While winter might still be clutching your area in an icy grip, spring is here. For beer lovers, that means finding the perfect beverage to welcome back spring and all its promises of new growth and returning warmth. Of course, this begs the question – what exactly makes a beer ideal for springtime, anyway?
What’s Spring Beer?
It seems like every season has brews dedicated to it – summer gets light, refreshing lagers that cool you off and revitalize you. Autumn finds folks gearing up for Oktoberfest and wintertime sees specialty winter and holiday beers galore, loaded down with cinnamon, cloves and honey. What about spring, though? Actually, the first season of the year really doesn’t see the same profusion of season-specific offerings. That doesn’t mean that you won’t have any options once the weather begins to warm and you have to start eyeballing the front yard to prepare for the start of grass-cutting season.
Many spring beers have a specific set of characteristics, though these vary considerably with style and geographic region. With that being said, you’ll find that the following qualities can often be found to some degree in “spring” brews:
- Light color
- Refreshing (many spring brews are lagers)
- Clear or cloudy (both styles are popular in spring)
- Bock, Doppelbock and Maibock
While all types of beer can be served during springtime, the traditional beverage brewed is bock. Bock has a storied history, particularly surrounding religious festivals and celebrations, and was widely consumed during Lent. Bock was brewed in the winter, specifically for consumption during March. Historically, both bock and doppelbock served as staples during springtime.
Doppelbock was the traditional beer of Lent, though bock was also consumed at this time. Doppelbock offered a darker color and stronger body, as well as plenty of bite. Of course, you don’t have to be a monk to appreciate the flavor and beauty of a good doppelbock.
However, there is really only one type of beer brewed specifically for drinking during spring today – maibock. Traditional bock was consumed by monks fasting during Lent and was considered “liquid bread”. With today’s completely altered cultural landscape, it makes sense that the traditional beer has also changed.
Maibock is brewed specifically for drinking during springtime, though it came about relatively recently in comparison with other bock styles. Technically, maibock really isn’t a bock at all – it’s a helles lager that is brewed to the same strength as bock (6-7% ABV). Also called May bock, maibock styles are usually associated with the month of May and the warmest portion of spring. While maibock might not be a “true” bock, it does hold to a few of the traditional characteristics of the style, including:
- Low hops flavor
- High alcohol content
It differs in that it usually has more carbonation than a traditional bock or doppelbock, and the flavor is often less malty. It’s also usually lighter in color than bocks, being gold to light amber, where bock is usually copper or brown.
Another Notable Derivative
Maibock is just one popular derivative of the bock brewing style. Another option is eisbock, a much stronger brew. Where maibock might top out at just over 7% ABV, eisbock can range from 9 to 13% ABV. It’s also made differently – the beer is partially frozen and then the water ice is removed from the brew, leaving a higher alcohol concentration behind. Eisbock usually has very little hops flavor and retains little to no head because of the higher alcohol content. Because of the lower hops flavor, this style is often rather sweet as well.
Other Spring Beers Worth Checking Out
Of course, you don’t have to celebrate the arrival of spring with a bock or bock-derivative. There are plenty of other styles out there to tempt your palate.
Guinness – While a pint of the “black stuff” might not be your first pick for a spring beer, ask any Irish person what beer they most associate with spring and you’re likely to receive this as an answer. It’s largely due to the stout’s association with Saint Patrick’s Day, though there’s never a bad time for a good pint of Guinness.
Sam Adams Alpine Spring – New for 2012, Sam Adams has produced a notable lager that will certainly wet your appetite for spring. This new lager offers many of the qualities found with traditional helles brews, but also some of the characteristics associated with bocks. It combines citrus flavors and aromas with noble hops, as well as plenty of malt and hops. It’s also unfiltered and cloudy, so don’t be surprised if you can’t see through it.
Sierra Nevada ESB – ESB stands for Early Spring Beer (not to be confused with Extra Special Bitter) and the brewery does a remarkable job in making this a very appealing brew. It’s another unfiltered spring beer, but unlike others, this brew has a significant hops presence. You’ll also find that it’s brewed following British tradition and even uses British hops, though a smattering of US hops is also used in the mix.
Other options might be more traditional, though. Fruit beers are very popular during springtime in Belgium and there’s nothing quite as refreshing as a good wit beer. Spiced beer is also popular during spring, though they’re more heavily associated with winter and Christmas in particular. Still, a lightly spiced brew can be a great thing on a warm spring day, particularly if it carries notes of citrus and ginger.
Whether spring has sprung in your corner of the nation yet, there are plenty of excellent beers out there to check out. From bock to maibock, stout to English brews, you can find plenty of options to tempt your palate. Even if winter still clutches your neighborhood in its icy fist, there’s no reason not to raise a pint of spring beer in honor of warmer days around the corner. What’s your preferred beverage to drink while welcoming warmth back to the world?