- Mike Riedel
We are well into Oktoberfest season, and there are plenty of traditional beers hitting draft handles all over the state. One of the more popular lagers you'll see when you're out and about is the German Helles. "Helles" means "pale in color," and it tends to have a fuller body than the typical pilsner. I have three to tell you about this week, and there are many more out there waiting to be tried.
Bewilder - Oktoberfest: Pours a very clear, straw-gold color with a big, dense, long-lasting white head (rather Pils-like, actually). Big bready malts up front with mellow, spicy, even slightly citrusy hops.
The same big, bready, mildly sweet malts emerge up front in the taste, seeming to linger then blend quickly into spicy hops ... and then they're gone The breadiness lingers in the aftertaste, while the citrus character and some mild bitterness make themselves apparent in the finish, but that's it. It's really a rather smooth, easy drink with no bells or whistles. Mouthfeel is soft and smooth to lightly crisp, with a dry finish and light body.
Overall: Very easy to slug down—sort of a cross between a German Pils and Bavarian Helles. The breadiness is delicious upfront, with medium hop bitterness in the finish that makes you think "Pilsner," but either way, this is a pretty satisfying beer for anytime drinking.
Hopkins - Munich Helles: Pours a light gold color. It's unfiltered, which gives it a nice authentic look. The head is white and bubbly, retaining around the circumference of the glass, and has good staying power. The nose is bready and malty, but there's a grassy or hoppy (not sure) bitterness that shows itself somewhere in there. It smells like the forests of Bavaria.
The taste is almost exactly like the nose: malty and on the bold side up front, then fresh floral hops come to balance in the middle, and the finish is dry and (as another patron commented) "woody." The mouthfeel is on the full-bodied side of the lager spectrum, perhaps medium overall; carbonation is high, but not excessively. Very smooth, and the yeast hangs out on the tongue for just a little while. You could safely chug this beer if you wanted, but it's so good that I wouldn't do that.
Overall: A really great beer here. Had I been blindfolded, I would have easily identified this as a Helles just by the aroma alone. Worth stopping by for a pint, for sure.
Uinta - Westside Special Helles: Poured from draft into a shaker glass, it looks pale yellow and clear, the active carbonation feeding a white head that thins out. It looks great, but I wish it was in a pilsner glass or a mug (that's on me). Smell is bready malt, crackers, some herbal hops—a pretty subtle aroma, but quite enticing.
Taste starts with sweet and malty bread and crackers, while the middle sees some bitterness enter in. Hops pop up, earthy and herbal, providing solid balance with the sweetness. The finish has some bitterness as the hops continue their work, but the beer cleans up nicely in the end. Feel is medium-bodied, with scrubbing carbonation that feels lively all through the sip.
Overall: This is an excellent, excellent beer—easy to drink, but with enough flavor to keep you thinking about what you're experiencing as you sip. I can't wait for the next one.
European lagers are starting to come back into vogue after many decades of hoppy ales dominating the hearts of craft beer lovers. Once you have that perfect lager at the right time, that lightbulb will go off above your head and you'll exclaim, "I get it!" You'll find all of these on draft and available to go in growlers and crowlers at their respective brewhouse pubs. As always, cheers!