Hops always seem to grab the top headlines when it comes to discussing beer. We’ll talk about how spicy or fruity or piney the hops make the beer, but we never really devote the same thought and consideration to malted barley.
Now, I’d hate to see such a place, but hops aren’t essential to human existence. Take away beer’s other three primary ingredients – grain, water and yeast – from the planet and we never would’ve survived out of the primordial muck. Water makes things grow and hydrates our cells, grain feeds us and the little critters we also like to eat, yeast makes bread rise and fermentation possible.
Yeast on its own; who needs it? Water on its own; well, unless you’re swimming in it or really thirsty then it’s kind of boring. Add malted grain to the mix and now we’re getting somewhere.
The month of May is a perfect time to ruminate upon grain’s role in beer making. This is when Maibock sees its release upon the market. The old bock style of beer was traditionally dark, thick and hearty; a food substitute for fasting monks. Once the Czechs began to fiddle with the arrangement a little bit, the clear, golden version of lager now known as pilsner became all the rage.
Not to be outdone by their neighbors to the east, Bavarians started utilizing a British pale ale method, of all things, on their bock ingredients and came up with what they refer to as “helles,” meaning lightly-colored in old German. Cold fermentation on grain-rich, malt-forward lager was essential and it’s never much colder than in winter. The stuff they brewed up in the fall was stored until late spring. Deemed to be ready for drinking, this new style would be tapped usually around the month of May, hence its name.
Back to grain’s importance… bock beers always showcase their malt profiles. By tradition, hop’s presence is kept to a minimal seeing as it was originally developed as a food substitute. Who wants bitter bread, right? While a grain variant known as Munich malt is usually employed in making bock beer, a Louisiana home brewer decided to use British pale malt to make his beer.
Andy Thomas entered his dopplebock, literally double-bock in German, into the Abita Home Brewers’ Competition way back in ’88 and won. The brew was so well-received that Abita continues to make it to this day and remains one of their most popular selections.
Andygator is a shining example of Maibock/Helles with shimmering, clear gold color and a pillow-like head. A decent amount of Perle hops show up in the nose giving out some peppery notes to dance around the scents of red apple skin, fresh pizza dough and hay. It’s incredibly fruity with lots of apricot and apple right up front followed by Hawaiian sweet bread and a finish of honey that gives way to the slightest hit of hops. A slightly viscous texture adds to Andygator’s overall rich quality while its 8% alcohol makes this a gator that can bite back.