“One of my favorite times and places to drink a beer during the Summer is with friends and family at a barbecue. There is something comforting and classic about the smells and flavors of the grill alongside a crisp, cold and refreshing beer. Big name cold bubbles are sufficient enough grilling fuel, but a good helles is the better option!”
What Is Helles?
Helles is a pale golden lager centered on the subtle grainy sweetness of pilsner malt, accented by spicy, floral hop aromatics with a soft bitterness clean, smooth finish. Different from the hop-centric pilsner, helles is decidedly malt-focused, highlighting quality pilsner malt in the best examples. It is beautifully honest to the raw materials, allowing premium quality malt and hops to shine in the best examples.
The style originated in Munich during the brewing revolution brought on by the popularity of pilsner in the mid-1800s. At the time, Munich was a capital of the brewing world well known for their malt driven, dark beer tradition. It’s said that brewers swore pilsner would never be brewed in Munich, but brewers eventually made concessions to brew a pale lager of their own.
Many of the “big boys” market themselves as pilsners, but fall more inline with a helles. The slight bitterness, subtle flavors and moderate alcohol lend the style to drinking in sessions, like an afternoon barbecue. It’s approachable enough that your non-craft friends should be able to find something to enjoy, even if they’re not fully converted on first sip. And, your beer nerd friends won’t have anything to say, unless they’re asking when the food will be ready.
Some of my favorites:
Rahr & Sons Blonde Lager (5.0% ABV)
You’re likely familiar with Shiner and their association with German brewing in Texas. While they may have done it longer, there is something to be said for Rahr in Fort Worth fighting to put classic German styles, like their helles, out there. It’s available to us all year, as a beer like this one should be, but it’s that much more enjoyable in the summer months!
Independence Cowboys from Helles (4.6% ABV)
Independence has been changing up their seasonal lineup a lot in the last few years, but when I heard they were going to brew a helles, I was sold! Cowboys from Helles is a well-executed example of the style and one I have in my fridge on occasion when it’s available.
Saint Arnold Summer Pils (4.9% ABV)
That’s right! Summer Pils is a helles, and has been for as long as I’ve known it. Even the brewery acknowledges helles as the style on their website, and why wouldn’t they? Summer Pils has taken home countless medals for the helles style, including a gold at the Great American Beer Fest in 2009. Right now, it’s my “go to” at bars and restaurants around town.