How To Brew Helles Bock

by Steve Thanos | Updated: June 16, 2020

Helles Bock derived from the German town of Einbeck during the Middle Ages. Helles Bock, or Maibock as it is commonly referred to, became popular in the 13th century. The town of Einbock became part of the Hanseatic League.

This was an alliance between trading countries from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea and included nearly 200 cities. The alliance helped to protect common economic interests.

In order to be a member of the league, a town or city had to provide goods to other towns or cities. In Einbeck’s case, their Helles Bock was the reward for those involved with the Hanseatic League.

The Envy of All the Land

Many people were envious of this high-quality beer. It was much different than what was being brewed around Germany at this time.

One Munich brewery took it upon themselves to brew their own. Munich’s very own Hofbrauhaus, owned by a royal household at the time, recruited Einbeck brewer, Elias Plicher, in 1614.

Brew in Winter and Drink in Spring

Plicher created a beer that was much different than the beers he first brewed in Einbeck. He started using lager yeast instead of ale yeast. Plicher embraced the age old tradition of brewing this beer in the winter and cold-stored it until spring. This is where the maibock first came to be.

The first Helles Bocks were likely compared to Traditional Dunkle Bocks. It is unknown when and why the lighter helles version came to be. Some have speculated that it was due to the rise in golden lager popularity.

“Was in the Spring…”

Helles Bock or Maibock is still a springtime favorite. There are a few breweries that I know of that keeps these beers on their yearly calendar.

Like many brewers and homebrewers alike, the seasonality of beer is something to behold. Some go crazy with it and some ignore it all together.

A Helles Bock still modestly climbs the abv chart, with some clocking in at 7.4% abv. It’s a great beer when the weather is turning warmer from the harsh months of winter, but with a bit of a nip still in the air.

Style Profile and Characteristics of Helles Bock

Appearance

Ranges from a deep gold to a light copper amber. Should have a big, creamy persistent head. Clarity will range from clean to bright.

Aroma

Strong grainy malt quality with light sweetness and low toasted notes. Hop aroma is medium-low; subtly floral, spicy, or herbal.

Clean fermentation profile with low fruity esters. Possible light presence of alcohol warmth and low aroma of DMS.

Mouthfeel

Smooth, clean feel on the palate. Increased bitterness with no harsh astringency. Warming notes of alcohol and medium to medium high.

Taste

The malt dominates here with a medium to moderately strong sweet graininess present. Notes of toast are possible. If present at all, caramel flavors should be very low. Medium to no hop flavors detected.

Hop flavors are whispers of floral, spicy, or herba. Clean well attenuated fermentation character. The finish is medium-dry with slight hint of hops and malt remaining in the aftertaste.

Food Pairing

Think Thai, Mexican, or Korean barbecue. Pairing a Helles Bock with such meats as venison, grilled pork, wild boar, duck, and grilled sausage.

Of course everyone’s favorite, steak, makes a decent pairing too. Pairs well with grilled vegetables.

Seafood is another option. Crab cakes, fresh shrimp, lobster tail, and mussels all work wonders with this beer. Cheese is a fine pairing to consider. Gruyere, Asiago, Danbo, Camembert, Emmental, or aged Parmesan.

Brewing Helles Bock By the Numbers 

  • Color Range: 6 – 11 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.064 – 1.072 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 – 1.018 FG
  • IBU Range: 23 – 35
  • ABV Range: 6.3 – 7.4%

Brewing your own Helles Bock

Malt

Much like an Oktoberfest beer, the combination of base malts will really add a complexity and interest in your beer. A good quality Pilsner malt is where you want to start. Followed up with a combination of some Vienna malt and Munich.

If the purest will give me just one here, I tend to agree with Martin’s decision to add some Maris Otter to the grain bill. I would not argue those said purests that demand an English malt doesn’t belong in a German beer. I think Vienna will work just fine here.

As for Specialty malts, caramel and crystal malts really do not belong in a Helles Bock. With the possibilities of the sweet caramel coming out in the taste or aroma should deter you from adding it to your grain bill. Some dark Munich if kept under 10% of the grain bill cane work to add some color.

Hops

The hops for a Helles Bock are subtle. German Noble hops again are the hops of choice. Hallertauer, Spalt, Tettanger are all possibilities.

If you are looking for a hop with a bit more bitter bite, try adding Magnum or Galena for your bittering addition.

Yeast

Yeasts to consider using:

  • White Labs German Bock Lager WLP833
  • German Lager White Labs WLP830
  • German X Lager WLP835
  • Wyeast Hella Bock Lager 2487
  • Munich Lager 2308
  • Imperial Yeast Harvest L17
  • Dry Yeast Saflager W34/70
  • Mangrove Jack’s Bavarian Lager M76

Fermenting and Lagering

Chill the wort to 50°F (10°C) and hold it there for around 5-6 days. Allow for the beer to free rise to 70°F (21°C) at the end of fermentation to assist in diacetyl cleanup.

Once the beer completes fermentation and after the diacetyl rest, you want to cold crash it to 35°F (2°C) for about 4 weeks to improve clarity.

Martin Keen’s Helles Bock Homebrew Recipe

Malt

  • 43% 6 lbs Pilsner; German
  • 36% 5 lbs Maris Otter
  • 21% 3 lbs Munich Malt

Hops

  • 2.00 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 60.0 min
  • 1.00 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 15.0 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg German Lager (White Labs #WLP830)
How To Brew Helles Bock Homebrew Challenge 2

Transcript: Guten tag. Today we’re going to talk about brewing Helles Bock and chilling wort.

Hi, I’m Martin Keen and I am taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew all 99 beer styles as defined by the BJCP. And today I’m brewing my first German Bach.

It’s 4C Hellas Bach, also known as Maybach. Now this being a German Bach beer it has those characteristics that other Bock beers have. It’s got that really sort of strong, malty robust flavor to it and it’s also relatively high in alcohol.

But unlike other bocks, it’s much, much paler. So let’s take a look at the ingredients for this beer. I’m actually combining two different malts as the base malt.

First of all I have a what you’ve really expect, which is German Pilsner malt that’s going in. I have six pounds of that. I’m combining it with Maris Otter, five pounds of Maris Otter.

Now, yes, I’m aware that Maris Otter is not a German grain whatsoever. It’s British, but I really liked the sort of the biscuity characteristic this is going to give me um, a little bit more than if I had sort of bumped this up with a ton of Munich or the Vienna malt.

Now that being said, I also have three pounds of Munich malt, which I will be adding into the grist as well, so that’s going to get me to a beer that will be around about 7%

Now to get to a post boil gravity of 1.070 I’m using 14 pounds of grain, which is probably the most I’ve used in any beer that I’ve, I’ve brewed in this uni brau system so far and when I first put it in I didn’t even think it was going to fit.

But giving it a stir and a bit of time to settle the grains in there and it seems to be running pretty well. Now I’m going to mash this one at 152 Fahrenheit and I’m aiming for a pre boil gravity of 1.060

Now the fun part, lifting up 14 pounds of soggy grain out of this wort.

How To Brew Helles Bock Homebrew Challenge 3

For hops. It’s our old friend Hallertau Mittelfrüh. I am using two ounces, which will go in at 60 minutes is the bittering hop and then 50 minutes from the end one other round.

So let’s talk a little bit about chilling wort because this has been kind of a consistent problem for me over the last few weeks. I’ve been brewing all of these laggers in the middle of summer. So what I’m using is this immersion chiller. It’s a jaded Hydra and it just pops into the boil kettle.

And what’s nice about this is it’s triple coil so the water comes in and go through three separate coils before accessing the other side. Now Jaded claim that this guy can chill your worts from boiling down to 68 degrees, which is ale pitching temperatures in three minutes. To do that, there’s a couple of caveats.

First of all, you need to get a huge amount of water through this thing. So it recommends six gallons per minute rushing through there. Now I measured the speed of my faucet in the, in the brewery here and I was getting something like three gallons per minute.

So what I do is I use the outdoor faucet with a hose pipe. With that, I’m getting about five gallons a minute, so pretty close. Now the other thing to get that super fast chilling temperature is kind of, obviously you need cold tap water to start with. It says that you will get these, this chilling to 68 degrees in three minutes if you have 58 degree tap water.

Okay, that is not happening here. Uh, in early fall in North Carolina, my groundwater is around 82 degrees. So what has been happening so far with all of the lagers that I’ve been brewing is I can chill down to 90 Fahrenheit pretty quickly and then I’m kind of out of luck.

How To Brew Helles Bock Homebrew Challenge 5

So what to do? Well actually Jaded, have a potential solution to be able to get around this warm groundwater. And I’m going to put that to the test with today’s brew.

So as for the immersion chiller, I normally give it a quick rinse in the sink and then with 10 minutes left in the boil, I put it into the wort to sanitize it. When time’s up, I run the pump to get it recirculating and go outside and turn on the garden hose to start pumping water through the immersion chiller.

Now what’s going to happen here is this is going to chill pretty rapidly to about 10 Fahrenheit over the temperature of my groundwater which is about 82 Fahrenheit. So I’ll get sort of to the low nineties and then it really won’t be able to go much further.

What jaded brewing recommend you do is you fill a bucket with five gallons of water, eight pounds of ice, and then take a pump here and pump the ice water through the immersion chiller to really cool the last bit of the wort down.

So I’m going to wait until I get to around 90 Fahrenheit. Then I’m going to take my icy water and pump it through here. So there we go. It only took maybe five, six minutes. Um, we’re about 10 Fahrenheit over ground water temperature.

So let’s go use the icy water. The icy water now is just a little bit, a few degrees above freezing so it’s ready to go.

How To Brew Helles Bock Homebrew Challenge 6

So how did it do? We started at 90 and just ran it through that bucket for probably not more than two or three minutes and we’re down to 70 Fahrenheit. So that’s worked pretty well. Now 70 Fahrenheit? Yeah, that’s still not lager pitch temperature, but it’s much, much closer. That means now I only need to drop another 15 or 20 Fahrenheit in my fermentation chamber before I can pitch the yeast.

So I should be adding the yeast in much sooner than before when I was starting at 90 Fahrenheit and having to drop 40 degrees. Speaking of yeast, I’ve made a starter of WLP 830 this is German lager Yeast. I’ll add this at 50 degrees. Now here is what I’m going to do to get that down to 50 degrees.

So I’ve got my chest freezer here, I’ve set it to 36 Fahrenheit and I’ve put my beer in here in the fermenter and I’ve also put in a tilt wireless hydrometer which will give me a temperature sensor reading to my phone. I can keep track of how cool the wort it is and when it hits 50 Fahrenheit, that’s when I’ll add my yeast.

Incidently the reason that I have this piece of sanitized foil here and not an airlock is I’m a little bit concerned about suck back with the temperature change. I was concerned that some of the liquid that’s in the airlock could end up getting sucked back here.

Similar to a way that happens with a cold crash. So while I’m crashing this to a yeast pitch temperature, I just cover it with this foil. I’ll replace that with an airlock once I’ve reached my desired temp.

How To Brew Helles Bock Homebrew Challenge 8

So I’m back here with Brian. We’re going to try Helles bock. Yes, I’m excited. Yeah. So this one fermented down to 1.013 and that gave me a gravity of 7.5% so fairly strong for for German lager.

It is, are there any commercial, uh, variations is the beer that I recognize? Names that I would know. Yeah. To me, this is a style completely new. I haven’t seen it anywhere. It’s also known as Maybach, so you may have seen it.

Um, so it was Maybach, but no, there’ll be a new experience for me go. Okay. So first of all, it’s this, this, does this look like the color of a typical Maybach to you? Yes. Yes, exactly. Of all the mailbox I’ve seen, this is definitely the most typical, the most maple-y.

Okay. Good. And it’s a nice color though. It’s a nice golden Amber. And so I guess how I describe it. Yeah. Yes. So not much in the aroma, I think.

No, it’s definitely, there’s not, I mean, there’s, there’s no hop. Um, I’m not really detecting any sweetness to it either. It’s, it’s very, um, it’s, it’s very little on the nose on this one. Yep. Yep. Yep. So let’s see what we think of a, yeah. A Helles Bock. Definitely. Malty, right? Yup. Yeah.

There’s, there’s no hop in there. Anywhere near, there’s some bitterness that you, that you’re tasting. Um, to me it’s, it’s living up a little bit to its bock name, despite the fact that it doesn’t look like any sort of bock, I would recognize.

Yeah. But it certainly very, uh, malt forward and you said it was at 7.9% so high in alcohol? Yep. Um, but it doesn’t have a strong alcohol flavor to me though, it’s not like it doesn’t feel or taste like there’s a ton of alcohol in this. Those are the best ones. Yeah, definitely.

Well, okay. We are, we are now very familiar in the ways of Helles Bock / Maybach. We know what this one tastes like anyway. We’re going to assume that this is dead on the style, right? Yep. We are. We are. All right. Cheers.

It amazing how different the ingredients are not that different between this one and the last one. Really. Yeah. They taste so different.

Which one you like better? Hi, I think I like that better. That one for sure.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.