Beer Style 4A: Munich Helles
There are dozens of beer styles and we know it can get a little confusing, so each week we profile a particular style of beer in the Devil’s Peak Beer Guide. We’ll outline styles from the 2015 BJCP guidelines, offering both a technical and somewhat anecdotal overview of the dozens of beer offerings from around the world.
As you might imagine, this beer style has absolutely nothing to do with the fiery bowels of the underworld. Hell is the German adjective for “light,” while helles, as used in Munich Helles, simply means “a light one.” But we’re talking about colour here – not carbs or calories.
This Blonde Lager really is something special. The first out of Munich, helles was developed in 1894 by Spaten Brewery. You remember Spaten, right? The Bavarian setup that can trace its roots back to the late 1300’s. Chew on that for a minute. Oaks know what they’re doing.
So they released the Munich helles, competition to the ever popular Pilsner style, in 1895 to the delight of the local populous. For over 100 years it stayed the favourite in the region, but is in danger of being overthrown by the ever-growing juggernaut that is weissbier.
But as a beer geek, I don’t feel it’s fair to drop Munich helles a notch because of its waning popularity. Many brewers see the style as the epitome of brewing art and science. With no dark malts, big flavours, or high alcohol to hide behind, helles requires the a finesse that few can master. Simplicity and subtly are the pillars of this exceptional style, and it’s something that every beer fanatic should experience.
Are you ready to dive in? Let’s take a look at the BJCP Style Guidelines.
Overall Impression: A clean, malty, gold-colored German lager with a smooth grainy-sweet malty flavor and a soft, dry finish. Subtle spicy, floral, or herbal hops and restrained bitterness help keep the balance malty but not sweet, which helps make this beer a refreshing, everyday drink.
Aroma: Moderate grainy-sweet malt aroma. Low to moderately-low spicy, floral, or herbal hop aroma. While a clean aroma is most desirable, a very low background note of DMS is not a fault. Pleasant, clean fermentation profile, with malt dominating the balance. The freshest examples will have more of a malty-sweet aroma.
Appearance: Medium yellow to pale gold. Clear. Persistent creamy white head.
Flavor: Moderately malty start with the suggestion of sweetness, moderate grainy-sweet malt flavor with a soft, rounded palate impression, supported by a low to medium-low hop bitterness. The finish is soft and dry, not crisp and biting. Low to moderately-low spicy, floral or herbal hop flavor. The malt dominates the hops in the palate, finish, and aftertaste, but the hops should be noticeable. There should not be any residual sweetness, simply the impression of maltiness with restrained bitterness. Very fresh examples will seem sweeter due to the fresh, rich malt character that can fade with time. Clean fermentation profile.
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Smooth, well-lagered character.
Comments: A fully-attenuated Pils malt showcase, Helles is a malt-accentuated beer that is not overly sweet, but rather focuses on malt flavor with underlying hop bitterness in a supporting role. Export examples can quickly lose some of the rich malt character that often suggests sweetness. Helles in Munich tends to be lighter in all aspects than those outside the city, which can be more assertive with more body, flavor, and hop character.
History: Created in Munich in 1894 at the Spaten brewery to compete with pale Pilsner-type beers. Currently the most popular style in Southern Germany.
Characteristic Ingredients: Continental Pilsner malt, traditional German Saazer-type hop varieties, clean German lager yeast.
Style Comparison: Similar in malt balance and bitterness to Munich Dunkel, but less malty-sweet in nature and pale rather than dark. More body and malt presence than a German Pils, with less hop character throughout. Similar malt profile as a German Exportbier, but with less hops in the balance.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.044 – 1.048
IBUs: 16 – 22 FG: 1.006 – 1.012
SRM: 3 – 5 ABV: 4.7 – 5.4%
Commercial Examples: Augustiner Lagerbier Hell, Bürgerbräu Wolznacher Hell Naturtrüb, Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Gold, Löwenbraü Original, Paulaner Premium Lager, Spaten Premium Lager, Weihenstephaner Original
Tags: standard-strength, pale-color, bottom-fermented, lagered, central-europe, traditional-style, pale-lager-family, malty