It’s Food Republic Grilling Month, it’s American Craft Beer Week and it’s May. If you’re looking for a beer to celebrate all three, we’ve got you covered. We’re talking about Heller Bock, strong German lager brewed seasonally for spring.
There are two kinds of traditional spring bocks, Maibock (May Bock) and Helles Bock, so before we tell you what to look out for, a little on the style itself. The styles vary based on malt and hop content. Maibock boasts a much heavier malt content, usually from Vienna or Munich malt, and has very little hop presence. Helles Bock is often made using lighter malts like pilsner malt and has a decent amount of hops. Whether amber or pale, there’s one thing to note across the board: bocks are strong — typically between 6-8% ABV.
While neither Maibock or Helles Bock are common styles in American brewing, they’re experiencing a major boost by newer breweries that focus on preserving German brewing traditionas in America. Thanks to these breweries, bock is becoming a beer we can enjoy just about anywhere in America. Here are our 10 favorites:
1. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery: Früh Bock
This Charlotte, NC brewery makes some of the best German-style lagers outside of Deutschland. It’s one of the lighter bocks on the list both in malt and in ABV, at just 6.1%, but it’s also one of the most flavorful and refreshing. It’s available at the brewery, so if you’re nearby, bring growlers; if you’re not, look for it in 22-ounce 3-packs.
2. High Point Brewing Company: Ramstein Maibock
Another brewery that specializes in German-style beer and another draft-only release worth the trip to (let the jokes ensue) New Jersey. This is an incredibly good beer. At 7.5% it’s also a strong one, though it’s hidden well in the toasty malt and noble hops.
3. Sprecher Brewing Company: Mai Bock
For a lighter drinking experience, try this blonde bock from Sprecher in Wisconsin. A two-time bronze medal winner in the Great American Beer Festival’s Bock category, it lacks the heat of traditional bocks at 6% but retains a ton of sweet, yeasty bread and caramel malt flavor.
4. Berkshire Brewing Company: Maibock Lager
Another lighter lager, this one is made with German hops and yeast from Berkshire Brewing Company in Massachusetts. Lager isn’t Berkshire’s specialty, but they’ve made a habit out of making excellent German seasonals. Sweet pale malt is upfront, with quite a bit of citrus, banana and grape fruitiness.
5. Jack’s Abby Brewing: Maibock Hurts Like Helles
Almost exclusively a lager brewery, Jack’s Abby produces some of the finest German style lagers in the country. Here’s a fine example of an extremely malty golden bock — it’s probably fair to call this a Helles, the hops really are powerful! Lots of fruitiness, especially grape, which balances extremely well with the heavy malt. At just 6.5%, it’s another easy-drinking example of the style.
6. Victory Brewing Company: St. Boisterous Helles Bock
This is one of the more powerful bocks on the list, but you’d never know it if we didn’t tell you. This golden Helles Bock from Downington, PA’s Victory clocks in at 7.5%, but is extremely smooth. It’s got a hint of German hop bitterness, a little citrus flavor and sweet bready malt flavor that really shines.
7. New Glarus Brewing Company: Cabin Fever Bock
As we noted earlier this year in our piece on craft beer’s success in 2012, New Glarus had one, um, Helles of a year. This hoppy little bock is only 6%, and it’s a bit sweeter than you might expect. The Wisconsin-style honey bock has clover honey added to the brew kettle and balances well with the malt. Sure it’s different, but that’s what makes New Glarus so great.
8. New Belgium Brewing: Hoppy Bock Lager
New Belgium made our 10 beers you must drink during grilling season piece with their Shift pale lager, but here’s another great New Belgium brew that would be perfect for your next grilling party. Hoppy Bock Lager is part of their Hop Kitchen series, and definitely holds true to its name. It has copious amounts of hops that work well with the sweet caramel malt.
9. Rogue Ales: Dead Guy Ale
This Newport, OR brewery broke the mold when it came to Maibocks, which are almost always lagered. Though different, they might be onto something, as the original Maibocks were probably ales. Rogue’s Dead Guy uses PacMan yeast and both American and German hops resulting in an amber ale with a great balance of sweet malt and spicy hops. It’s also available year-round, which is rare for the style.
10. Abita Brewing Company: Andygator
Louisiana knows how to party, and this great brewery knows how to make a perfect beer for a celebration. At the strong end of spring bocks, this one clocks in at 8%, though it drinks much lighter and falls under the unique Helles Dopplebock tag. German lager yeast and hops give it a ton of malt. Quite peppery but light fruity notes and a dry finish makes this a good sipper for the early days of sunshine.
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