While spring in general is a great time to reach for crisp and flavorful German lagers, maibocks specifically tend to hit taps and shelves right about now. Mai is the German word for May, the month when this type of German lager was historically produced. It’s also known as a heller bock or helles bock, though we’ll stick with calling it a maibock here.
Besides the name, why are they just the right beer to get acquainted with this month?
“Germans were traditionally drinking maibock after a long winter of drinking regular bocks and brown doppelbocks. This is nice and clean and bright and it represents springtime,” says John Dean, brewmaster at Topeka, Kansas’s Blind Tiger Brewpub, which has won numerous World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival medals for its maibock. “But now we keep it on year-round and it’s probably the second most-produced beer in the brewery. It’s a fabulous beer. To just have it only in May just seems wrong.”
Maibocks are an ideal springtime transition lager because they’re lighter in color and less malt-rich than other bocks, but still have an elevated alcohol content (relative to other lagers) of about 6-7.5%. When the weather’s still cool enough to require a bit of a beer jacket but dammit you’re not going to let the first sunny May day pass without sitting on your patio, make sure to have a maibock on hand.
“In my opinion, a good bock should be nice and dry and though it’s high in alcohol, you shouldn’t be able to taste that alcohol,” says Lisa Allen, head brewer at McMinnville, Oregon-based lager brewery Heater Allen Brewing, whose Lenzbock maibock appears on draft and in 500mL bottles this month and into June. “I think that people who tend to like darker bocks, some of those people stay away from lighter styles. But this has a similar richness as the darker styles so I think it would be a good style for people who like bocks in general. And people who maybe shy away from richer styles and go for pilsners or blonde ales or helles might actually enjoy a maibock.”
So yes, everyone should like maibocks. Even drinkers who forgo lagers because they’re too malt-focused might be surprised by a good maibock. The style should display more bittering hops than other bocks, lending a more balanced finish.
“You don’t have a lot of hop aroma in this style; you’re not going for IPA, but because the body is rich and your finishing gravity doesn’t go as low as a pilsner, you need the hop bitterness to offset the sweetness,” Dean says. “Otherwise you’d have this cloying sweet beer, but a maibock is about drinkability. You want to order another.”
The last thing you’ll need to know before bellying up to the bar for one of these spring harbingers: how to pronounce it. Now that you know it’s MY-bock, go forth and conquer.