Mark Andersen is a beer lover and home brewer currently residing in the New England area. He has a passion for visiting historical breweries in the United States and Europe and investigating different brewing techniques.
In the winter of 2006 I started brewing my annual Maibock beer to be served at our kindred’s May Day festivities that we hold on the 1st weekend of May every year. Typically Maibock is a German style strong lager beer (i.e. bock beer) that is brewed in the winter and lagered for 2-3 months to be served in the springtime. Sometimes it is called Helles Bock by German breweries and not necessarily served only in the spring time. You can also find Helles Bock on tap during autumn or winter. However, it probably goes without saying, that if it is called Maibock it was brewed in the winter and served during springtime. Maibock is very much a malt forward beer with very subtle hops in the background. For those beer drinkers that love a very smooth, malty, golden colored, easy to drink, yet robust beer then a well brewed Maibock is a real treat.
In Germany a beer must have a minimum opening gravity before it can be labeled a bock. That number is 1.066. The recipe below has an estimated starting gravity of around 1.068. Also, there are two things in the brewing process that homebrewers normally don’t have to worry about with most homebrews.
Firstly and most importantly is the lagering process. It is very important that a bock beer undergo a significant lagering period. I think at least 2 months is required and I tend to shoot for 3. The lagering process helps in giving the beer more clarity and smooths/rounds out the flavor. For example the Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast strain causes an unpleasant sulfuric character right after primary fermentation. The long cold lagering period eliminates that. Now this may be a problem for some homebrewers that lack a cellar and/or a lagering fridge. For those that really want to brew a bock beer but lack the these things one can always make a hybrid and try using the California Lager Yeast that is more tolerant of higher temperatures but even then you should at least be able to ferment and condition the beer at no higher than around 65 degrees. The recipe below is done using Bavarian Lager yeast and is thus fermented and lagered at more appropriate temperatures for the style. If you want it to taste like the great Maibocks/Helles bocks of Germany you must lager the beer.
Secondly one may want to consider employing a decoction mashing process on brew day. Now this does assume that you will be doing an all grain batch in the first place. You can do an extract bock beer but I really think this style as much any other really needs to be done all grain. This is because the flavor of this beer is much more dependent on the flavor of the malt than any other. Thus any flaws in the ingredients or the process are more likely to be obvious. You don’t have much hop flavor or dark and roasted grains to hide the flaws that might show up in a Maibock. Okay that being said, a decoction mash is not required to make a bock beer. You can make a bock with well modified malt grains and a much simpler single infusion mash. However, in my experience after experimenting with both processes, a decoction mash does increase the malty and robust flavor of a bock beer. When in doubt I always recommend experimentation. Try one doing a single infusion mash and use a decoction mash on the same exact recipe. See for yourself what version you like the best. In the recipe below I will describe both processes.
8 lbs German or Bohemian 2-row Pilsener malt.
4 lbs Munich Malt
8 oz Weyermann’s Cara Foam
8 oz Weyermann’s Cara Hell
Comments – the ratio of Munich malt to Pilsener malt can vary. I use the Cara Foam to help with head retention in the beer and the Cara Hell to give the beer more body without darkening it too much.
Hops and other additives
2 oz Hersbrucker Hops – 60 minutes
1 oz Hersbrucker Hops – 30 minutes
.5 oz Hersbrucker Hops – 15 minutes
1 tsp Irish Moss – 15 minutes
I like to use Hersbrucker hops in this beer because of its very mild and pleasant flavor and aroma. I think it’s a great style of hop to use in a malt forward German style beer such as this. This hop variety is from the Hersbrucker region of Franconia, Germany. Other Germany noble hops such as Hallertau and Tettnang are good substitutes.
2 packages of Saflager W34/70 dried lager yeast or only 1 package if doing a yeast starter. This yeast strain is from the Weihenstephan brewery in Bavaria and is extremely reliable and produces a very clean lager beer. I’ve also had good results with Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast and White Labs Bock Yeast. Primary fermentation time is about 14 days. Primary fermentation temperature should be between 48-58 degrees.
Starting Gravity: 1.068
Final Gravity: 1.012-1.014
Decoction Mashing process
First of all if you are going to attempt the decoction mashing process I highly recommend you get a copy of the book “New Brewing Lager Beer” by Gregory J. Noonan. It goes into much more detail about the how’s and why’s than I do here.
Dough in the crushed malt by slowly mixing it with 24-28 ounces of cool water per pound of malt. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
Bring at least 14 ounces of water per pound of malt to a boil and slowly mix it in with the doughed in mash. Slowly mix it in until you reach about 105 degrees. If you have extra boiling water than save it for later or toss it but don’t go above 105. Let the mash rest for about 20 minutes. This is the acid rest. You can test it with PH strips. The idea is to get the PH level is between 5.2 to 5.8. My water at home already is in this range but I still do a short acid rest to be sure. One this is done you’re ready for decoction #1.
Pull the heaviest one third of the mash and put into a decoction kettle (i.e. any kettle big enough to hold it). Even though you’re after the thick part of the mash some liquid mash is good to help keep the grains from sticking to the kettle and makes it easier to stir. Very slowly bring the mash up to a boil (stopping to let it rest between 150-158 degrees for 5-10 minutes on the way up) and boil for 5-10 minutes. Be very careful to stir it frequently to keep the grains from sticking and burning at the bottom of the kettle. Once you get up to a boil this is not a problem but is when it is getting up to the 150-158 range.
Return the decoction to the mash tun and stir thoroughly. Temperature should be in the 118-128 degree range. Leave it there for a protein rest for 10-20 minutes then start decoction #2
Repeat the process in step #3 above except pull a higher proportion of the mash. I find that somewhere between 40-50% is required to get the temperature for the next rest where it needs to be. Be prepared to boil some water if you fall short or add cold water in the unlikely event you come out too high.
6.Return decoction to mash tun and mix thoroughly. You want the temperature here to be between 150-155 degrees (the higher the maltier). Leave it there for Saccharification/Dextrinization rest for around 15-30 minutes before starting decoction #3.
Lauter decoction. Pull off 40-50 percent of the thinnest (i.e. liquid portion) of the mash. You will probably have to pull some of the thick stuff to get to 40-50 percent. Bring it right to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Be careful of boil over occurring.
Return for final rest (hopefully at 170 degrees) for 5 minutes.
While in the final rest heat up sparge water to 170-175 degrees. I will usually heat up more sparge water than I need just in case (5-7 gallons). Sparge as slow as you can to fill kettle with 6.5 – 7 gallons of wort.
Single Infusion Mash
2. Follow step #9 above.
As you can see the single infusion mash is much easier.
Boil and Chill and Pitch Yeast
I bring the wort to a boil and plan on about a 75 minute boil altogether. With 60 minutes left add your first hops. See the hops ingredient above for the stages to add the hops at. Once the boil is done, chill it and pitch the yeast and start primary fermentation at 48-58 degrees.
After racking the beer into a secondary fermentation carboy, place the carboy into your lagering fridge and set the temperature of 33-39 degrees and patiently let it lager for 2-3 months before bottling or kegging.