Yellow predominates at this time of year. Our backyard is studded with islands of vigorous daffodils, while up and down Johnson Street the forsythia are shaking their blossoms out into the warming air. The male goldfinches are doing their darndest to compete, hanging off the feeders like clusters of fussy lemons. Time to clear the dead stalks out of the flower beds, and to lug in heavy bags of mulch and dirt. Time to pull the cover off the grill and fire up the charcoal. Every season deserves its own beer, and I have a perfect one in mind. Munich Helles is delicate and nuanced like the time of year, and with its alcohol by volume coming in at around 5 percent, you’ll still be able to man the wheelbarrow. Stoudts Gold out of Lancaster county is a stellar example of the style.
If you don’t pour this beer into a glass, you’re missing out on a great part of the pleasure — its visual presentation. A body of burnished gold with a large ivory head of tiny bubbles that graciously hangs around after pouring. Fine columns of golden bubbles traverse the middle of the glass from bottom to top. Although we don’t usually talk about aural appeal when evaluating beer, lean in close and you will hear a pleasant snap, crackle and pop of healthy carbonation. You can serve this beer in a regular old pint glass, but use a fluted pilsner if you have one. The stunning visual presentation will remind you of a beautiful spring flower.
Munich Helles is largely about subtlety and balance, and this is certainly true when it comes to its aroma and flavor. This beer doesn’t get up in your face. But take a moment to appreciate the aroma and you will get a sure whiff of warm bread from the malt followed by a hint of floral hops. Take a sip and you will discover the bread again, with the slightest suggestion of sweet corn, typical of the style. The finish is balanced, but leaning toward dry.
Stoudts Gold pairs well with lighter foods that we associate with warmer weather such as hummus and fish, and as you might expect, German sausages. I particularly like it next to hotdogs, the natural breadiness of the malt playing nicely with the roll. (Pair your ketchup or barbecue drenched hamburger with an American Pale Ale or an IPA, whose bigger malt and hop profiles can better handle the more assertive flavor.)
About Munich Helles
The first Helles beer was brewed by the Spaten brewery in Munich in 1894, and was intended as an answer to the worldwide growing popularity of Pilsners. Helles means pale, and this distinction helped differentiate the new lager from the darker ales popular at the time. Its success was almost immediate, and it is still one of the most popular beers in Germany and Bavaria. You can think of a Helles as a more malt forward, less hop assertive version of a Pilsner. Because of that, the style makes a terrific gateway beer for your friends who want to test the waters of craft beer, but who are still wary of strong and exotic flavors. On the other hand, the balanced and nuanced profile of a proper Helles will please the sensibilities of even the most seasoned of beer geeks.