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The bock brewing season in Germany has historically been from December to May. The Germans start with bocks in December, move to Doppelbocks in February and March and finally to Maibocks in May. Bock, in its original form is a dark, strong and malty lager. Flavors are developed by using a decoction mashing process which uses different temperatures for different amounts of time to convert different enzymes in malt starches (that’s a very brief overview of decoction mashing). Bocks typically have a long boil which, in conjunction with decoction mashing, give the beer deep caramel and melanoidin flavors.
It’s no coincidence that Maibocks are great in May. They are lighter than traditional bocks or doppelbocks, coinciding with the onset of spring and summer. Maibocks were originally brewed to aid in the transition from the strong beers of lent and the summer beer garden openings. Maibocks are relatively pale, strong and malty lagers with a greater hop emphasis than any other bock bier and are drier and slightly fruitier than other bocks.
There are some good maibocks out there, but you won’t find them gracing every liquor store shelf like an IPA. The better versions have a light toasted aroma with a little spiciness on the nost and are a deep gold color with good clarity. In general, the flavor is dominated by pilsner malt with little caramelization, some spicy hoppiness, a little bitterness and a moderately dry finish. These are medium bodied beers with healthy carbonation. The best versions, in my opinion, are Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Smuttynose Maibock, Ayinger Maibock, and Victory St. Boisterous. I’m drinking one of these right now.
It’s important to note that Dead Guy ale from Rogue uses ale yeast in their maibock. While this is not a traditional approach, it shouldn’t be surprising. American craft brewers have been tweaking style guidelines for years with much success. If you’re looking for traditional maibock start with the Ayinger, which is German and delicious.