Just in time for November the Pintwell tasting panel takes on seven Oktoberfest beers. Sure, we're a little late, but on the bright side some of the beers might be on the bargain rack. Before we dive into the beers selected for the panel, it would probably be appropriate to say a few things about the style.
First, what's the name again? Confusingly, I've seen Oktoberfest, Octoberfest, Fest, Marzen, Marzen-Oktoberfest, Ur-Marzen, Marzen Fest, Amber Marzen, Fetival Lager, Amber-German-get-you-hammered-lager, and so on. Basically, Marzen is a German amber lager traditionally brewed in March (hence Marzen) and served at the hardcore German beer throw-down known as Oktoberfest. Any beer fest where beer is served in one liter steins can safely be referred to as “hardcore”.
What are we looking for in this style? Malt. We're looking for some crazy rich, complex, and bready malt action with no caramel. Maybe a little toast flavor in there, too. There should be a little hop bitterness without much hop flavor.
Alright, to get this going I picked out the following beers. From United States: Avery–The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest, Samuel Adams–Octoberfest. And, more importantly, imported from Germany: Hacker-Pschorr-Original Oktoberfest, Ayinger–Oktobe Fest-Marzen, Spaten–Oktoberfest, Weissenohe–Monk's Fest, Hofbrau–Oktoberfest. The panel poured out a few ounces of beer and the fun began. In alphabetical order by brewery this is we found:
Avery – The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest
Let me just say this up front, this beer really doesn't belong. It's purely in here for fun. It's so much bigger than the other beers on this list that it's kind of a bizarre outlier. This deep red beer is very boozy and very thick. It taste like the type of oil the Germans would have use in a Panzer tank. Very warm. It beats you up and you feel like the Germans are invading as you drink this odd lager. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of this beer, but others on the panel enjoyed it as a curiosity. Plus the immensity of it was rather attractive in an awe inspiring way.
Ayinger - Oktobe Fest-Marzen
This lager has a light malt aroma that's a little sweet. There is low carbonation mixed with some muscle in the body. It has an ale like quality to it and I find myself expecting more and being left slightly disappointed.
Hacker-Pschorr -Original Oktoberfest
Very little to the aroma, but the flavor is rich, smooth, and even comforting. This is how a fine lager should taste. Solid bread chewiness in you moth awakens your palate. A bit of bitterness, but no hop flavor or aroma. A true Oktoberfest beer.
Hofbrau – Oktoberfest
The Hofbrau is surprisingly light in color, especially when sitting in a row with these other beers. It has the look of a Helles or a Pilsner, but the aromas maltiness is oh so Oktoberfesty. A little bit of the Bavarian mineral yeast flavor mixed in with plenty of malt love.
Samuel Adams – Octoberfest
A deep-dark amber color distinguishes this beer. This beer stuck out because it tasted like a Sam Adams–maybe it was just my mind telling me what I should be tasting when I see that logo, but it very much reminded me of the standard Sam Adams amber lager. The stronger upfront bitterness and what I can only guess as the distinct Sam Adams yeast made this beer the clear foreigner in the crowd. It's a fine beer, but in this crowd it seems, well, it seems it's earned only the lower ranks of the totem pole.
Spaten – Oktoberfest
Lots of bitterness in this one compared to the other Germans. A bit sweet. Bready, malty and all those similar flavor you would expect at this point. A little warm. Classic.
Weissenohe – Monk's Fest
Toasty aroma with a tinge of burnt sugar says hello from the glass. Very complex, you think. Boom! This is a malty flavor bomb of love swirling around your mouth. Sweet, grainy, chewy, and holy smokes good. The thick maltiness reminds me of a doppelbock. But this is still very clean and easy drinking lager. Soooo good.
I have to say, this is an exceptional beer style. When craft beer drinks whine about how ales are better than lagers they are forgetting how great lagers can be. The fest beers of Germany go far in proving that lager deserve the respect of all beer drinker, and this style represents how craft beer is about mastering both the art and science science of brewing. These are all truly excellent beers. So which one was best? Here are our three favorites:
Weissenohe: Monk's Fest – Far and away our favorite. This one blew everyone out of the water.
Hacker-Pschorr: Original Oktoberfest – Classic.
Spaten: Oktoberfest – Again, a classic.
Regrettably, the Paulaner Oktoberfest beer missed out on this tasting. Oh well, Paulaner's Oktoberfest is still a safe bet if your looking for a high quality lager. I also wish more American breweries would brew Oktoberfest beer, but few do and the majority seem more interested in producing pumpkin, fresh-hop, and autumn spiced ales for the season.
While, this post is late in coming many of these great lagers are still sitting on the shelf just waiting for you to come and get them. And then there's always next year.