Meet the lager family: Helles

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Adrian Tierney-Jones

23 October 2019

The epitome of lad culture, lager is sometimes seen as a one-dimensional beer style. But there are more characters and personalities in the world of lager than you and your customers might think. Adrian Tierney-Jones introduces us to them in this six-part series


Bavarian Helles

Family member: The sporty sister

Until the late 19th century the dominant beer in Bavaria was dunkel, a dark lager. However, Spaten Brewery had the idea of producing a golden beer, with the result being called helles. Today’s helles are less hoppy than pils, but remain sporty and flighty, the beer equivalent of the tennis-playing sister.

Some of sporty sister’s friends

Thornbridge Lukas
Light and lucid, this is the godfather of Brit-craft’s exemplary take on the style.
4.2% abv, £86.60/30-litre keg, Pivovar Orders

Braybrooke Beer Co Keller Lager
Gently toasted, slightly honeyed nose, crisp mouthfeel and dry finish.
4.8% abv, £58.32/24x330ml, Hopburns Black

Keeping it in the family

You’ll see various shades of gold in the glass, ranging from the gleam of a well-polished wedding ring to the dulled scowl of an ingot. This is a refreshing beer with a soft, bready character (suggestive of brioche, even), subtle strokes of citrus fruit, a gentle sweetness and an appetisingly dry finish.

Favourite story

There has always been a sports-like energy about Bavarian drinking passions. The emergence of the first helles
in the 1890s had some dunkel drinkers getting in a right old lather over what they saw as the usurping of their favourite beer. Despite this, helles zipped through Bavarian bars and pubs over the next couple of decades and today it remains a favourite session beer.

Gets on well with

Helles is an ideal companion in a Bavarian beer garden, where half-litre mugs gleam in the sunlight and friends toast their good fortune, often in the company of a plate of pretzels.

Lacking the beer garden, a good helles is still an ideal accompaniment to a round of easy-drinking sessionability.

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