Munich as Einbeck
Though Munich had brewed for centuries, it was not held in high regard relative to Europe’s other brewing centers. In fact, a good portion of the beer consumed in Bavaria was imported from the north. Saxon craftsmen migrated south over time, and these Einbeck-inspired brewers improved the quality of the beer in Bavaria. So enamored were the Müncheners, that they hired a bräumeister from Einbeck (one Elias Pichler) to teach them how to craft the wondrous beer of the north. Munich was on its way to brewing fame.
To this point, Einbecker beers were not known as bock, but the name was given to their ilk by the Bavarians, probably as a corruption of the name “Einbeck.” Munich had achieved some brewing prowess during the 17th and 18th centuries. Its beers were darker than those of Einbeck, and the stronger versions of those were now called bock. Doppelbock was invented in Munich by St. Francis of Paula monks as a sustaining, fasting beverage and it emerged as a hefty, separate style. The Paula monks introduced their Doppelbock to the public in 1780, and today’s incarnation is known as Paulaner Salvator.
Where does this leave Maibock/Helles bock as a style? It’s safe to assume that all bocks 200 years ago—Einbecker or Münchener—were fairly dark, with the former being a bit lighter. But they were not nearly as pale as today. In fact, no beers were really pale in Continental Europe until the first part of the 19th century. At that time, pale malt was developed, and lighter lager styles of today (pilsner, Munich helles, Vienna lager and Märzen) came from this revolution.
Bock beers, collectively, are perhaps more associated with seasonal beer than any other family of beers. Traditional bocks were brewed to be consumed in the winter, while the stronger doppelbock was made for the early spring/Lenten period. Missing, however, was a similar beer, suitable for the late spring and summer, leading into autumn…the domain of festbiers. While it’s tough to pinpoint the exact origin of maibock, it is generally accepted that the paling of bock coincided with the general trend of chic pale lager production in the mid- to late-19th century.
The vacuum was filled by the Hofbräuhaus of Munich, which produced the first Maibock for annual May Day celebrations. The brewery deftly took advantage of the public’s infatuation with pale beers by making a strong lager with the maltiness that Munich was famous for. The urtyp (original version) was born, and soon many German breweries latched onto the beer and the appeal of the seasonal release.