NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Maibock and Helles Bock are now called Helles Bock (since they were always considered the same beer anyway). The beer is now listed as Style 4C Helles Bock in Category 4 Pale Malty European Lager which contains malty, pale, Pilsner malt-driven German lagers of vollbier to starkbier strength. While malty, they are still well-attenuated, clean lagers, as are most German beers.
Maibock and Helles Bock are beers which were brewed for the transition between the severe winters and long hot summers in Bavaria.
Most beer in Bavaria is seasonal in nature and the differences between the seasons are usually dramatic.
The Maibock, which literally means May Bock, is brewed only with pale malts and may be aggressively hopped. It is usually a warm golden color with a refreshing finish.
The Maibock style still has 6 to 7% alcohol like the winter bocks, but is much brighter and the bitterness portends the coming of summer where the straw blond Helles takes over.
In German "Hell" is an adjective for light and Helles is a noun, usually used to indicate "a light one". But in Germany, light has a different connotation than in America. In Germany, light is used to describe the color only and not its alcohol content or the calories.
So you'll find that the Helles Bock is a very light beer in color with the typical bock strength in alcohol and flavor. The term Helles Bock or Heller Bock is basically a synonym for Maibock.
The two beers Maibock and Helles Bock are combined in the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines since they are essentially the same beer. And, as mentioned in the Note above, Maibock as a separate beer style has been completely removed from the current guidelines.
Both Maibock and Helles Bock are clean pale lagers with higher alcohol than most other pale lagers brewed in Germany.
There is always a rich bready or grainy malt character evident (it is a bock afterall), and there may even be some toasted notes in some examples.
Sometimes, you may find that there is some residual sweetness from the base malt. This sweetness should be balanced with higher noble German hop bitterness.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.064 - 1.072 FG: 1.011 - 1.018 IBUs: 23 - 25 SRM: 6 - 11 ABV: 6.3 - 7.4%
Helles bocks rich and full malt profile comes from the Pilsner and Munich malts used in the helles or maibock recipe. These malts produce beers that are characterized as doughy, or grainy, or even slightly toasted.
Most bock recipes contain caramel malts but the helles bock style is best brewed without and caramel or crystal malts in the grist. Adding caramel malts would throw the beer out of style per the guidelines.
Any residual sweetness present should come from the base malt used. To achieve the same effect without adding caramel malt, start with a slightly higher OG which will fill out the body some and leave just a touch of residual sweetness. Remember, these beers should never be cloying.
To keep the beer from the alcohol from getting solvent-like, temperature control is probably more important in this beer than most lagers due to the higher ABV. Use a large starter of healthy yeast as well.
Hop bitterness, flavor and aroma should balance out the malty sweetness of this beer but it should still be controlled and restrained.
These beers were traditionally brewed with a decoction mash. If you decide to use this method, try to keep the boil shorter to ensure the beer stays light in color.
Use a healthy pitch of a good German lager yeast for the best traditional character and be sure to give the beer a good diacetyl rest.
References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 and 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, the pages on Maibock and Bockbier from The German Beer Institute, The German Beer Portal for North America, and Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.
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