An out of the ordinary craft beer style appears in and around Washington, DC every spring: breweries tap and can maibocks, a strong pale lager with origins in Germany, also known as Helles Bocks. Yes, that “mai” means “May,” and you might also see them labeled as Lentenbocks, given the Easter holiday. Think a stronger, slightly sweeter, and slightly hoppier Helles lager, as local bock options vary from 6.5% to over 8% alcohol by volume. “I didn’t know that we had 9 locals brewing Maibock this year? That’s awesome!,” Fair Winds Brewmaster and CEO Charlie Buettner exclaimed when we told him how many were available. “It’s a really challenging brew to pull off,” he wrote, noting all the variables involved. “As local brewers we just want to put ourselves through the wringer and sharpen the brewing chops by brewing a Maibock in the late winter to gear us up for the busy spring season.” He would know, as Mad Fox Maibock, where he worked before Fair Winds, took silver at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). 

Fair Winds Hells Navigator Maibock

Buettner cites a variety of challenges in brewing these beers, starting with a malt bill that is a delicate balance of toasty and sweet, yet still light in body. Complementing malt takes “slightly higher hop bitterness than you would think,” he says, and one should be aware they’re drinking a higher alcohol by volume beer. “That slight boozy kick at the end of each sip. It’s gotta be there, but with just a hint… Combine all of that with lagering time to really balance things out and get that crystal clear appearance, it puts a brewer to the test.” With so many local options, we figured it was time for a non-exhaustive rundown.

Denizens and Fair Winds can credibly claim to brew the longest running releases of this style in the area. Denizens Macadocious Maibock, 7.1%, is making its eighth annual spring appearance, tapped and canned to celebrate the start of beer garden season. “The Maibock is a traditional style that brings something new to the area while still working within traditional brewing,” Denizens Chief Beer Officer Jeff Ramirez tells us. “Maibock being a pale lager also makes it a little more approachable to consumers versus a dark lager like Doppelbock. A golden colored beer is always more appealing to the mass market of drinkers compared to an amber or garnet colored beer.” Denizens applies a new school twist, using Hull Melon hops, a newer German variety, which contributes notes of spring flowers to compliment noble hops that lean more toward sweet hay and grassy flavors. 

Across the Potomac, Fair Winds has been making Hells Navigator, 6.66%, since 2015 as well. “My birthday is May 1st and I dug releasing a May specific lager to celebrate,” Buettner tells us. “After brewing my take on the style for the first time commercially at Mad Fox Brewing Company (RIP) in 2011, I really started to dig deeper into the style and play around with it. The following year we [Mad Fox] scooped a Silver at the 2012 GABF. I felt like I was on to something and stuck with it. I’ve brewed Maibock every spring since.”

Keeping it Virginia, Ocelot’s Signal From Noise, 6.8%, comes from a brewer who’s spent some time in Germany. “I was not aware of any particular trend when I set out to brew a Maibock—it was done primarily for selfish reasons. I spent the previous two years in Germany before joining Ocelot and this was a style that I fell in love with while there. The recipe for Signal From Noise was designed to create a beer of bock strength (around 6.8% ABV) while still being relatively balanced and drinkable,” writes brewer Richard Snyder, who also notes that this beer is very similar, especially in the hop schedule, to their Helles Awaits lager. 


The heaviest hitter in this category is Right Proper’s No Call No Show, checking in at 8.2%. It’s currently on tap at both the Brookland and Shaw locations, and is one of the last beers designed by former Shaw lead brewer Lily Schulz before she left for another brewing job in Colorado. “Tons of flavor from the Pilsner malt, this Bock was lagered for over three months. Hallertau Blanc and Mittelfrüh hops were used in the kettle to give a nice, rounded flavor. Overall, this beer has a nice balance of malt and hops with a moderately dry finish. Served in a Tulip glass, because a Pint of this would be irresponsible,” reads the description. Right Proper’s Director of Brewing Operations Barrett Lauer notes that the beer is a “doppel helles bock,” but acknowledges that term doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. 

Silver Branch Golden Goat Blonde Bock

If the ABV of maibocks seems daunting as the weather changes, you’re not alone–though keep in mind that many hazy IPAs fall into the 6.5-8% range as well. “In the Mid-Atlantic I don’t want to be drinking a bock in May,” says Silver Branch Co-founder, Director of Brewing Operations, and CEO Christian Layke. As such, their Golden Goat Blonde Bock, 6.6%, appeared in late January, though stray cans of it may still be available at beer shops if you’d like to sample it out of its intended season. “We were going for a slightly less malty, more drinkable version of a pale bock than many you see. Maibocks can be quite rich, and when people call them Hellerbock I tend to find them on the hoppier side. We release the beer in the wintertime, trying to communicate that our approach with Blonde Bock is that it is a pale and less sweet version of a pale bock.” With Golden Goat no longer in stock at the brewery, Layke has turned to another lagered German-style beer. “Right now our Koelsch [Umlaut Love] is the perfect beer in my opinion, so calling our beer Maibock wasn’t an option from the get-go… Koelsch has definitely taken over as our most popular beer right now.” 

As some of Maibocks clock in above 8%, we asked a few area breweries about American malt liquor. The difference between the two styles is marked by the use of corn and American hops like Cluster and Northern Brewer in malt liquor, though water chemistry, mash pH, lagering times, and yeast strains may all play a role in their differentiation. At a previous brewery Denizens’ Ramirez “did a blind tasting of 4 malt liquors (Colt 45, Olde English, Mickey’s, and Hurricane). Mickey’s was hands down the favorite so we tried to emulate it to the best ability we could… It was fun to make, but I don’t see a demand for it (yet) in this area. I feel like more Millennial drinkers have experiences with malt liquor compared to Gen Z drinkers who we as a craft beer community need to prioritize in any product innovation.” Fair Winds also keeps an eye on what sells. “Never considered brewing a Malt Liquor. I wouldn’t say I’m against it,” notes Buettner. “Sounds like another fun challenge. Big question is ‘what’s the market for craft Malt Liquor these days?’ Maybe we should have a discussion over a few Hells Navigator Maibocks, before it runs out for the season.”

As luck would have it, Silver Branch’s Kolschfest is this weekend if you’re looking for a lighter lager fix. Otherwise, consume these bigger lagers responsibly. Cheers! 

Other area maibocks include: