Although March in Minnesota doesn't necessarily bring the release of winter's icy grip, longer days and somewhat warmer weather do signal that spring isn't so far off. It's time to slough off the heavy, dark beers of winter. Springtime calls for lighter, more refreshing beers, but ones that still have enough body to tackle the lingering nighttime chill.
Maibock is the traditional Old World beer of spring. It's brighter in color and flavor than the better-known, darker members of the bock family. Maibock's malt-forward flavor is more honey than dark fruits and the spicy hops have a stronger bite. It's a balanced, warming beer that's perfect for this season of in-betweens.
You don't have to go to Bavaria to get a good maibock. Summit brews a solid example that is properly malty with honeyed highlights and a quiet, toasty background. The sturdy base is tempered by moderate bitterness and floral hop flavor. A crisp finish brings it to a satisfying close.
Sierra Nevada's Glissade offers a subtler take on the style. Herbal, almost minty hops offer counterpoint to honey-tinged malt. Mellow bitterness seems to float above it all. It's rich and creamy, but utterly drinkable.
For a stronger take on the style, try Schell's Maifest. The brewery calls this a golden doppelbock, and its full-bodied richness fits that label. Thick, honey sweetness and chewy bread dough envelop the palate, relieved by a sharp, herbal shot of hops. Maifest is a cozy comfort to lift your spirits as the Minnesota winter drags on into April.
Spring is when I crave hoppy American-style pale ales and IPAs, their citrusy hop flavors giving a bracing wake-up call to the senses. One of my standbys here is Centennial IPA from Founders Brewing Co. Brash bitterness and juicy grapefruit flavors lead the way, but this one isn't just about hops. Underlying caramel sweetness and a gentle touch of toasty biscuit add welcome depth.
Lagunitas' New DogTown Pale Ale gives a different take on hop flavor, favoring pine over citrus. Its aggressive bitter blast is only just balanced by a foundation of grainy graham crackers. An exhilarating rush of resinous hop character is generously layered on top. The sensation has been described by some as "drinking the Christmas tree."
A stronger imperial IPA gives that hoppy slap in the face to snap you out of hibernation, but with fuller body and soothing alcohol that bring comfort when winter tries to reassert itself. One of the best is Maharaja, a seasonal release from Avery Brewing Co. It starts and finishes with a muscular, bitter kick that's backed up by equally brawny caramel and bready malt. Zesty notes of grapefruit, mint, grass and pine well up in the middle and carry through to the end. Maharaja is at once bracing and mysterious. Look for this in stores mid-month.
Double Bubble from Rush River Brewing Company in River Falls, Wis., is a stimulating, if slightly less intense, locally brewed imperial IPA. Hops are highlighted with citrus-pith flavors and bitterness that nearly overwhelms the malt. Succulent stone-fruit aromas waft in and out, adding a nectareous counterbalance. This one is great with a spicy Indian korma.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.