Consequently, brewer Elias Pilcher was recruited from Einbeck to shore things up. He introduced the first Einbecker style beer in 1614, a strong beer dubbed “maibock,” keeping with the pragmatic tradition of brewing and aging in winter for release in spring. The exact personality of the brew is lost in time, but it was nonetheless a cross-pollination of Einbeck and Munich brewing. An impressive new brew, it incorporated the indigenous preference for bottom-fermentation and light hopping, and helped differentiate the original and Munich versions. These rough parameters played perfectly in Bavaria, generating further interest by other brewers, including the development of dark bocks using fuller-colored Munich-style malts. The word “bock” was ironically not used by the Einbecker brewers, but was instead coined to designate these beers with a shortened version of “Einbeck” in the Bavarian dialect.
The maibock of Hofbräuhaus is still touted as the original (while Einbecker’s is hailed as the May version of the ancestral bocks), and is ceremoniously tapped in late April each year as the cool weather of early spring flows into the mildly balmy days of late spring. How does the original compare to those of today? Beer considered pale prior to the advent of innovative malting techniques would not have the same connotation as it does today. These innovations that came in the early 19th century led to finely-tuned shades of malt, tailored to fit the precise preferences of individual brewers, and the birth of modern beer styles such as Vienna, Oktoberfest, all of the pale lagers, and of course, today’s maibock. We can surmise that the deep golden and light amber maibock encountered today has paled somewhat over that time course. It was once one of the more purely seasonal beers, released during early and mid-spring, but some are produced year round today. Either way, it is by nature something of a transitional beer, and this puts it squarely in that territory of something not too strong, nor light, but rather a substantial and satisfying brew that straddles and expresses the finest virtues of either side.
Brewers are always faced with the task of finding the perfect measures to balance nuance and signature notes, balance that could not be more important in a beer than it is in maibock. There are minimal gravity requirements for bock in Germany, and for maibock, 16° Plato (specific gravity 1.065) is the magic number. To make a beer of that strength, while still showcasing some measure of delicacy and finesse, is quite a trick. Maibock has a lean, muscular body, and soft bready and toasted malt character, as well as the brilliant clarity of lagerbier. Base malts, in the style of Pilnser, Vienna, and light Munich are used alone or in combination to create the trademark pure gold to copper complexion.
At times, these are called helles (pale) bock, stirring some debate as to whether this specifically denotes the golden version, with maibock comprising the ambers. The terms are considered interchangeable by many, though, with maibock being the more common label overall. Even in the “helles” varieties, the aroma and flavor should be full of malt, with the darker adaptations taking on the additional spicy character that comes with more intense malt kilning. Absent are the roasted and rich caramel notes associated with the dark beers of Munich. Maibock usually carries a bit more bittering hop character than other bocks, which rely almost wholly on malty overtones. A small amount of aromatic hops may also be present, with those subtly herbal German nobles a perfect pairing for the continental malts. It has been presented that Maibock and Helles Bock are merely stronger versions of Vienna lagers, Oktoberfest, or Munchener Helles, and indeed there enough different interpretations to make that statement. The extra level of potency, coupled with the range of offerings, makes these pale bocks even more appealing. Also scattered about the landscape are blonde doppelbocks, which on the surface seem to be nothing more than strong maibock. Usually though, these are brewed more like doppelbock, with scant hop rates and a reliance on fuller body, lower attenuation, and more maltiness.
In the United States, there are enough stellar Maibocks brewed in spring to pique the interest of domestic lager lovers, as well as numerous imports from Germany, including Einbeck. The true measure of the style, would be to drink them fresh in a biergarten in their homeland, amid a perfect spring day, fresh from the conditioning cellars.