Maibock: One Small Step for Lager

Check out options from Rogue, Elysian, and Shiner.

I come from a faraway land where the biggest discussion about beer still revolves around the war of light versus Lite, a conflict I've always found moot. For friends used to pounding 10 beers a night, anything heavier than High Life wasn't an option. But as I got more and more into beer, I wanted to bring my friends—and since I was tending bar, my customers—along with me. Seeing more shades of that beautiful brown rainbow, I quickly became bored selling 10 flavors of the same thing. So I forced people to take baby steps into Germany. Bock beers became my entreaty. A traditional German bock beer is made with all malt and is dark gold-brown in color, sweet in flavor, and fuller-bodied than an American lager without being heavy. Right now we are smack in the middle of the traditional spring bock season—in particular, the month of May (Mai in German). Maibocks are slightly lighter in color than the average bock, ranging from light copper to dark caramel, and come in a lighter style marked by a slight introduction of hops, either in aroma or flavor, as well as a softer malt flavor. Maibock tastes as if Alaskan Amber and MGD had a baby. Given that the maibock style is almost indistinguishable from a heller bock, aka "pale bock," what makes a particular bock "mai" has more to do with when the beer is made or released—and whether the brewer adds the seasonal moniker or thinks "heller bock" sounds cooler. Either way, you get a style of beer traditionally made for May Day and other spring festivals. As a category, bocks get overlooked by many beer and food geeks. These beers may not be flashy, but drinking maibocks in the spring is exactly the thing to do when cooking with fresh peas and fava beans; the beer isn't so sharp that it conflicts with the über-green flavors, and it has a sweetness that goes well with these pod veggies. We can all appreciate a cold light lager, but before you fall into the on-sale 12-pack rut of barbecue season, give your relationship with beer a little oomph. These beers offer the same thirst-quenching simplicity of a typical American lager, but introduce the flavors of sippin' beers. Maibocks are a great baby step into the world of craft beer because you can fill a cooler with them and not intimidate your friends still stuck in the college-beer groove. A few brands to look for: Elysian Ambrosia Maibock: The Ambrosia may not be one of Elysian's medal winners, or hit with as much power as a pint of Dragonstooth, but I wouldn't drink anything else at Elysian Fields two hours before first pitch. This maibock is a golden brew with an almost fruity aroma, a taste like bread and honey, and a freshness on the finish that manages to be neither sharp nor clinging. Rogue Dead Guy Ale: A maibock created for the Day of the Dead (which takes place, uh, November 1). This beer is another prevalent bottle around town, well-known among many beer drinkers who care neither about its style nor its origins. Light amber in color, Dead Guy smells like fresh wheat bread and has a taste that goes from lightly sweet to lightly toasty before finishing crisply, with just a trace of hops on the finish. Spoetzl Shiner Bock: Oh, are you still on Peebers? Silly hipster, PBR is so three years ago. Meet Shiner Bock, the new suitor for the workingman's heart (and also for those of you who like to pretend). This beer, from the oldest little brewery in Texas, has really amped up its national presence over the last few years, and Shiner Bock counts for the majority of the brewery's output. A dark honey lager that tastes a little sweet, like Oroweat, with a refreshing, kicky finish, Shiner Bock served cold—and super-cheap—at happy hour is a good thing.

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