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.
In one of our earliest lessons, we learned that Hofbräuhaus poached Elias Pichler, a brewer from Einbeck, to brew a lager that tasted like Einbeck’s bock. Well, when he finally finished that first recipe in 1614, he dubbed it maibock.
So, does maibock go all the way back to 1614 as Hofbrahaus claims?
Both The Complete Beer Course and The Beer Bible point out that contemporary maibocks, including Hofbrauhaus’, are golden to dark honey in color. Pale malts did not come into vogue until the 19th century, so Pichler’s first concoction was almost certainly dark brown, with modern maibocks likely emerging more than two hundred years later. Whenever it did rear its frothy head, maibock became a staple of cool May days in biergartens.
“A relatively pale, strong, malty German lager beer with a nicely attenuated finish that enhances drinkability. The hop character is generally more apparent than in other bocks.”
Most sources agree that maibock is synonymous with helles bock. This polyonymous beer could safely be described as either a pale bock or a helles lager brewed to bock strength.
Third Coast Review’s Take
A strong, pale lager with noticeable hop character is pretty unique, making maibock distinct without being gimmicky. All three breweries whose beers I have sampled feature outdoor patios, and I recommend drinking one outdoors this May to try for yourself.
Off Color “filled [their] mash tun to the brim with lightly toasted malt and balanced it with just enough German hops before a long lager fermentation.” The resulting amber lager drinks like a souped-up, 6.5% abv. Vienna lager.
Goldfinger is a year-old lager brewery based in suburban Downers Grove. Their maibock has a lot of character, with bright hop character up front with a clean finish. In their words, “this is a dangerously smooth beer for its elevated alcohol content.”
Dovetail’s maibock reminds me a lot of Goldfinger’s, as both combine a strong pale malt backbone with bright hop character. This “floral, honey-toned, festive” beer is extremely smooth, especially for its 6.2% abv.
We finally leave cold fermentation and explore the world of wheat ales, starting with hefeweizen.
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