What Makes Beer A Helles?

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When it comes to summer brews, you have a lot of choices. But if you want to cool down the German way, you’ve got to go for a helles. Nowadays, this German classic is typically overshadowed by its delicious bubbly counterpart: the pilsner. But back in the day, it was the only beer that could compete with the hugely popular pilsner.

Let’s take a closer look at what exactly makes beer a helles. We don’t doubt that you’ll want to get your hands on a bottle after reading this.

Brief History of Helles Beer

Despite its name, this refreshing beer style is anything but hellish. “Helles” actually means “a light one” or “a bright one” in German. The style was invented by the renown Spaten Brewery in Munich in 1894 as the pilsner was reigning. Experts say Spaten created helles to directly compete with the massively popular pilsner. It was a success.

A cask of helles was first shipped out on March 21, 1894, to the lucky city of Hamburg, Germany. This shipment was a sort of test to see if the public enjoyed the beer. And they did. As helles spread through Hamburg’s taverns like wildfire, Spaten knew that they had created something profound. Helles was released in Munich in casks and bottles on June 20, 1895.

Nowadays, you can find helles under a variety of different names. Since the brew was invented in Munich, it is often referred to as “Munich Original Lager” or “Munich Light”. Pilsner has managed to beat helles out as the most popular beer in Germany, but it is still widely drank, especially in the summer.

Helles Flavor, Appearance and Characteristics

Now that you know all about where helles came from, you probably want to know what it tastes like. Helles is a traditional German pale lager. It’s often referred to by beer experts as the culmination of thousands of years of German brewing tradition. It requires an uncomplicated recipe and a few high quality ingredients to create a subtle but compelling beer that entices beer lovers across the world. German pilsner malt and noble hops are all that make up this delicious brew.

Helles stands out from its larger counterpart, the pilsner, by being malt-forward and featuring less hop flavor. While west-coasters might not be fans of this reduction in hops, Bavarians were. Helles typically has a subtle malt sweetness and bready flavor with a nice balance of herbal German hops that are carefully restrained. Though easy to drink, helles typically clocks in on the stronger side with a 4.8% to 5.9% ABV. They are medium bodied and usually pour a beautiful straw-blonde color with an alluringly tall head.

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Carla Lauter was the founder of The Beer Babe and has been a beer blogger and expert for several decades. She's been interviewed in beer publications and podcasts about her favorite brews and the craft brewing scene. While she's ceased her involvement with The Beer Babe, her legacy remains in the various reviews and articles she has written.