In the old country, beers were produced for the different seasons of the year. Oktoberfest/marzen, doppelbock and hefeweizens all have traditional places on the German beer-drinking calendar. So it makes sense that the maibock lager style has its own slot in the yearly rollout of German suds.
Here’s a little bock family background.
Bocks are generally attributed to Einbeck, a Central German town south of Hanover in an area known for cultivating wheat and barley. Einbeck also had a slightly different malting process. Instead of wetting the grains, waiting for germination, then drying them in a kiln, Einbeck maltsters dried some malt in lofts that caught the breeze, producing much lighter malt.
The lighter malt was combined with heavier doses of hops, for golden-hued wheat ale with a bitter hop kick. Those familiar with German brews might have just caught what I wrote in that last sentence. While most German beers are lagers, there are notable departures, such as hefeweizens and altbiers. Beer from Einbeck was likely of these styles.
Because of the amped-up hops infusion, Einbeck’s beers traveled well, making their way south to Bavaria. In Munich, Bavaria’s capital, the beers from Einbeck became known as “Ein Bock” or, more commonly, bock beer, due to the local dialect.
In 1592, tired of importing beer from Einbeck, Duke Wilhelm V established the original Hofbräuhaus to produce beer locally. The brewery made the typical brown beer for which Munich was known. Still, the quality was not up to standards; the Duke’s son Maximillian I decided to begin brewing only “white” or wheat beers. The lighter style caught on and in 1607, Hofbräuhaus opened another brewery to brew only white beers.
Even with a more modern brewery, Max’s brews were not equal to Einbeck’s. Brewer Elias Pilcher was recruited from Einbeck to increase quality and, in 1614, the first Einbecker-style brew was produced at Hofbräuhaus. Dubbed “maibock,” or May bock, it was a hybrid of the northern-style ales, darker Munich-style beers and southern lagering methods. At 6 to 7 percent ABV, it was a stronger version of Hofbräuhaus’ white beer with lighter hops characteristics than the Einbecker style. It was an immediate hit.
From these beginnings, bock beers expanded to include stronger, darker versions, such as doppelbock (double bock) and eisbock (ice bock). At times, you may find helles (pale) or helles bock. It’s much the same style as maibock, but with a lighter color and a sweeter, less-hoppy character.
Traditionally, maibocks are served during late spring, thus a name that literally means May beer. They are served as a bridge between the heavier beers of the cold months of the German winter and the lighter styles of summer. The higher alcohol content provides a mild warming effect in the drinker’s belly to help chase away the lingering chill of spring evenings.
Spring may be warmer in Florida than in Germany, but don’t avoid the charms of this little-known but nonetheless delightful style. Seek out this flavorful style right away before it disappears until next spring. Prost!