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Your Guide to Seasonal Spring Beers

A SPRING MENTALITY
Spring is the opening of life after a long season of cold and hibernation. The first moment your senses are tickled with the fresh aromas of spring air, you are jolted. It’s an intense experience for me every year. Spring is a time of excitement–of paroxysm, and I think spring beers reflect that eagerness.. the perfect compliment. Winter ales always strike me as spicy and heavy, like a thick blanket, but spring beers are a step outside, if you will. They are crisp, floral, like citrus–so lightly alive like the scent of new leaves on the trees or flowers in bloom. Here’s a list of beer styles perfect for spring:

MAIBOCK
There are many styles of bock beer, but this beer, the Maibock, is made specifically for the transition between the cold winter and warm summer.  Mai means “May” in German.   The German Beer Institute describes this beer perfectly:

“While most Bockbiers are dark-amber to hazelnut brown in color and exceedingly malt-accented, the Maibock is brewed entirely with pale malts for a warm golden hue. It is also more aggressively hopped than others bocks for a refreshing finish. Thus Maibock, like the lusty month of May, is a transitional brew. It still has some 6 to 7% alcohol as do its wintry cousins, but its brightness and bitterness already foretell the perpetually blues skies of summer when the straw-blond Helles and the pale and spritzy Weissbier predominate.”

For this style, after much consideration (because I can’t wait to find a good maibock to enjoy this year), I think I want to try Hofbräu München Maibock. Beeradvocate.com rates this beer pretty high relative to the amount of people rating it. It has everything we want: a little malt and fruitiness upfront with a toasted malt finish and a smidge of hoppiness? Sounds delicious.

MÄRZENBIER
Here we have a beer that is medium bodied, with a malty flavor and a light hops profile. You can find a lighter (Helles) Märzen and a darker (Dunkles) Märzen. It is served in a pint glass, mug, or stein, and should be cold.

Märzenbier is as the name suggests: March beer, but the history is pretty interesting. Märzenbier use to be (1500’s) the beer used for Oktoberfest. During summer in Bavaria, the temperature was too warm for successfully brewing without air contaminants ruining a batch. To circumvent this dilemma, the Bavarian brewers made extra batches of Märzenbier in the winter for March, before summer. The stored the extra beer in cellars or ice caves to keep cold during the summer. At the end of summer, in October, when the new grains and hops are harvested, the Bavarians had to consume all the leftover Märzenbier so they could put their new batches of beer in the casks. Tada! Oktoberfest!

Since the times don’t require the avoidance of summer heat, Märzenbier made in March isn’t used in Oktoberfest celebrations. Most Oktoberfest beers are brewed for 6-8 weeks. This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the brew, though! Take this opportunity to celebrate Spring with this beer and its history.

Most labels will read Märzen-oktoberfest, but if that feels uncomfortable, Gordon Biersch Märzen is an excellent option. The Beer Advocate has an excellent list of rated Märzenbiers to try out, too.

LAMBIC FRUIT BEER
What better to celebrate the coming of summer, than with a spontaneously fermented, fruit beer. Most beer we imbibe has yeast strains specifically crafted and carefully transported for the production of beer. Lambic beer, however, is fermented by wild yeasts and bacteria in the air. The wort (the non-alcoholic, grain/malt/barley-steeped liquid prior to the addition of yeast in brewing beer) is left exposed–inviting anything. This often creates a sour, funky, and unique taste. Hops are used, but not for flavor. The hops help protect the brew from spoiling. Lambic brewers use stale hops which don’t have much taste.

Lambic fruit beers are a derivative of the original Lambic style. The fruit is added during the primary or secondary fermentation. This is exactly how fruit beers are defined here in the US when breweries add fruit as a predominant flavor to a base beer other than a lambic.

This is my favorite style of beer to enjoy when the air is starting to warm, but the crispness of spring still lingers. Whew. The first fruit beer I ever tasted was a (raspberry) Lambic Framboise by Lindemans. Tart. Sweet. I love it. It went beautifully when made as a half and half (half one beer on top with a different beer floating on top–like a black and tan). I liked to float Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout over Lindeman’s Framboise. SPEAKING OF SAMUEL SMITH, they also have a delicious Strawberry Ale which could make an excellent ale to taste during late spring.

AMERICAN “IPA”
I actually want to label this “American Pale Ale”–IPA, or Indian Pale Ales were named because extra hops were added to the pale ale for preservation during the long trek from India to England. I digress. I choose American IPAs specifically, because American IPAs are so hoppy compared to English IPA’s. The smells of fresh hops are floral, citrus-y, intense, and, personally, intoxicating.

When we brew beer in our kitchen, we use Cascade hops, and I love to just sit and take in the scent. These beers capture that invigorating aroma, and despite my distaste for the bitter-ending IPAs leave me with, I keep drinking them. My favorite this year is Rude Parrot IPA by Seven Seas Brewery. It’s an all-around intense American IPA that is enjoyable beginning to finish.

DOPPLEBOCK
We’re going to start and end this list with bocks.

During spring, Catholics celebrate Lent, a time for fasting. In the 17th century, Monks in Einbeck, Germany decided to brew a beer to aid them through the 40 days of Lent. A high-calorie beer intended to help with their nutritional needs. Hence the creation of bocks beers. The monks, however, wanted something stronger to get them through those 40 days of Lent, so they brewed the dopplebock.

My personal favorite dopplebock is the Optimator by Spaten, or an Ayinger Celebrator Dobblebock. They are dark, full bodied, with a lightly toasted flavor–very fresh.


SEASONAL BEERS SEEM ANTIQUATED, NO?
Well, yes, but who cares? Of course, seasonal beers are no longer physically necessary. Early brewing was in part shaped by the seasons (humidity, temperature). With present day technologies in place, however, the seasons no longer play a domineering role on a brewer’s new batch of beer. Any one could brew a winter ale or Oktoberfest year round if they wanted.

Not many do want to brew traditionally seasonal beers year round, though. Breweries have an excellent opportunity to brew experimental, trial batches each season, and beer drinkers like myself love the anticipation for their favorite seasonal brew to hit shelves (which is getting sooner and sooner each year, isn’t it?).

Cold weather triggers a desire for a complex Christmas ale (and knit scarves… and Bing Crosby… and eggnog). A hot summer afternoon near water leaves me pining for a crisp pilsner or witbier. The Drizly blog, asked a deserving question, “Do these companies repeatedly force autumnal down our throats, or are our buying habits guiding their marketing behavior?”

I think we can admit both parties are the cause: our love for seasons are rooted in deep nostalgia, and any good company wanting to cater to and profit off its target consumer will exploit this nostalgia. It’s catalytic. I don’t mind, though. Breweries keep the inventory and options fresh, keeping my attention and deepening my relationship with their product. We all win.

With a fruit beer in hand, here’s to spring: to experimentation, new flavors, to fresh notes and the coming of summer. May your adventures bring new delicious spring beers your way:: Cheers!

Photo Courtesy of The Library of Congress