Monday, November 23, 2015

Festbier Education 2015

I went on a festbier frenzy this year, tasting a total of twelve. Five were from Germany and seven from the US:

By German law, Oktoberfest beer includes any beer both following the Reinheitsgebot and brewed in Munich. So, it can really range in style, but is classically a Märzen style beer, sweet and malty, low hops with a rich mouth feel. My tasting ranged from the light blah of the Hofbräu Oktoberfest to the over-the-top dark and rich Berkshire Brewing Company Oktoberfest Lager.

The top beer of the group was the Ayinger, which was the best example of the style and a most wonderful malty, clean drinking joy. The best of the US beers was the Left Hand. It had all the characteristic malty richness and green bell pepper flavors I came to expect from the festbiers. The Berkshire is worth a special note. It was basically true to style but pushed over the top. Think double IPA compared to an IPA. It was probably my favorite beer of the bunch, but I never would have appreciated its differences without tasting the others. As a group, I found the US beers better since the German beers were uneven.

Here are a few notes on each beer:

Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen - Malty, honey brown and crystal clear, slightly thin finish, rich on the back of the tongue, with caramel notes. A decent beer, but not noteworthy.

Weihenstephaner Festbier - Straw colored with an impressive, bright white and lacy head. It had tiny bubbles that tickled my tongue. Malty but not cloying, rich, full, chewy, not a bit watery. It finished with pepper flavors (both black pepper and bell pepper) that I found characteristic of the style.

Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen - Rusty apple brown, cloudy, thin head, ordinary, slightly malty, like Michelob. I'd pass on this.

Hofbräu Oktoberfest - Straw colored, light head, creamy, slight malt, not sweet but with a sweet
finish, a little sour, blah. Again, a pass.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - Light brown, bright white head, malty with rich pepper flavors. This was the best of the set. If you can only have one, this is the one.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest - This is a collaboration with Brauhaus Riegele. Honey colored, full head, no lacing, malty, rich, green pepper, full bodied finish. Better than any of the German beers except Ayinger.

Brooklyn Oktoberfest - Brown, medium head that dissipates quickly, light malt flavor, tiny bubble effervescence, lighter bodied than average, slightly cloying finish, saccharine. I'd skip this one.

Victory Festbier - Brown, clear, lacy head, lightly malty and clean, but not rich enough. It was okay, but not great.

Left Hand Oktoberfest Märzen Lager - Dark brown with foamy head, malty, rich with green peppers. A good showing.

Sam Adams Oktoberfest - Honey brown with good malty flavors. This is a good, safe bet beer.

Märzen Scorseze Oktoberfest Lager - A good, safe beer, similar to the Sam Adams.

Berkshire Brewing Company Oktoberfest Lager - Amazingly interesting, true to style but pushed to 11 like a double IPA compared to an IPA style. Intensely creamy, malty and pepper flavors amped up
to the point of giving hops-like bittering.

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