The holidays are over and bock season is about to begin. From now through late spring, bocks, doppelbocks and maibocks will appear on taps and shelves across Wisconsin. Bock season historically is associated with Lent and Easter, with the height of their releases falling shortly before Mardi Gras. One beer made especially for that occasion is Big Easy Imperial Maibock, from Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee. It's a beer with a staunch following, and I've found that supplies become scarce the closer it gets to Fat Tuesday.
What is it? Big Easy Imperial Maibock from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Style: Maibock refers to the early springtime version of bock beer. It's a lager traditionally brewed in the dead of winter and aged until spring. The Maibock is a medium-bodied beer with deep golden to clear copper color and moderate to strong malty aroma. Its flavor should emphasize the malt; hints of spicy tones are sometimes part of the background. Maibock commonly has a 6%-8% ABV. Lakefront calls Big Easy an "Imperial" Maibock, a reference to its strong alcohol content at 7.6% ABV.
Background: Lakefront Brewery releases Big Easy Imperial Maibock every January, and has done so for the past dozen years. It was originally just called Big Easy Lager, but brewery president Russ Klisch says the recipe hasn't changed over those years. It is made with German noble hops called Saaz for their mild, earthy, herbal and spicy tones. But it's the Munich malt in Big Easy's recipe that accentuates the German tradition of the style by offering caramel and biscuit tones that dominate the flavor. "Bocks are nice when they are big and malty, and the hops take a backseat," says Klisch.
This year Lakefront increased production of Big Easy by 25% to meet increased demand. It sells in six-packs for around $8-$9. In 2004, it won a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup Competition in the German-style Heller Bock/Maibock category.
- Aroma: Light, but firm maltiness.
- Appearance: Clear, amber-copper color, and a thick, soft-tan head.
- Texture: Medium to full bodied, with a round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Malty, some firm sweetness of the caramel and biscuit tones.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Light, but firm maltiness.
Glassware: The clear copper color of the Big Easy looks great in a footed pilsner glass, which also focuses the malty aroma under the nose.
Pairs well with: Gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée are, appropriately enough, great choices to pair with Big Easy. If you're looking for a cheese, try it with a fenugreek Gouda. The sweet and nutty maple flavors will blend nicely with the caramel tones from the beer.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Big Easy Imperial Maibock initially comes off a little light in flavor, but the maltiness builds over a glass or two. I found that by the time I had a second glass, I was noticing more of the smooth biscuit tones from the Munich malt. While Big Easy might seem a little tame in the beginning, its 7.6% ABV might sneak up on you. It's a beer that lives up to its name; it goes down easy, but it's big in strength.