I was surprised to find out last year that 3 Floyds brews a helles as a summer seasonal. (And even more recently that they brew a pilsner year-round.) To my mind 3 Floyds is a prototypical American microbrewery with an arsenal of extremely hoppy pale ales and a Russian imperial stout that gets a big release party once a year at the brewery as is becoming mandatory for the style. I'll cop to not being a fan of the brewery, though more through simply not having tasted many of their beers rather than disliking them. (I will also admit to not being impressed by a story I heard about the brewery's appearance at the Great American Beer Festival a few years back - they were reportedly very disrespectful to attendees.)
But that was then and this is now. And a helles isn't a pale ale. I didn't see the words "imperial" or "double" on the label so I cautiously and optimistically purchased a bottle of Gorch Fock
. My only worry was that the bier was going to be hopped all to fuck. It was a chance I was willing to take as breweries, at least the ones that sell their beers in Madison, generally don’t brew a helles.
The helles was born in 1894 at the Spaten Brewery in Munich. It was apparently the southern German answer to the trendy Bohemian pilsner. While it retained the light color of its Czech cousin, the Bavarians inverted the flavors so that the malt took pride of place while the hops were relegated to a supporting role. Would 3 Floyds, a brewery that proudly proclaims, "Scorched earth is our brewery policy", be able to pull off a beer that is about subtlety?
Gorch Fock, the name of a large German sailing ship, pours a lovely light gold color. It was a little hazy. My pour produced a small white head which was gone in a New York minute. There was many a bubble inside making its way upwards.
I took a whiff and my nose was greeted by the scent of bread, which was expected. Also expected was some mild grassy hop aroma. Quite unexpected were the (very) mild fruity flavors. An apricot-like flavor was strongest followed by one that I noted as being like citrus but this was because it was a slightly sharper, zestier kind of flavor as opposed to tasting like an actual piece of citrus fruit.
Gorch Fock had a rather light body as is typical of the style but there was still malt action to be had with clean biscuit and bread flavors joined by a little malt sweetness that was like honey. The helles is not an alpha beast and I am happy to report that my fears were allayed as 3 Floyds did not hop the living fuck out of this bier. Instead there was some grassy hop taste but not much bitterness. Lastly I could taste some carbonation.
Those grainy flavors slowly faded on the finish allowing grassy/herbal hop flavors to come through and add moderate bitterness for a nice dry ending.
I was thrilled that Gorch Fock is a rather gentle bier (5% A.B.V.) that utilized Noble or Noble-tasting hops with admirable restraint. But it lacked in the malt department to my taste. Not only was the bier was a touch thin to me but it also lacked a depth of that melanoidin/Maillard reactiony toasted bread kind of flavor that I adore and that I feel should be prominent in a helles. I did not pour this bier down the drain and, if memory serves, my frau and I finished the bottle. While it was a refreshing drink to have after work, it just didn't push my helles buttons.
Junk food pairing: 3 Floyds did not enforce its scorched earth policy in brewing Gorch Fock so pair it with lighter fare such as potato chips or, as I did, regular Cheez-Its.
Labels: 3 Floyds, Beer, Helles