Monday, May 28, 2007

Maibocks at Rubicon

This past weekend was Sacramento's Maibock Festival hosted by the good guys at Rubicon Brewing Company - an annual event at Sacramento's most celebrated brewery. The event is fairly low-key if compared to the festivals in the city these past few weeks (Raley Field and West Coast), with nine samples on tap from regional brewers. The crowd consisted primarily of beer-geeks, many of whom came with pencil and paper for notes, while others just found it an event to meet up with some good friends (another appearance from the Sacramento Hopheads, who seem to be everywhere beer is poured). While we'd hoped to enjoy the beers on their outdoor patio, we seemed to arrive too late to make that happen. We were, however, happy to secure a recently vacated window seat big enough for the four of us.

With me on this day were Mark (AKA, The Beer Geek), Joerge and Lothar. The latter two gents were born and raised in Germany, and my assumption was they were big Maibock fans... but you know about assumptions. They were certainly game for the sampling and actually enjoyed more than a few. Oddly, they enjoyed the ones that were most Americanized, but we'll get to that soon enough.

What are Maibocks? According to the BJCP folks, nobody cares. Oh, wait. My bad. According to the folks at the BJCP the style originated in Germany, in the Einbecker area (hence, Bock? Bock, Einbeck? More on that to come too). Maibocks are a subcategory of Bock beers. Traditional bocks were dark in color with a wonderful sweetness to them that reminds many of caramel. Oddly enough, there are very few commercial examples of the Traditional Bock around these days, but I do believe the guys at Anchor have done a good job mimicing this.

Maibocks are lighter in color than the Traditional and... well, read for yourself from the BJCP guys and gals...

The rich flavor of continental European pale malts dominates (pils malt flavor with some toasty notes and/or melanoidins). Little to no caramelization. May have a light DMS flavor from pils malt. Moderate to no noble hop flavor. May have a low spicy or peppery quality from hops and/or alcohol. Moderate hop bitterness (more so in the balance than in other bocks). Clean, with no fruity esters or diacetyl. Well-attenuated, not cloying, with a moderately dry finish that may taste of both malt and hops. (more info)
Geeky moment - I love the last sentence. Well-attenuated, not cloying, with moderately dry finish... Why comment? Each description says the same thing. If you were to ask me what well-attenuated meant, I'd say words like 'not cloyingly sweet' or 'slightly dry finishing'. Also like the "clean, with no fruity esters" bit too - I guess it is better than 'clean with fruity esters'.

Where was I? Oh yes - Maibocks. On the day in question the four of us each sampled nine beers in their lineup - seven of them were Maibocks (two were Traditional). Following is the lineup of beers with my comments on each.

  • Blue Frog Brewing's Maibock: Light golden color with great clarity and a light tan, frothy head displaying good retention. Very light aroma, overall, but clearly leaning toward a malt sweetness that was somewhat biscuity. The flavor seemed to follow suit of the aroma, complimented by a moderate hop bittering to balance and finishing slightly watery with the mild bitter aftertaste. Score: 2.8/5
  • Sudwerk Maibock: Light golden in color, with a beautiful white frothy head with very good retention. Aroma, overall, is very light - same with the flavor. Bready sweet with a slightly sticky hop presence... didn't hit me right. Still, a good beer overall. Score: 2.5/5
  • River City Brewing's Spring Bock: Golden color with good clarity and an off-white head that is less than spectacular. Aroma is very sweet, almost candy-like. Overall, a watery sweet mess of a beer that lacks the hop balance it needed. Finishes watery and sweet too. Score: 2.2/5
  • Bison's Golden Bock (Organic): Golden color with great clarity and a white bubbly head with low retention. Must be said, this is a very interesting beer, with a lot going on. There appears to be a corn-like sweetness with a peppery spice hop bitterness. Listed as a Traditional Bock, which it clearly is not, but a very good beer overall. Score: 2.8/5
  • Bear Republic Maibock: Deep golden color with significant haze. This appears to have used American hops, with citrus-like characters in the aroma and taste. Beer also appears to use an ale yeast, as it lacks the clean finish expected. A very good beer all said, but not a good representation of the traditional style. Score: 2.2/5
  • Sacramento Brewing's Maibock: A beautiful beer in appearance and aroma - golden color, bready malt sweetness and good clarity to make the rocky head more beautiful - but the taste is riddled with issues that range from an off-citrus character to a vegetal presence. I had high hopes for this local beer, as the company consistently puts out good beers, but this was not their day. Score: 2.0/5
  • Rubicon's Purple Maibock: Golden color, great clarity and a wonderful white frothy head. The beer starts off with a fantastic bready & caramelized sweetness, which is followed up brilliantly with a pepper/spice hop presence, which is not overwhelming, but very well balanced. Finished clean, with a lingering mild hop bittering. Score: 3.6/5
  • Brew It Up Maibock: Dark brown, almost amber color with good clarity and white frothy head. Very nice caramelized sweetness with mild spicy hop bittering and flavor to balance the beer. Finished slightly sweet with a lingering mild bittering. This is a very good beer. Score: 3.3/5
  • Elk Grove Traditional Bock: Sorry to report, but this beer didn't do so well, seemed to have issues in the flavor that were too distracting. Score: 2.2/5
Looking back at my scores, I feel I was pretty stingy at times. However, I'm not going to change them, that seems like a slippery slope. It was a very nice tasting, the help was great and the food was quite nice. Once the scores were put away the table did an impromptu ranking of the beers. Let's see if my scores match the ranks.

  1. Rubicon
  2. Blue Frong
  3. Brew It Up
  1. Blue Frog
  2. Sudwerk
  3. Rubicon
    Honorable Mention: Brew It Up
  1. Blue Frog
  2. Bison
  3. Bear Republic
  1. Brew It Up
  2. Rubicon
  3. Blue Frog