Howard, surname unknown, is the Maintenance Manager at Lakefront Brewery
and I'd bet he is one of the unsung heroes of the brewery. Presumably he's not dictating Citra hopping schedules and so gets none of the glory from the eyepah addicts but he has probably fixed the brewing equipment on more than one occasion, jury rigged the bottling line, and any number of things to make sure Lakefront's brew gets into its customers mouths.
The brewery's My Turn series is a chance for everyone at Lakefront, including non-brewing types like Howard, to choose a beer to be made. It all began back in 2011 and here in 2016 Howard's namesake beer is #19. The bier he has vouchsafed we non-hopheads is a helles.
The helles is a pale lager that originated in Bavaria in the late 19th century. Apparently the brewers of Spaten in Munich decided to engage in a little counter-brewing in order to challenge the escalating popularity of the pale pilseners from Bohemia. Exactly how that ur-helles tasted is perhaps lost to the ages so I'm not sure if its descendant, Spaten Lager, is at all as the style was conceived or not. But they came up with a pale lager that was light colored like the pilseners being concocted across the border but less hoppy.
Yeah, that's probably more than a bit of an oversimplification but the deemphasis of hops is the important bit. I personally like the helles because of this and because its corollary is that the malts step to the fore – melanoidin-laced malts forged by Maillard reactions to give that rich, toasted, bready flavor. It is, perhaps, the apotheosis of grist.
I've had brewers tell me and tell me that decoction – taking some of the grain/water mixture that brewers heat and boiling it separately before returning it to the original mix – is the only way to produce that melanoidin malt taste. Others say that it's all in the malt. I have a toe or two in the decoction camp mainly because I generally taste The Taste in beers that have had decoction mashes. It could be psychological in that my brain tastes what it desires after having read the word "decoction" on a label. Another possibility is that I have had beers that would traditionally have The Taste but were brewed by folks who just aren't good at brewing lagers. Or perhaps the brewers intentionally brewed a beer that would traditionally have The Taste but avoided it purposefully. I certainly need to do more research into this topic, preferably at a bier garten in Bavaria.
Howard gave a bright, cheerful salutation with its light gold/medium yellow hue and brilliant clarity. My pour may have simply been poor but I managed only a small white head of very loose foam which was gone in a New York minute. However, the bier was quite effervescent with bubbles aplenty inside the liquid making their way upwards.
The aroma was as heavenly as it was simple: bread. It smelled like bread. There may have been other aromas to be had but I smelled fresh bread when I first inhaled and I think I just got excited and fixated on it.
As befitting a helles, Howard shown a spotlight on the malt. There was fresh bread along with some toasted grain, and even a little doughy sweetness, but just a smidgen. The Taste in spades. Behind it lay some herbal hoppiness that added some botanical contrast and a faint bitterness.
All of those bready flavors lingered on the finish as a grassy hop flavor slowly ascended. The lupulin never became very strong, but strong enough to give the remain grainy tastes a run for their money and even add a mild bitterness with its attendant dryness. Sadly, There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen
to be had. It all slid down the side of the glass and into the nectar to be subsumed by The Taste.
This is one tasty bier! Howard has a light body which makes it instantly quaffable, a "lawnmower" beer, if you like. But it also has a slightly heavier mouthfeel (I'm looking at you, Beer Baron) which challenges the drinker to discern all of the malt flavors and to savor them as well. I don't know if Lakefront did a decoction mash here or not. Regardless, Howard has a great clean taste is chock full of those rich, toasty bread flavors that come courtesy of Maillard reactions.
While the hops have a lesser role, I really liked the herbal and grassy flavors they added. They provide contrast and make an attempt at balance but they also complement the malt flavors in a way that peppery/spicy hops could not.
Junk food: Howard is a straightforward rendition of a traditional style and as such deserves to be paired with simpler, more traditional German-esque fare. I recommend a bag of Lay’s Beer ’n Brats or one of Herr's Classic American Hot Dog potato chips. Root vegetable and meat stuffed into a casing. Teutonic and perfect for summer.
Labels: Beer, Helles, Lakefront Brewery