DCP’s guide to spring beers
By Kevin J. Gray
Photo: Consecrator is a Midwest-brewed doppelbock true to its German roots; photo: Kevin J. Gray
As the snows thaw and the weather warms, brewers turn from imperial stouts, winter warmers and barleywines – staples of cooler months. Instead, out come the spring seasonals. Unlike fall, with its Oktoberfests and pumpkin beers, or winter, with its holiday ales, there is no single style that defines a spring seasonal. Instead, there tends to be a wide variety of styles for the spring. The Brewer’s Association – the leading craft brew industry group – suggests offerings: maibocks, Irish stouts, red ales, Biere de Mars and wheat beers.
Maibocks are a seasonal variety of Helles bock, a German malt-forward lager. Maibocks are clean, with little hop presence, although malt and hops mingle in the finish. Ayinger Maibock is a classic German version of the style. Pale gold in color, it has a slightly fruity aroma and a smooth, complex finish. Rogue Dead Guy Ale is a ubiquitous American version of the style that can be found in most retail establishments. Rogue’s offering is a bit maltier than Ayinger, with caramel notes and slightly more hops.
Missing from the Brewer’s Assocation list, but worth a mention, are doppelbocks. These beers are stronger versions of bock beers. According to legend, the monks at St. Francis of Paula, a Munich monastery, originated this style. The fasting monks relied on the malty, rich brews for sustenance during Lent. Paulaner Salvator is the classic version of the style. Doppelbocks tend to be larger beers. Salvator clocks in at 7.9 percent ABV and is rich and malty, with bready hints.
Bell’s Consecrator represents a Midwest version of the style true to the style’s German roots. Consecrator is also rich and malty, with slight hints of grain. Note many doppelbocks end in “-ator” as a nod to Salvator, thought to be the original commercial version. Also, look for labels to be adorned by goats. Although the name for bock beers is a corruption of the name of a German town, the word “bock” also means “goat” in German.
Skip the green beer this St. Patrick’s Day and pull a craft or import. Two styles, Irish stouts and red ales, have become synonymous with the Celtic celebration. Irish stouts are black as night, but surprisingly light in flavor for such an opaque beer. These beers are also known as dry stouts and get their coffee-like notes from the roasted barley used in the mash. Guinness Irish stout, with its iconic cascading tan head, is the number one pick for an Irish stout. Shockingly low in alcohol (4.2 percent ABV), Guinness is a good pick for day-drinking on your favorite Irish holiday. Want to break from the norm? Look for a Murphy’s Irish stout. Murphy’s is a little sweeter than Guinness, with a little less of the tangy bite at the end, and is lower in ABV (4 percent).
Red ales, or Irish reds, tend to be less rouge than their moniker implies, with an amber-to-deep-reddish copper hue. These beers are malt-focused, with caramel notes and hints of grain and toffee-like flavors. Smithwick’s Imported Premium Irish Ale will be available in most pubs on the drunken holiday, but it can be a bit lackluster. For a better option, try Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Conway’s Irish Ale. The Cleveland-based brewery makes a rare standout in the Irish red category by brewing a complex, malty beer with ample caramel notes. Hoppier than most other Irish reds, the bitterness accentuates the underlying caramel malts and the toasty, toffee-like flavors.
Looking for something a bit wilder to usher in the season? Seek out the under-appreciated Bière de Mars. Bière de Mars, literally “March beer,” is a seasonal version of the Bière de Garde, a style that originated in the rustic farmlands of northern France. Bières de Mars are golden- to light-brown in color, with a toasted malt flavor and low- to mild-hop character. Some earthy, funky flavors may be present, as some brewers add brettanomyces, a strain of wild yeast, into the mix. The Jolly Pumpkin – based in Dexter, Mich. – Bière de Mars arrives each spring. Expect some oak and a light, barnyard scent in the nose, with a pleasant tartness in the finish.
Finally, wheat beers are a summer staple that are equally refreshing in spring. There are a host of wheat styles, but generally wheat beers are brewed with 30 to 60 percent wheat in the grain bill. Wheat adds roundness to the beer and a slight bite to the finish. Belgian witbiers blend coriander and orange flavors, complementing the smells of spring – but skip the Blue Moon and go for something local. Try Warped Wing Ermal’s Belgian Cream Ale, a mash-up for a Belgian witbier and a traditional cream ale, best enjoyed at the brewery, where you can gaze on downtown through the large garage door that will be open on warm spring afternoons.
Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balance, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com