Banded’s In Bloom is an adaptation of the brewery’s first Maibock, Bacchanalia. Photo courtesy of Banded Brewing Co.

A good Maibock “speaks to the transition from spring into summer,” says John Bonney, a partner at Foundation Brewing. “Bigger and more robust than a pale lager like a pilsner or helles, it provides that depth you still want on those cool spring nights, but the lighter, slightly sweeter flavors speak of the warmth and sunshine on the way.”

Foundation’s I’ll Be Bock – the brewery’s debut for the style – is brewed with 2-Row, Pilsner and Munich malts, along with Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops. Weighing in at 6.5% ABV, it pours a light amber. Floral aromas and a sweet, honeyed body pivot to a pleasantly bitter finish.

Bocks are, as beer writer Jeff Alworth puts it, “Germany’s sipping beers.” The term “bock” broadly refers to a stronger beer brewed in the German tradition. Both elegant and robust, they unite rich maltiness with a touch of boozy warmth. They come in different forms: most are lagers – doppelbocks, dunkel bocks, eisbocks and Maibocks among them – though there are a few, like weizenbocks, that use top-fermenting yeast.

Maibocks (also known as pale bocks and helles/heller bocks) are the lightest of the bunch, a style intended to smooth the transition to outdoor drinking in biergartens during the abbreviated Bavarian spring. And to do that, they need to be both sturdy and graceful at once. While Maibocks tend to be lighter in color than many other bock styles, they retain some of that warming alcohol. They also sometimes possess more hoppy aromas and bitterness than other bocks.

Why “bock”? Beer historians point to the town of Einbeck, in northern Germany, as the home of bocks – though their different iterations would really be developed in Bavaria. The word derives from “Ainpöckisch Bier”– which was how beer from Einbeck was branded in the 16th century. This would be shortened to “Oanpock,” and then “bock bier” by the Bavarians. The first Maibock – named for the month of May – was brewed by Elias Pichler, a brewer from Einbeck, for Hofbräuhaus in Munich in 1617. Before long, it became extremely popular during periods of fasting, when “liquid bread” was deployed as a stand-in for food.

Banded Brewing’s In Bloom (6.7% ABV) is brewed with German Heidelberg and Munich malts, with Hersbrucker hops. It’s pale amber in color, with sweetbread and herbal aromas. Light caramel notes are joined by honey and hints of apple, before a crisp, peppery finish. It’s an adaptation of Banded’s first Maibock, Bacchanalia. They tweaked that recipe to make it “a bit more approachable to a larger segment of beer drinkers,” general manager Tony Lynch said, giving it a slightly lower ABV and a bit softer palate.


And with the recipe edits came a rebrand. “We changed the name because we wanted to focus more on the association between the style and the coming of spring,” Lynch said. They also wanted to acknowledge its German roots. The new name accentuates the beer’s seasonal specificity. The dark, tattoo-style aesthetics, according to designer Tory Gordon, gesture to both the style’s darkness and strength, relative to lighter lagers (with a nod to the famed rock band, Nirvana, and their song that shares the beer’s name). Like Foundation’s I’ll Be Bock, the can design features the goat so long associated with bock beers (a “ziegenbock” is a male goat).

Banded Brewing has long been inspired by German traditions, according to Lynch. In addition to Pepperell, their German-style pilsner, they also brew a rauchbier, a Märzen and two different helles lagers. “These malt-forward German styles are representative of the balance that we consider a core principle of our brewery,” he said. “And the range of malt flavors and aromas that they boast provide a nice counterweight to the hop-forward styles that are so prevalent in New England.”

Liquid Riot’s Sugar Shack is brewed with maple sap rather than water. Photo courtesy of Liquid Riot Bottling Co.

While those hoppy IPAs that Lynch references dominate the local scene today, Liquid Riot’s Sugar Shack taps into another regional, and more enduring, Epicurean tradition. Branded as a “Helles Bock,” Sugar Shack (7% ABV) is brewed with maple sap rather than water, along with a bit of maple syrup. “The sap is essentially tree water that has a subtle maple wood flavor, and a small amount of maple sugar,” said head brewer Greg Abbot. It doesn’t make the beer sweet on its own, though the added syrup and the malt-forward character of the beer do. More golden in color than the others, it is malty and bright, with a grainy-sweet aroma and a silky body. A mildly bitter, slightly warming bite finishes things off pleasantly.

It’s a beer that can only be produced in the short window of the maple sap harvest, in late winter and early spring. Abbot notes that helles bocks were traditional spring beers: “I thought coordinating the timing of the sap harvest, and the tradition of the beer style, was a good idea.”

A good idea, indeed, though not an easy one to execute. Liquid Riot worked with Hilltop Boilers of Newfield to supply the sap and syrup. “We had to time it perfectly right with the weather, and Hilltop Boilers’ schedule,” Abbot explained. “Sap actually spoils very quickly, so I met the guys at the brewery late in the evening on a big harvest day, and we pumped the sap directly from their truck to my brewhouse.”

It’s a beer that is as interesting as it is tasty, a proper tribute to the region and the season. And while spring gets our goat, dragging its feet in the transition to summer, at least we have the comforts of these seasonal bocks to keep us company.

Ben Lisle is an assistant professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries in Portland’s East Bayside, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography, and craft beer culture. Reach him on Twitter at @bdlisle.

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