Raise a glass to spring

The days are longer, the air’s chill is nearly gone and a lacey blanket of delicate greenery covers the earth. Spring is here, and it’s time to replace the hearty brews of winter with the tantalizing beers of the new season. Revel in this season of renewal and celebrate as our ancestors once did with solemn ritual activity: raise a pint of seasonal beer! The advent of spring is a wonderful excuse to sample a few splendid spring brews.

We’re well into the season for Biere de Mars, meaning “beer of March” in French. Small farmhouse breweries in northern France traditionally fermented these beers in cool cellars in the early winter, resulting in an ale with the smoothness of a lager. Modern versions that stay true to the original yield fruity, spicy aromas and flavors. For a Michigan interpretation, seek out Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales’ complex Bière De Mars, with just the right touch of sweet-and-sour funkiness.

Like much in the world of beer, the most famous springtime beers originate from Germany. Known as bock beer or bockbier, the name for these strong brews derives from the German word for goat, possibly because these beers are traditionally brewed in December and January, under the astrological sign of Capricorn.

Reminiscent of dark toffee both in hue and flavor, doppelbock or double bock beers are potent and intense. Salvator Double Bock Bier from Paulaner is a well-loved example with a rich history. In the early 1600s when monks produced this beer, a brother would offer a mug to the visiting duke and dish the local lowdown. The label of this creamy and full-bodied temptation keeps this tale alive; crack open a bottle next time you’ve got some heavy news to convey or a balmy evening to enjoy. You can take your pick.

Maibocks are another harbinger of spring. Mai simply means “May” in German, and Maibocks are often released at May festivals. Typically lighter in color and more assertively hopped than a standard bock, Maibocks have a pronounced maltiness and feature a sturdy alcohol content. This year, I sampled Mai-Ur-Bock from Einbecker, a classic that’s laden with flavors of caramel and honey.

Seeking out a domestic Maibock, such as the Blonde Double Maibock from Stoudts Brewing Co. in Pennsylvania, is a worthwhile endeavor. This crystal-clear, 7% ABV beer has an earthy bouquet and a buttery smoothness with an insistent honey flavor. True to the traditional style, the alcohol heat is detectable but certainly not overwhelming. Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Company’s version is a Mardi Gras favorite with a mild, toasty flavor and substantial malt profile. Other widely available Maibocks include rich and hearty Dead Guy Ale from Rogue Ales and Sierra Nevada Pale Bock, with just a hint of citrus. If you love bocks, don’t stop here; wheaty weizenbocks and knock-you-down eisbocks promise further liquid gratification.

A warm spring afternoon almost begs for a sharp, fruity, thirst-quenching wheat beer; this is where weizen (wheat) and weisse (white) beers really shine. Also known as wit beers, almost every brewery has one example of this revitalizing, spicy brew. Hoegaarden from Belgium and Germany’s Schneider Weisse Original and Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier are classic examples, but an exploration of wheat beers from America and abroad will surely take you on a very long and refreshing journey.

I suppose this wouldn’t be an article about warm-weather beers in a Michigan-based publication without a mention of Bell’s wheat beer, Oberon. While Bell’s Two Hearted is a staple in our house, I’m not an Oberon zealot; still, I welcome its arrival, as the sun-emblazoned tap handles sprouting up like crocuses in the snow are a sure sign that spring is here. This ale pours a hazy deep gold with swirling sediment and a thin, clingy head. Very faint citrus and wheat aromas are corroborated by the flavor, which ends with a slightly tangy finish.

Breweries in Michigan and beyond present their own unique spin on spring-inspired brews of all styles. For example, Dragonmead offers Tafelbier Lager, a classic German-style lager, and New Holland’s Red Tulip ale celebrates both the season and the flowers that accompany it with a smooth caramel flavor buttressed by hints of fig and dark cherries.

Whether it’s a weiss, Maibock, or maybe a fruity Lambic or light Kolsch, usher in the season with your own welcome-to-spring brew. Many seasonal beers are only available on draught, so seek them out at your local pub or brewery, and enjoy these selections in the beer gardens now opening like the fresh young leaves on the trees. But it won’t be long before summer beers are crowding out the fresh brews of spring, so seize the day and seize a springtime beer.

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Revue magazine, written by Brenda Cooke (still my “real” name at that point, not just my pen name!).


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Before I became a beer nut, I used to think Mad Hatter was the nastiest thing on earth. But hops flavor has grown on me, and it no longer gives me bitter beer face. Oberon is good for a crowd, but our house too loves two hearted. DH brews a knockoff that is super yummy.

  2. I can only imagine how those home made breweries thrived back in the day. And their beers must have been really strong too, making our bud lights taste like water.

  3. Glad to see someone who enjoys what they do. Keep it up!

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