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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 13.0° F  Fair
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Beer Here: Maibock from Capital Brewery
Capital's version of Maibock has evolved considerably since it was introduced by brewmaster Kirby Nelson in the mid '90s.
Capital's version of Maibock has evolved considerably since it was introduced by brewmaster Kirby Nelson in the mid '90s.
Credit:Robin Shepard

The big heavy brews of winter seem confining at this point, and it's just too early to think about the stouts perfect for St. Patrick's Day. So, are you ready for the seasonal release of the bocks? This style of beer originated in the north German city of Einbeck, and the "bock" is based on the German pronunciation of the city's name. "Bock" also means billy goat in German, and that image is often used in logos and advertisements for the brews.

Bocks are traditional brewed in the winter and released near the end of the season in anticipation of spring. "This is probably my personal favorite brewing time because Maibock and Blonde Doppelbock are two beers I absolutely love to brew and drink," says Kirby Nelson, brewmaster at Capital Brewery in Middleton.

Marking the seasonal release of these beers in Madison is the legendary Bockfest at Capital, an annual event that pays tribute to the release of its well-known bocks. Bockfest has grown steadily over the years, embarking upon second decade at last year's party, drawing attendees from across the Midwest. This year, the brewery has distributed 2,500 tickets for early admission to the event from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 28, after which point access will be based on space.

The festival attracts thousands of bock fans eager for the blessing of the Blonde, with another highlight coming later in the afternoon when Nelson stands atop the brewery's roof and throws frozen chubs into the crowd. Those recovering intact fish heads get a prize from the brewery. But Nelson admits that this isn't an easy task. "Just prior to their flight I lovingly and expertly microwave them to peak explosion and dispersion texture so they pretty much explode on impact," he declares, "it's more art than science!"

What is it? Maibock by Capital Brewery of Middleton

Style: The Maibock, or Helles Bock, offers deep golden to clear copper color and a moderate to strong malty aroma. Its flavor should emphasize the malt, with only light hoppiness to create a well balanced beer. Sometimes this balance offers hints of spicy tones in the background of the flavor profile. Maibock is medium bodied and overall a very clean tasting beer that commonly ranges from 6.5% -7.5 % ABV.

Maibock as a name is a reference to the springtime serving of the brew. Its other name, Helles, is German and refers to the light or pale color, not its body, mouthfeel or alcohol content. These lagers are traditionally brewed in dead of winter and aged until spring. They lack the dark roasted malts that impart deeper bronze colors in the better known bock styles.

Background: Maibock appeared on store shelves a few weeks ago and Nelson says he hopes it'll stick around through mid-May. The brewery's version of this beer has evolved considerably since it was introduced by the brewmaster in the mid '90s. "The formula has been the same for many years, but how the grains are processed in mashing has changed to give it more rich silky body and flavor from the malt," he explains.

Capital Maibock's flavor showcases Liberty and imported Hallertau hops, which are held in balance with the sweeter tones from the malt. However, the pale color is a key distinction for this beer. Nelson remembers when he first made it he was relying on the Point Brewery in Stevens Point to help with bottling. When the bottles got to the labeler during an initial run, the operator shut down the entire line and started hollering at Nelson. "We've gotta problem," he shouted over the noise and holding up a bottle. "It says bock on the label," he continued, "but it ain't bock beer 'cause I can see through it." Nelson goes on to recall, "After I was done howling, I explained to a somewhat miffed label machine operator what a Maibock was," and it wasn't what Point Bock looked like.

Capital Maibock has won a number of awards including recognition by the Beverage Testing Institute's prestigious World Beer Championships with six medals since 1996; the most recent was gold in 2007.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: A firm malty nose.
  • Appearance: Clear rich light copper color, with a thick bubbly tan head.
  • Texture: Medium bodied, soft and round.
  • Taste: Solid malty flavor that is smooth. Hops remain controlled and offer great balance.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Mildly sweet maltiness lingers briefly, but overall clean tasting.

Glassware: Maibock's clear copper color deserves to be the focal point. For the dinner table, a footed pilsner glass will show off the its brilliant hues and focus the malty aroma slightly to make it even more evident.

Pairs well with: The malty emphasis yet clean balance of this beer makes it a versatile meal companion. With this Maibock, look for something that might be a compliment to its smooth and solid malty flavor, ranging from stews to wild game meats.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: B+ (very good) from Beer Advocate and a 77 by Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Capital Maibock has wonderful flavor and great balance that make it a seasonal favorite. This is a beer that offers body and character, but is not so big that it will fill you up before the meal is over. My problem: it just never stays around long enough!

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