Who’s not a fan of “cold bubbles”? You know, the kind of beer that’s just beer flavored. Not every liquid that touches my lips or tickles my fancy has to be thought provoking, or even memorable, but it does have to be enjoyable! That’s where the Munich Helles, a light, crisp, pale golden German style of lager beer, comes in handy. So let’s take a little dive into what the Helles going on.
Right off the bat, Helles (pronounced something like “Hell-ess”) is German for “bright,” indicating the beer’s brilliant, clear pale golden appearance. It is the most popular style of beer in Southern Germany. Even if you’ve never heard the name, you’ve had something resembling the liquid. Major domestic brands market themselves as pilsners, but their ease and balance puts them much more on the side of helles than a more hop-forward style like pilsner.
The development of the Helles-style is the result of a lot of refinement and modernization in brewing that took place throughout the 19th century. Long story somewhat shorter, beer was historically dark (brown-black) and not the brilliant golden liquid we know today. It wasn’t until 1842, at a brewery in the town of Plzen, that the first pale golden beer, Pilsner, was brewed. From that moment on, drinkers in Europe wanted nothing to do with the darker beers of old and moved quickly towards lighter, golden beers.
This presented a problem for brewers in Munich, long viewed as the “brewing capitol” of Europe, because the water chemistry in Munich caused the hop bitterness of Pilsner-style beers to be harsh and astringent. For a time, it was said that Pilsner would never be brewed in Munich. Finally, in 1894, Gabriel Sedlmayr II developed a less hoppy, malt-focused blonde lager, Helles, Spaten brewery.
As stated, Helles is light, crisp and easy. The grains used, pilsner malt, provide a light sweetness and cereal-like grain flavors. Hops are used and provide some flavor and balance, but play a supporting role to the malt, adding hints of spices, herbs and florals from old world European hop varietals. Freshness plays a more noticeable role in the overall flavor of the style, which is why the seasonal availability of so many Texas brewed examples makes this a great time to explore!
When I was on the sales floor this time last year, I was putting Real Ale’s Helles in every basket and set of hands that I could, in order to share the easy enjoyment of a well brewed offering of this beer. Many felt, and still feel, that it is lacking. If you’re going into any Helles, Real Ale’s or otherwise, expecting pronounced flavors and exciting innovations, then you will be found wanting. Again, it is “beer flavored beer.”
To get a better idea of what the liquid is all about, I recommend doing a tasting to familiarize yourself with the style and just enjoy some tasty beer with friends. Here’s some examples of the Helles style I think you should consider:
Helles – 4.8%ABV
Real Ale Brewing Company (Blanco, TX)
I look forward to the release of Real Ale’s Helles every year. It’s exactly what I want this time of year, and now it’s in cans! My personal preference to this beer, along with the introduction of some new examples, really got me thinking about doing a tasting.
Cowboys from Helles – 4.6% ABV
Independence Brewing Company (Austin, TX)
This is a new addition to Independence’s seasonal lineup this year and a major player in my plans to do a tasting. I can’t remember another lager from Independence, so it’ll fun to see what they can do in that area!
Texas Lager – 5.0% ABV
Community Beer Company (Dallas, TX)
Community has done great things with some of my favorite styles (Trinity Tripel is missed…), but Texas Lager (formerly Texas Helles) is a beer I’ve overlooked for too long.
Blonde – 5.0% ABV
Rahr & Sons Brewing Company (Fort Worth, TX)
Rahr has been putting out exceptional examples of German styles, lagers in particular, since they opened and their Blonde (Helles) lager has been one that I’ve spent some time with. It’ll be interesting to see how this stands up to some of the newcomers.
Summer Pils – 4.9% ABV
Saint Arnold Brewing Company (Houston, TX)
You’re reading that right! Summer Pils, while labeled a pilsner, is a great example of the helles style, so much so that in 2005 it won the Silver Medal for Munich-Style Helles at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), the very same competition that just awarded them Mid-Size Brewery of the Year in 2017!
All about that taste!
Keeo reading on to the following blog post to see how we taste-tested these beers, and how you can judge them for yourself at home and with friends!