Craft Beer Scene Around Rockford: Munich Helles Lager a refreshing summertime beer

By Michael Sears
President, Forest City Brewers

This week, I would like to talk about a beer that is more accustomed for drinking during the warmer weather. This is beer is known as Munich Helles (pronounced hel-is) Lager.

In the mid-1800s, when the golden and clean lagers of Plzeň became very popular, the brewers of Munich feared Germans would start preferring to drink the Czech beers versus their own. Munich Helles Lager was their answer.

The German word “Helles” translates as “light” and “Lager” means “to store.” This style emerged in Germany through the Spaten Brewery’s combining of British, Bohemian and German brewing techniques, and is an integral part of brewing history, as it is the predecessor of the straw-colored, light-bodied beers that are the most widely consumed beers in the world today. Lager yeast ferments the beer slower and at lower temperatures than ale yeast. This results in a beer that is more smooth and drinkable.

Schlafly’s Summer Lager is brewed by the St. Louis Brewery in St. Louis. According to their website: “Our Helles-Style Summer Lager is a bright, golden beer, perfect for summertime. The malts we use impart a wonderful, fresh grain character, reminiscent of European lagers. The German Noble hop, Mittelfrüh, lends a mild lemony, spicy flavor.”

Munich Helles Lager is traditionally served around 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit in a Flute or Pilsner Glass. I used a Pilsner glass for this tasting. The pour is a clear, bright golden color. The head isn’t overly thick, maybe a tad more than a finger in depth, then dissipates rather quickly and settles into a thin, white, dense layer over the beer. It appears to have a fair amount of carbonation, as lots of bubbles are seen rising in the glass. The lacing is minimal.

This has a clean aroma with a dominant rich, malty pilsner character followed by spicy and grassy hops and a hint of citrus. This is a clean-smelling beer that doesn’t linger and is very inviting to taste. So, let’s give this a taste!

The first sip is clean and fresh. The malt taste is grainy, which in this case is pleasant and works for the beer. There seems to be some caramel in the background, which is offset by a lemony flavor. The finish isn’t overly bitter, but is crisp and refreshing and cleanses for the next sip.

Mouth feel is thin-bodied, and the medium carbonation tickles the tongue, typical and expected for the style, and quite refreshing. The dry finish with lingering citrus is quite enjoyable.

Overall, I would say this is an enjoyable lager and one that does not overpower. A good, refreshing beer for the warm weather, and maybe one to get your stubborn mega-brew drinking friends to try as a “transition beer.” Who knows, maybe it will broaden their beer horizons a bit and allow them to trust your future suggestions? If not, just keep it to yourself and enjoy during a hot summer evening listening to a ball game.


Michael Sears is president of the Forest City Brewers. The Forest City Brewers is a homebrewing club dedicated to the art of finely crafted beer. The club meets the first Wednesday of each month at Thunder Bay Grille on East State Sreet. For more about Forest City Brewers, go to If you have comments or recommendations, please contact Mike at

From the June 4-10, 2014, issue

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