May can be a wicked month in the Continental climate of Bavaria, where Maibock (literally May-bock) was invented. Bavaria is Germany’s southern-most state, with the Alps as a backdrop.
The month of May in this region is the brief season of spring, between the last thaw and the first bloom. In Bavaria, winters are long and severe, and summers are long and hot. Springtime passes by in just a flash, with the frozen dreariness of winter — a time for heavy sipping brews — not quite a fading memory, but the tantalizing promise of summer already in the air.
The Bavarians call the time for bockbiers Starkbierzeit (strong beer season), which lasts for about six months. The first bockbiers after the new grain and hops harvest come out towards the end of November, when the weather often takes a quick turn for the worse. Bockbiers start at around 6% alcohol. By comparison, “normal” blond lagers in Bavaria — and just about anywhere else — tend to have an alcohol by volume level of about 4.5–5.2%. Bockbiers get progressively stronger during the season, escalating to a wine-like peak of 9% ABV or more (in Doppelbock and Eisbock) during Lent. Bocks then begin declining again to 6% towards the end of Starkbierzeit in May, with Maibock being the last of the bock styles.
Bockbiers also change their color during “Starkbier” season. As a general rule, they start out deep amber in the fall, turn progressively darker as the weather gets colder and then become lighter again. Maibock is the palest of the Bavarian bockbiers. Therefore, it is also often called Helles or Heller Bock (light bock).
What beer could be more fitting for that transitional time of year than a Maibock? It is still too chilly to just laze about outside in a beer garden, but it is already too bright to continue to hide indoors.
For that restless time of year, when ev’ryone goes blissfully astray, the Bavarians have created their Maibock, a beer hall brew that is still belly-warming but already gives the drinker a libelous display of an easier time to come. Maibock is as schizophrenic a brew as spring is a schizophrenic season in southern Germany. It combines — in a unique blend — the strength of a powerful winter brew with the bright color and refreshing hoppiness of a summer session beer. Also known as Frühlingsbock (spring time bock), Maibock is a happy marriage, in both grain bill composition and flavor, between a bockbier and a Helles. Thus it is just right for that gorgeous holiday that is May.
If you want to drink your Maibock during the lusty month of May as you are supposed to, you must brew it no later than March.
The minimum OG for a Maibock is 1.060 (15 ºP), but most Maibocks are around 1.064 (16 ºP) and tend to finish at approximately 1.014 (3.5 ºP) for approximately 6.8% ABV. Because the Maibock is already a precursor to the paler and hoppier brews of summer, its hop bitterness and hop flavor are slightly more pronounced than those of the bockbiers served during the depth of winter. Noble Bavarian hop varieties, such as Hallertauer or Hersbrucker, are obligatory for this brew.
Maibock, like all bocks, has a substantial body. Malty sweetness predominates from start to finish, in both flavor and aroma. Unlike the darker bockbier versions, however, there must be no toasted chocolate malt character. Use pale caramel malt as well as Vienna or Munich malts. The last two also give the Maibock its color.
For yeast, any Bavarian lager yeast will do. Because a Maibock is at the bottom edge of the high-gravity category, be sure to pitch only viable yeast. It is best to make a starter. Alternatively, if you want to play it safe, you can pitch two packs rather than one. Or if you want, you can use WLP810, a hybrid yeast that ferments at all temperatures while retaining lager characteristics.
8 lbs Alexanders pale malt syrup
2 lbs honey (any kind)
2 oz Hallertauer Hops (bittering) - 1 hour (7– 8 HBU)
½ oz Tettanger Hops (flavoring ) - last 15 minutes
Irish Moss - last 15 minutes
½ oz Tettanger Hops (finishing) - last 3 minutes
White Labs WLP 838 Southern German Lager or Safale s-23 dry lager yeast
Heat water to a slight boil. Remove from heat and add the malt extract and return to a boil. Add 2 oz. Hallertauer hops and boil for 45 minutes. Add 1/2 oz. Tettanger hops, honey and Irish Moss and boil 12 minutes. Add 1/2 oz. Tettanger hops and boil 3 minutes. Take off heat and cool. Add to fermenter. Top off fermenter with enough cold water to make 5 gallons. Pitch yeast when tempurature is about 75 degrees.