Citizens, I submit to you that my fellow residents of the Upper Midwest are arguably better able to appreciate a good Maibock than anyone outside Germany, from whence this blonde scion of the lager family hails. We sit at a similar latitude, where the sun rises late and sets early during the winter, and the long hours of dark are compounded by cold temps and bleak skies for months on end. Before Seasonal Affective Disorder had a name, before vitamin D supplements and trips to Puerta Vallarta, there was Maibock.
Maibock is actually the youngster of the Bock family. What we now call Traditional (aka, dunkel or dark) Bock has a pedigree stretching back many hundred years, at least to the days of the Hanseatic League. The paler Maibock (which you’ll also find year-round under the name helles or blonde bock) had to wait for the advent of Pils malt in the mid-1800s to be born.
The beer will be golden, crisp, and flowery, perhaps with a youthful tang of sulfur. Instead of Pils malt, some of the darker iterations of Maibock use part or all Vienna malt—orange instead of gold, toasty instead of flowery, a bit more rich than crisp. There’s no substitute for the character a good German malt gives this style. I especially like Best Pils and any of the floor-malted offerings from Weyermann, but there are many good domestic options these days. Rahr Pils is great, or check out Briess’s limited-release GoldPils if you can find it.
But whatever the color, the idea of a beer built to welcome the spring is a good one. Maibock is brewed with a sunny color and relatively forward hop presence in anticipation of milder, greener days, but with a strong beer’s alcoholic fortitude out of respect for a climate where the average last frost can fall pretty close to Memorial Day.
Honestly, we sons and daughters of the Northland need a good half-liter of cheering the hell up at that time of year.
Sterling Pounder Maibock
Targets: OG: 1.067, IBU: 30, SRM: 6–8, ABV: 7.3%
This Maibock recipe is just one of 64 witty and detailed homebrew recipes originally published in Michael Dawson’s debut book, Mashmaker: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home. A limited number of print copies are still available and an e-book version is available here.
11 lbs. of either Pils or Vienna malt (or a 50/50 mix!) Pils will make for a deep gold Maibock, Vienna will come out pale amber.
1 lb. German Munich malt
1 lb. Weyermann Carahell
2 oz. Sterling
Your choice of Bavarian-style (or neutral ale) yeast—I’m using Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager
KEY POINTS FOR KEY PINTS
Malty isn’t the same as sweet! We want our malt flavors toasty and doughy, not sickly sweet. Balance the malt with good attenuation through mash temp and yeast health.
In all things balance: German hops are traditional, but many of their American-bred descendants like Sterling perform very well here. If you go Old World—Hallertau, Saaz, or Tradition—adjust the amount for the lower alpha acid content. This recipe is hoppy for a Bavarian lager, that doesn’t make it an IPA. 30 IBU will merely even out the scales.
Not your grandpa’s lagering schedule: Warming basement temps at this time of year put the hurt on a traditional aging regimen. Choose a lager strain that won’t throw a lot of sulfur, add a diacetyl rest at the end of primary, then lager for a shorter time at a higher temp (say, 40°s instead of 30°s), and don’t be afraid to hit it with finings.
Ale yeast workaround: If you don’t feel like going full monty with a lager yeast, try a neutral or malty ale strain (1007 German Ale or 1056 American Ale) and keep fermentation cool—as close to 60°F as you can manage.
Make a yeast starter, mill the grains, heat strike water to approximately 165°F.
MASH & SPARGE
- Mash rest: Add grains to strike water, mix to 151−153°F, and rest for 60−90 minutes. Collect and heat sparge water.
- Mashout: Heat it to 170°F for 5 minutes. Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle.
BOIL (60 minutes, while shaking your fist at the gray sky.)
- T-60: 1 oz. Sterling.• T-15: 1 oz. Sterling.
- T-0: Cool it, transfer to a sanitized fermentor, aerate well, and pitch yeast.
FERMENTATION AND BEYOND
- Primary fermentation: Aim for the low-to-mid-50s°F. When activity slows, allow the fermentor to warm up to about 60°F for a 2–3 day diacetyl rest, about 10−14 days total.
- Rack to a secondary fermentor and crash cool to lagering temps—no time to be delicate. Lager for 3−4 weeks (or longer, if time allows.) Fine as needed before packaging.
- Given its ABV, this beer will keep well for many months in a cool, dark place.