I don’t care what it’s called—I prefer my Maibock in the fall, which means now is the time to get brewing it! Maibock is one of the less-well-defined styles out there, so your and others’ interpretations may vary, but I like to confound expectations with this one. When most people hear “bock,” they think malt—and there’s no question this is a malty beer. But you can lean on other flavor elements to make it interesting, and—done well—the result is much more than just a “strong Helles” or a “pale bock” as style guidelines so often describe it.
Maibock (sometimes called Helles Bock) is a strong-ish German lager, generally paler in color than its “bock-ier” siblings and with less reliance on the rich melanoidin characters that define those beers. Hops are also (potentially) more prominent in Maibock, and from a conceptual standpoint, it mirrors the way we look at bières de garde: the paler versions are a bit more crisp and hoppy while darker versions lean more on the malt. The same logic holds for Maibock relative to Bock and Dopplebock. It’s a pretty straightforward style: Pils malt, some melanoidin character, some light hopping, and stronger than the other pale German lagers. Easy, right?
Yes, and no.
The mistake most people make here is to go too heavy. I don’t mean alcohol—in fact, as you’ll see, this is a pretty strong recipe; I mean in terms of the malt character. A lot of breweries use half or more Munich malt in their Maibock, sometimes even adding Melanoidin malt (or something like it) to bump up the malty notes even more. Respectfully, I think that’s a mistake. What many of these brewers are making is really just a traditional Bock, albeit one on the somewhat-pale side (though many of those aren’t—they run to mid-amber). Doing that throws away an opportunity to distinguish Maibock from the rest of the family, and when I first started brewing this I decided to recalibrate my expectations. There’s room for interpretation here: use it.
Starting with the grain bill, I do use Munich malt here, but nowhere near half. For base grains, I use 40 percent Pilsner, 20 percent Munich, and 40 percent Maris Otter. That’s right—British pale malt. The reasoning behind it is that I find it contributes a nice doughy, bready note without being heavy. Going with more Munich or Vienna malt runs the risk of bogging down your flavor profile, whereas this blend is throttled to prevent it and make it nearly impossible. Calculate your overall weight by whatever gets you to a starting gravity of 1.075: we’re going to put that alcohol to work. As for specialty malts, there aren’t any. This grist should give you everything you need. If, on your system, the beer ends up tasting a bit too dull/simple, increase the Munich malt at the expense of the Pils malt until you get to a max of 40 percent Munich and 20 percent Pils (leaving the Maris Otter alone). That should be plenty. And if it isn’t, well, make a traditional Bock instead—you’ll love it. Some people also like to add a touch of acidulated malt to add a slight lactic “zip” to the flavor (and lighten the color a touch for good measure); I don’t, but I don’t think it would hurt if that’s what you’re into!
Hops are another area where my recipe deviates a bit from the norm: I don’t use hops for just bittering. I like a moderate amount of hops flavor and aroma in this beer, but from a specific hops: Mt. Hood. It’s an American variant on Hallertau, and there’s certainly a good dose of floral in it. But it’s also relatively high in myrcene, which is generally associated with a piney/resinous flavor. The pine, floral, and bready characters mesh beautifully, especially when you add in the spicy notes from the higher ABV. I generally add a half ounce (14 grams) at 60 minutes and the other half at 15 minutes left in the boil, which—given the typical alpha-acid range of Mt. Hood—should land you in the 25 IBU range. You can go higher, but the beer should never be obviously bitter.
Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager) and White Labs WLP830 both treat this beer well, with good attenuation and a clean “lager” fermentation character.
You definitely don’t want a heavy beer, so make sure that your mash (if you’re going all-grain, but this is a great beer to convert to extract!) stays at 152°F (67°C) or lower. Unless I’m trying to build body (or making a sour), I mash everything at 152°F (67°C), so there’s no change for me, but if you’re a believer in the “lower-temperature/higher-attenuation” idea, then you might dip a couple of degrees lower. You want a lot of nice, simple sugars for your yeast to consume.
Like most lagers, you’ll want to keep this one nice and cool during fermentation. A good starting place is 50°F (10°C), with a slow rise of a degree or two per day starting on day three. Give this one time to finish up completely, though—you want as complete a fermentation as possible both to lighten the body and get a lot of good, not-hot ethanol into the beer. When fermentation is complete, package it up and start lagering: you don’t want to touch this one for at least six weeks, and I like two months.
Maibock, done well, should be drinkable even given its relatively high alcohol content (7.5 percent ABV or so, in this recipe). I find it to be a near-perfect fall beer, even if it isn’t a “liter-at-a-time” beer like its cousin, Oktoberfest. The bread, spice, pine, and floral flavor profile lends itself beautifully to pairing with fall foods, too, and makes a great companion to Thanksgiving dinner!
Maibock – it’s not just for May anymore.
And finally, I just wanted to give a special shout-out to Summit Brewing Company (St. Paul, Minnesota), whose Maibock inspired this recipe! It’s not a clone and evolved away from it in several key areas, but it was a wonderful starting point and is still one of my favorite beers—when I can get it.