Thursday, September 4, 2014

"What the Hell(es)?!"

Weihenstephaner Original served at
The Bräustüberl’s ("Brewery Parlour") Beer Garden
Visit any traditional "bierstube" (beer hall) in Munich and you'll be treated to the testament of Bavarian brewing tradition. Centuries of brewing expertise, science, and beer history come together to bring us this tantalizing style: the Munich Helles.

"Helles" in German means "bright" or "light." Similar to a number of beer styles in Germany, a Munich Helles is also named after its appearance.

To understand how this beer came into fruition, a bit of brewing history should be looked at. 

In 1833, brewers Gabriel Sedlmayr of the Spaten Brewery and Anton Dreher of the Dreher Brewery in Vienna made a research trip to England. Their goal was to witness and study a revolutionary hot air kiln, which kilned green malt to a relatively pale consistency. They might have had a hunch this would forever changed malt production. 

Armed with their new found knowledge, Sedlmayr and Dreher went to work at their respected breweries. Sedlmayr released an amber lager during the 1841 Oktoberfest known simply as a Märzen made with his pale grain dubbed Munich malt. Likewise, a few months later Dreher released an even paler amber lager made with his own pale grain, dubbed Vienna malt. These two beers were the precursors to what we know as the Oktoberfest/Märzen and Vienna Lagers. 

Then, the world would change forever...

On November 11th, 1842, a Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, released his pale golden lager to the unsuspecting public of Pilsen, Bohemia (modern-day Czech). It did not take long for this beer to dominate the world. Virtually all other breweries in the world, including those in Germany, had to fallow with their own version of this crowed-pleasing favorite.

On March 21st, 1894, the Spaten brewery (now operated by Sedlmayr's three sons) sent a test-cask of their creation to the port city of Hamburg. Over a short time, this golden brew gained more and more footing on the testing grounds. Spaten decided it was time to release their creation to the citizens of Munich. The Munich Helles was released on its home turf on June 20th, 1895 and it has never lost traction.

To this day, Helles remains one of the most consumed styles in Bavaria. Even most of the beer consumed during Oktoberfest is either Helles or a modified, slightly stronger version (slowly, but surely replacing the very beer that bares the festival's name: the traditional amber colored Oktoberfest). 

Pale gold in color, brilliant clarity with a creamy white head. Pilsner malt dominates the aroma with notes of grain-like sweetness. Balanced flavor where malt and hops do not overpower each other, rather keep one another in perfect harmony, with slightly sweet finished and just enough balanced bitterness. Medium-bodied brew that is sure to keep your mouth watering for another sip.

Elegant, subtle, and clean are some of the most common -and appropriate- descriptors used to identify a Helles. Usually brewed using only a single type of malt (generally Pilsner malt) and one noble hop verity, creating such a balanced and delicate beer is the crown achievement of Bavarian brewmasters.

Serve in a traditional mug at 40°F and enjoy. Go ahead, have another. At a range of 4.7 to 5.4 ABV, you'll find difficult not to order "noch eins" (one more).


-Gilbert "Charlie" Perez, Certified Cicerone®