Thursday, April 24, 2014

Time for the Spring Tonic

A couple of choice maibocks here today, but before we get into them let’s take a quick look at the lineage of this style.

Maibock is the baby of the bock family. It’s a German style of golden lager that came into being in the second half of the 19th century. The style is a variant of the earlier, darker bocks and is believed to have originated in Munich at a time when Bavarian brewers were just beginning to produce barley-based beers that were lighter in color. But don’t mistake this for a light beer. Traditionally served in spring and for May Day celebrations, maibock (i.e., May bock) is a rich, bold style of beer with enough strength to take the chill off during these damp, spring days. With May breathing down our neck, now’s the time to uncork this spring tonic.

Wisconsin Brewing Company's Big Sweet Life Maibock
Last week, Kirby Nelson – brewmaster for Wisconsin Brewing Company – was in town giving a talk to the Society of Oshkosh Brewers. He said that when he’s creating a beer recipe, foremost in his mind is a beer that will be balanced and amiable; one that continually invites you back to the glass. He definitely hit his mark with this one. Big Sweet Life is the fifth release from the six-month-old Verona brewery and it has Nelson’s signature all over it. The beer is brilliantly clear and golden hued with a tight, white lid of foam. A toasted bread and honey-like aroma is cut by alcohol aromatics that come off as slightly smoky (reminded me of some meads I’ve tasted). The mouth feel was lighter and sprightlier than expected, but it works well with the nut-like, toasted bread flavors of the malt. A fairly prominent bitterness rises in the finish, which I personally love. One of my favorite maibocks is Primator from the Czech Republic. That beer features a similarly assertive bitterness. I find it very appealing in this style. Big Sweet Life delivers a well-hidden 6.5% ABV; just right for beer like this. This is definitely my favorite beer thus far from Wisconsin Brewing. I’ve seen Big Sweet Life available in Oshkosh at Festival Foods and the North Side Pick n’ Save for $7.99 a six pack.

St. Francis Brewing’s Gluttony Maibock
The Saint Francis Brewery opened in the spring of 2009 as a brewpub. Its first brewmaster was Al Bunde, who just so happened to be the first brewmaster at Fox River Brewing, here in Oshkosh. Bunde has since moved on and St. Francis has moved into selling its beer around the state. Their bottled beer is actually brewed at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls, where they’re still using some of the old packaging equipment from Oshkosh’s Peoples Brewing. Lotsa connections here! OK, let’s get to the beer. Gluttony pours to a sparkling copper with a pillowy, cream-colored head. The draw is soft on the palate, with a lush malt flavor. The beer isn't overtly sweet, but caramel and soft cookies came to mind as I drank it. Minimal hopping leaves the malt to shine from start to finish. The ABV isn't listed on the bottle, but I'm guessing Gluttony leans to the plus side of 6% ABV. A flavorful, satisfying beer that’s suited for you malt heads out there. You can get your Gluttony in Oshkosh at Festival Foods where they sell it for $7.99 a six pack.

One last thing: maibocks are great food beers. A juicy brat slathered with Düsseldorf mustard would be an obvious pairing, but consider taking either of these beers with a spicy Mexican dish or a pizza thick with the peppery sauce that they do so well at Ratch & Deb's or Dr. Benzie's.

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