet it remains potent enough to warm your cockles on chilly eves. There are plenty of German imports, such as the super-malty Einbecker Ur-Bock Dunkel, worth seeking out, but I prefer to spend my bucks on stellar American renditions of the style.
For starters, look to Oregon-based Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale. The bold brew smells of sweetness and citrus, with a balanced bitterness and plenty of prickly carbonation. Also excellent is Victory Brewing’s bright-gold St. Boisterous. Despite the hearty mouthfeel, the Pennsylvania-brewed maibock drinks crisp and clean, ably masquerading its heady alcohol content. Hailing from New Hampshire, the Smuttynose Maibock is complex and full-bodied, with a gorgeous nose of grass and caramel.
But my favorite celebration of the maibock style happens on the first Sunday of May (this weekend!) in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. There, you’ll find the annual Sly Fox Bock Fest & Goat Race. Uh, goats? I’ll explain: The original bock was brewed in the 14th century in the German town of Einbeck. The Bavarian pronunciation of einbeck is ein bock—a billy goat. Thus, many bock beers’ labels proudly feature that creature. Taking that concept to the extreme, Sly Fox hosts a rollicking, daylong bash featuring brewmaster Brian O’Reilly’s lineup of bocks, doppelbocks, eisbocks, and a marvelous maibock that’s named after the race’s hooved winner.
Don’t fret: Even if you can’t get to the fest, you’ll still be able to get your goat this month.