Monday, March 28, 2011

Beer Style of the Week - Spring Beers

Beer Style of the Week – Spring Beer – Week 6 of 52

We normally don’t need a lot of help welcoming in the spring, but there are those cold drizzly days where winter’s clammy grip is still felt deep in the bones. And one way sure way to counter this gloom is to sit back with some Spring Beer and let the foul weather run its course.

The Spring Beers of today are various off shoots of Europe’s Biere de Mars or Mars Beers. Several Bock beers such as Maibock or Helles Bock (from the Lager family) can easily slide into the Spring Beer family, although that style tends to find itself tapped in late May when springtime is in full blossom and the weather is warming. Geezers, (though now maybe I’m one myself by some standards) from the WW II generation were under the impression that bock meant “bottom of the barrel”. The real meaning of “bock” is literally billy goat. The name might have come about by the painful thoughts of the head-butting-like effects on the brain after a night of downing way too many amped up bocks. Another plausible explanation may be about an old pagan belief that the beer style was first brewed during the year of the goat. Traditionally, the Spring beers undergo a long fermentation of summer barley malt and fall hops throughout the winter. Spring Ales should be smooth and well rounded, as well as slightly strong (5.4% - 8.0% ABV). Double bocks and Eisbocks are a topic for a separate discussion.

A Taste of The Real Biere de Mars

Jenlain Biere de Mars – Brasserie Duyck – Jenlain, France - 5.4% ABV

750 dark green bottle. Freshness date is indecipherable.

Served in a Corsendonk goblet.

It pours a clean golden color with a snow-white head on top with loads of trailing and sticky lacing.

A refreshing smell of wildflowers spring forth. Smells of sweet malt and barn grains inch forward, as does a whiff of resinous hop and mixed fruit.

The taste is certainly in its own class. Bready malt, lightly sweet, with an edgy resinous and citrusy hop bite. A light taste of tart, un-ripened fruit cup lingers throughout.

It looks lighter than it actually is. The malty body is fairly rich, though the fine effervescence lends the illusion of a thinner-bodied ale.

This is a very refreshing brew with a clean finish. Goes well with any creamy cheeses and light poultry or pork dishes.

The Real Spring Things (German Mai Bocks)

Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock – Einbeck, Germany – 6.5% ABV

Initially this brew comes across as a tad unruly with alcohol the dominant presence, both in aroma and taste. By the second, third and fourth gulps the hops begin to assert themselves and take center stage. The amber/orange color stands alone in the beer world. I had to keep looking at it and holding it to different lights and upgrading my initial appearance rating. The flavor profiles are extremely complex, that too required a raise in points. The ample malt body never achieves a platform of its own. It instead plays a wonderful supporting role to the competing stars. The off white head’s performance is marvelous, though brief. Einbecker, by the way, is the inventor of the bock style. Because I was unsure of my ability to accurately rate this unusual style beer with one bottle, I found it necessary to drink a second. Excellent decision if I do say so!

Hofbrau – Ur Bock – Munich, Germany – 7.2% ABV

16.9 oz. dark brown bottle. Served in a pint glass

It pours a deep golden amber with a full off-white head and a smattering of lacing.

A hay-like and sweet malty aroma dominates. A faint smell of citrusy and spicy hops is in the background.

Full bodied caramel and sweet biscuity malt lays a solid foundation for the citrus and spicy hops. A slight metallic taste develops late, as does a vodka-like alcohol hit.

Supposedly, this is a taste of an original style from 1614. Nice!

New England Spring Ales

Mayflower Brewing – Spring Hop Ale – Plymouth, MA

12 oz. dark brown bottle. Packaged on Date stamped on label.

Served in a SA etched fluted glass.

It's a deep coppery amber color with a 1" fast-fading white head. Some sticky and trailing lacing.

Almost IPA-quality resinous hop nose. Some citrusy and flowery aromas vie for attention, as does a light smell of rye toast.

The taste reminds me of some rye ales at first gulp. The edgy hop bitterness gives way a bit to a honey and malty sweetness.

A very tasty brew and a nice beer to welcome in the spring.

Will pair nicely with grilled burgers and brats.

Longtrail – Pollenator Spring Ale – Bridgewater Corners, VT – 4.6% ABV

12 oz. brown bottle. No freshness date notice.

Served in a Samuel Adams etched fluted lager glass.

It pours a lovely golden amber color with a solid 2 finger off-white head and some sticky rings of lacing.

The aroma is pale ale all the way. Hoppy citrusy and dried hay smells rise out and fade rather fast.

The taste falls into the pale ale family as well.

Cutting citrus and metallic hop bitterness are ever so slightly tempered with English malt.

It's dry and lightly sweet and finishes clean.

I don't know why it's a Spring Ale. The brewer can call it anything he or she wishes, but there's nothing that shouts "Spring" about it.

Narragansett Bock – Narragansett Brewing Co. – Providence, RI

16 oz. can. No freshness date, except for some code stamped on the bottom.

Served in a tall Harpoon Nonic glass.

The color is a brassy amber with a fast-fading white head. Thin wisps of webby lacing cling to the glass.

A grassy, wet hay smell dominates, followed by a light peaty malty aroma. A mild citrusy smell is followed by slightly boozy white rum fuminess.

The malt and hop flavors are fairly evenly matched. Bready dough, honey sweetness, metallic and citrusy hop bite and a separate and unmistakable rummy alcoholic punch all greet the buds in random order. A very faint taste of orange zest peeks in.

It’s an usual bock in that the flavor profiles remain distinct and apart, even as it warms.

This is definitely one of the better beer values ($6.50 a 16 oz. sixer, no less) in the New England area.

So whatever the brewer’s interpretation of the Spring Beer style, you can see that left with many diverse choices as to how we allow the spring to run its course. As of this writing the weather remains in the grip of winter, so I’ll have another couple bocks and/or Ur Bocks.

Quote: “How much beer is in German intelligence?” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


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