I know it seems like I only have the Munich Helles style on my brain lately, and to some extent that is true. I have 3 batches brewed up and fermenting and I already have the ingredients to make 2 more. Nevermind how I’m going to find the space for them all in this freezer.
But there is hope for all you non-Helles fans. I’ll be re-brewing a few versions of my Purring Kitten Session IPA to (hopefully) have ready for a big competition in Reno on November 2nd. Also, I cleaned out all the old (non-Brett or sour) yeast vials from my refrigerator (and combined them with all the trash can-destined expired Wyeast smack packs I got from UBottleIt) and made a monster 5L starter.
The blend has 15 different kinds of yeast and is 24 vials & packs total. 7 Belgian styles, 1 German, 5 American, & 2 British. I’d like to do a big weird Russian Imperial Stout or Barleywine and then add honeycomb sticks (from Black Swan) soaked in bourbon. I’ll have to see how the starter wort tastes before I waste time brewing a beer for it though. I’ll also have to use the bathtub or my ghetto (yet award-producing) swamp cooler-ish Walmart container to keep fermentation temps under control, as I doubt any of the 15 yeasts want to work with 49-54 degrees.
UPDATE: The Franken-starter wort tasted pretty meaty. I did not have confidence in its ability to do the job.
With all that said, I bought some Helles beers to drink and talk about! I can hear the applause now! Mind you all of these beers were purchased warm on well-lit shelves, so any impressions I have may not reflect how I’d feel about the beer in a fresher and more properly-treated state.
Weihenstephaner Original Premium – 90 on Beer Advocate – Very light color, light bready nose with little to no hop presence, very little hop bitterness, pleasant rounded finish with just a touch of malt character. Very easy drinker. If anything I almost want a little more out of it. But all in all a very nice beer.
Believe it or not, I don’t think I’ve ever had this beer. I love their Hef and I fell in love with this style a while back, but I guess ‘Original Premium’ never led this horse to Helles. Come to think of it, I only knew this was a Helles because I was looking for more examples of the style on Beer Advocate.
The ‘rounded’ malty finish on this that I so enjoy leads me to believe that ignoring the Munich water profile and going for a Chloride to Sulfate ratio that favors a more malty finish (according to John Palmer) could be the best approach. However, I likely will brew a basic Helles with ‘Munich water’ just to see if I can prove his point.
Paulaner Original Munich Premium Lager – 84 on Beer Advocate – Another very clear light golden beer, very similar nose to the previous with just a touch of baking bread, finish deviates a little as it is a touch drier with a little more hop character and perhaps a little oxidation.
It almost seems to have just a hint of banana or vanilla in the finish as well. This is another very enjoyable beer. I’d be happy as a clam if either of these first 2 beers were the keg pouring at a house party. I’m really impressed by how well these really light lagers hold up to age and less than ideal temperatures. It makes me want to go re-visit Germany sooner rather than later. Get the futon ready Mike ‘Basucher’ Werner!
Stiegl Goldbrau Premium Lager – 80 on Beer Advocate – So it would appear that Stiegl Leicht is actually their 3.3% Helles and I was lied to by a tiny placard at my local beer store. This is apparently a Marzen/Oktoberfest. It’s certainly darker than the first 2 beers, more carbonated, and has a little more pronounced toasty malt character. This is a prime example of why you have to be fairly beer savvy to even discover this style, let alone be able to reliably hunt it down. All in all, this is not a bad beer and pretty light for what I associate with an Oktoberfest. Unfortunately I don’t know the German word for ‘tweener’.
Mahr’s Hell – 89 on Beer Advocate – This is a beer I’ve very much enjoyed as an occasional treat lately as it is $6 for a Euro torpedo bottle. I get a touch of not quite skunk, but something a little off on the nose from this bottle. The flavor and finish are still nicely malty and rounded with hints of vanilla. This is another Helles that steers me toward brewing with minimum hop presence and a water profile that plays up the malt and rounds out the flavor.
On a side note, I’m glad I’m forcing myself to have all of these beers in one sitting as I’ve discovered I like Weihenstephaner better than Mahr’s. That means I can switch from $6 bottles to $9.50 six packs. Who says beer blogging doesn’t pay?
Moosbacher Lager – 81 on Beer Advocate – Possibly a shade darker than the others, nose is pretty light in all departments, pretty light finish with once again hints of malt and vanilla.
It seems to be lacking a little malt oomph in the finish that a couple others had. Although a blind taste test with a style this subtle would be pretty daunting. As I drink more of it I’d say find the cheapest Helles you like and stick with it. $9.50 for a Weihenstephaner sixer still leads.
Ballast Point Longfin Lager – 81 on Beer Advocate – Wow! My previous impressions of this beer have been that it had a touch too much hop character and finished a little dry for a Helles. This bottle I’m drinking seems pretty heavy in the DMS department. The BJCP guidelines describe aroma expectations as: “Low to moderately-low spicy noble hop aroma, and a low background note of DMS (from Pils malt).” This is pretty big cooked corn in flavor and aroma. Not my favorite, but again this isn’t typical of the last 3 six packs I’ve had of this beer.
Hofbrau Original – 85 on Beer Advocate – Another very clear beer, might be a slight bit darker than some of the others or might be my weird lighting by my pc, well carbed, don’t get a ton in the nose (maybe a little malt & the tiniest bit of smoke) but the finish has a solid malt presence, water profile may be cause for a slightly less rounded finish than others, a little better hop presence in finish too. I find this beer perfectly enjoyable, but then again I’m a few Helli in.
Spaten Premium Lager – 83 on Beer Advocate – Not much skunk despite the green bottle, finish has a little more hop and not the same roundedness of some of my preferred brands, not quite as pleasant as a number of the others.
I’ve found I like my Helles malty without being under-attenuated or cloying and pretty absent in the hop department. Even trying to differentiate between these beers has given me a great appreciation for the difficulty level of brewing one well. I’m considering dry hopping a Helles, and while Citra is awesome with everything, I debate trying a noble hop or a new German hop like Opal or Saphir.
Finally, I want to say cheers to my friends at Tenaya Creek Brewing Co. I’m pictured here drinking a growler of their Local 702 Pale Ale. Genius marketing and a very good beer. Party on my brewing brethren!