what:Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Mecklenburger Helles Lager
price:about $10.99 for a six-pack at major retailers
Helles (German for “light”) is one of the great traditional beer styles of Munich. A good helles is a very drinkable beer that I believe has been unfairly overlooked in the avalanche of IPAs and barrel-aged beers of contemporary craft beer.
A helles is somewhat related to the pilsner style, but the difference between the two lies in their bitterness. A proper helles is evenly balanced between hop bitterness and malty sweetness, or perhaps leaning sweet with bitterness in a secondary role. A traditional pilsner is decidedly, but pleasantly, bitter.
Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is a rarity in American craft beer. It’s a lager brewery, one that specializes in traditional German styles. I had not tasted any of its beers since my last visit to the brewery several years ago, and I hoped the Mecklenburger would be a great example of a helles. I was disappointed. The balance of flavor and taste components in this beer is just off — too bitter, too sweet, more hop flavor than malt with a possible hint of buttery diacetyl.
If you want to experience the elegance of a true helles, try the great Munich versions by Paulaner, Spaten or Weihenstephaner. Cheers!