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Daniel Drinks the Styles: Servus Helles Lager

Continuing to leverage my time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, I am studying for the second level of the Cicerone Certification Program for beer professionals. To stay honest in my studies, I am reviewing DMV beers brewed in the classic styles and comparing them to the official style guidelines.

This week I’m drinking Wheatland Springs Farm Brewery’s Helles Lager, Servus. While most of Wheatland Spring’s beer try to utilize ingredients from their farm and the region at large, Servus’ grist consists of 55% Bavarian grain, sourced from a single farm from that German state. Wheatland’s focus on “Land Beer” has led to an ethos of European brewing traditions filtered through a lens of modern Northern Virginia. Let’s see what a traditional Helles “should” taste like:

Munich Helles Guidelines from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP): 

A clean, malty, gold-colored German lager with a smooth grainy-sweet malty flavor and a soft, dry finish. Subtle spicy, floral, or herbal hops and restrained bitterness help keep the balance malty but not sweet, which helps make this beer a refreshing, everyday drink.

Appearance is medium yellow to pale gold. Clear. Persistent creamy white head.

Aroma is grainy-sweet malt. Low to moderately-low spicy, floral, or herbal hop aroma. 

Flavor is moderately grainy-sweet malty start with the suggestion of sweetness, a soft, rounded palate impression, supported by a low to medium-low hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel is medium bodied. Medium carbonation. Smooth, well-lagered character.

Vital Statistics: IBUs 16-22, SRM 3-5, ABV 4.7-5.4%

The beer pours a brilliant pale gold with impressive clarity and a rocky head that sticks around… while I find every possible way to mess up taking a picture. Not incredibly aromatic, with subtle bread dough and honey leading the way. While there are basically none of the advertised Noble hops on the nose, just enough spicy, herbal Nobility shows up on the palate to balance the artisanal Honey Maid cracker maltiness. Indeed, those honey drizzled graham crackers lead the way throughout, with an almost unnoticeable bitterness cutting through for a dry finish. There is a real round sweetness to this beer that happens to stop by for a hug, then immediately leaves you. This is why the Germans drink so much, I guess.

Bierstadt Lagerhaus has called Helles the “truest expression of malt” as there are little hops to get in the way of one’s enjoyment of fermented grain. Servus takes this to heart. I don’t know what else to say beyond that this is a fantastic beer. There is a singular beauty in achieving a beer this simple yet satisfying, perhaps the reason Helles is Southern Germany’s most popular brew. Wheatland has nailed the balance which defines the Helles style and promotes drinkability. “Betcha can’t have just one,” but for hand crafted Land Beer instead of multinational conglomerate potato chips.   

There is so much to talk about here but not much to say; how else can one express such an elegant simplicity. Clean doesn’t begin to describe the lack of flaw or nuisance in this can. Wheatland has clearly taken exacting, patient steps in lagering this beer; longer cold storage smooths the beer out, removing many off flavors that can result from a quicker fermentation. Imagine working this hard to make sure you taste nothing! Servus is an excellent showcase of malted barley, of restraint, and of the Helles Lager style.

Garrett Oliver is very fond of mentioning how wine can’t stand up to spicy foods; Helles Lager is the perfect foil to the capsaicin-infused dishes that so many across the world love. Servus’ light sweetness plays off well against pepper-laden Chinese food as well as Buffalo wings. Order DC’s best fried chicken sandwich and marvel at Servus lifting the experience even higher; bringing out the sweetness in the Honey Butter sandwich, and/or tempering the Nashville Hot’s formidable spice. Bliss. 

Next week – Silver Branch’s Glass Castle!

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