What’s a Helles Lager?

What makes a good lager? Is it the color, the flavor, or the unique blend of malts and hops?

Or is a lager good if you don’t know how to pronounce the name?

The Helles lager, which I’ll just call Helles from here on out, is a classic German lager. For all my Oktoberfest fans out there, you’ve probably had a Helles somewhere in Munich, the original home of this beer style.

Aside from having a fun name, Helles lagers are great beers if you’re looking for something light and crisp. I feel like they’re popping up a little more often lately, so I figured it was time to write about them. Personally, Helles is one of my favorite types of lager.

But first off…why is it called Helles?

Why is it Called Helles?

Helles, pronounced either as hell-es or just hell, is a German word (if you can believe it). Naturally, because words are fun and translations don’t always match one-to-one, you would be alright in assuming that a Helles is for satanic cultists, or something like that. I don’t know what you assume.

Well, toss those assumptions away! Because Helles is German for “light” or “bright,” and maybe even something like “pale.” If you’ve had a Helles, then this makes a lot of sense since those are all beer terms that I’d use to describe a Helles.

While the actual pronunciation might be hell, I imagine saying that instead of the more common hell-es might turn some heads, or at least get you a weird look from a less-informed patron at a brewery. If this is your goal, go for it.

What Does a Helles Taste Like?

Being a lager, Helles is going to have a lot of those classic lager flavors. Helles tend to be light, a little malty, and low in bitterness. Like with other lager styles, Helles lagers are cold fermented to create much more complex flavor profiles. 

If we put all lagers on a scale of boldness and fullness, I would put the Helles somewhere around Vienna lagers. But hey, that’s just me and what I’ve been drinking. I’m not trained (yet).

While I can’t speak for all brewers, Helles tends to have Hallertau hops, a variety native to Bavaria. Malts are probably something similar to what you’d find in a Vienna lager, Pilsner, or really anything from the German-Austrian-Czech beer region.

And that’s pretty much everything I have to say about Helles lagers! Leave a comment for when I inevitably get something wrong. Cheers!

Thomas Short
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