When COVID-19 closed taprooms and cancelled festivals, I looked for ways to still engage with Chicago’s craft beer scene. I therefore decided to finally work my way through The Complete Beer Course. Doing so involves the tough job of sampling beers for each style the book details; I’ll balance national (and international) recommendations from author Joshua Bernstein with examples from Chicagoland breweries. Unless otherwise stated, historical background comes from The Complete Beer Course.
Pilsners sparked a global love affair with golden lagers in the mid-nineteenth century. Bavarian brewers, however, stuck to their principles. They continued brewing dark lagers (dunkel, bock, and doppelbock) for another fifty years. It wasn’t until 1894 that Spaten updated its brown lager recipe to create a malt-forward golden lager to rival pilsner’s popularity. The resulting style, Munich helles, remains a go-to style in Munich’s beer halls to this day.
Beer Judge Certification Program Description
“A clean, malty, gold-colored German lager with a smooth grainy-sweet malty flavor and a soft, dry finish. Subtle spicy, floral, or herbal hops and restrained bitterness help keep the balance malty but not sweet, which helps make this beer a refreshing, everyday drink.”
Helles is appropriately named for the German word for “light” or “bright.”
Third Coast Review’s Take
Over the course of this series to date, Munich helles is the style that has most exceeded expectations. Subtle but not sweet, it’s a session beer that rewards patience, as the delicate balance of malt and hop flavors emerges over time.
I was pleasantly surprised by Weihenstephaner Original Helles. Going in, I was worried that time spent in shipping and on a store shelf would ruin a helles’ delicate balance. I’m happy to report that this Bavarian brew was delightful. It’s exceptionally sublte, with no extraneous flavors. Weihenstephaner Original Helles is definitely an everyday sessionable thirst-quencher.
Dovetail Helles was an absolute revelation. The brewery prints “Malty, floral, refreshing” on the can, encapsulating the drinking experience in three words. While bready pilsner malt flavors lead the way, floral hop balance offers slight hints of citrus and spice. It all culminates in a crisp, easy finish that begs another sip.
Metropolitan Stromhaus Helles represents another Chicago achievement in lager brewing. While it achieves the same delicate balance as Dovetail Helles, it’s softer and creamier, with a slightly fuller mouthfeel than its fellow Northside brewery’s interpretation. Similarly sessionable, it is, in Metropolitan’s own words, “Meant to be consumed every day, and for any occasion.”