By John Scholl
The slight chill in the air seems to trigger the release of Oktoberfest beers throughout the U.S. This is one of my favorite styles of beer. Perhaps it’s my German heritage, or that I drank my fill of hop heavy summer beers, or maybe just like the change of seasons. Regardless of what it is, I welcome the release unlike the other flood of a certain seasonal beer *cough *cough* pumpkin.
Märzen (Oktoberfest style) has been used as the official Oktoberfest celebratory beer in Bavaria since the mid 1800s and is characterized with copper color, malt body, and clean finish. Since the flavor profile is similar for all Oktoberfest beers, you can be sure any brand will pair well with grilled meat, red sauces, and spicy dishes. There are many excellent Oktoberfest released from nano- to marco- breweries, I tried to review beers that can be bought across the nation.
My choices of Oktoberfest beers from good to best are Left Hand, New Glarus, Spaten, Samuel Adams, Goose Island, and Firestone Walker.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co – Oaktoberfest
OAKtoberfest. Oak. The reason why I picked this beer up was because I thought it was an Oktoberfest aged in oak barrels. After my first drink I realized that no oak was incorporated into this beer. I reached out via twitter to Firestone Walker to see what was up. They confirmed that the beer was brewed in 100% stainless steel and the “oak” is an ode to their home of Paso Robles. How funny of me to be confused. The oak issue aside, this may be my favorite Oktoberfest ever. It pours a straw color with a rich head that clings to the glass throughout consumption. Malt hits the palate with a slight pepperiness while finishing extremely crisp. This beer is brewed well and I’m happy that my oak mistake made me buy it. My only suggestion to make it better is to age it in an oak barrel.
Goose Island Beer Co – Oktoberfest
While there are many Chicago breweries that release Oktoberfest beers, I wanted to choose the most accessible one from our great city. Goose Island consistently puts out a top notch Märzen that always winds up in my fridge this time of year. This beer has a lot complexity compared to some of the others on this list. It starts with sweet earthy nose, frothy head, and a balanced malt body. One of the hoppiest Oktoberfest beers I’ve had, in that I can actually taste some hop bitterness. The IBU clocks in at a whopping 17, so it’s by no means a hop-forward beer. What I really enjoy about this beer is that as it warms, the caramel flavors really start to shine through. I would love to reduce the beer down and cover an apple in it. Mmmm Oktoberfest caramel apples.
Samuel Adams – Octoberfest
Sam Adams Octoberfest is perhaps the original-mass produced American Oktoberfest beer. This beer has been recommended to me as a gold standard of the style. I’ve tried it in the past but I really don’t remember anything earth shattering about it. This beer is one of the lowest in ABV and pours with a clingy head smelling of caramalt. I now have to agree with those who recommend this beer since it is such a solid drinker. It has a superb malt profile that clings to the roof of the mouth. The flavors stay with you between sips reminding you to take another drink.
Spaten – Oktoberfest
This beer comes from the Oktoberfest source; Munich Germany. If any brewery knows how to make the standard in Märzen, you’d imagine it would be one from the celebration’s epicenter. The thin head dissipates quickly, turning into a really balanced beer that’s not overpowering on malt. I would equate Spaten’s Oktoberfest to a dark Coors (in the best way) with effervescent carbonation and fresh finish. While American breweries attempt to make bigger and bolder malt notes in their Oktoberfests, Spaten keeps the style as a refreshing beer that may be a little mild to the US beer geek taste. I would drink this for days in Munich while wearing lederhosen dancing to polka and gorging on pretzels.
New Glarus Brewing – Staghorn
The first time I drank this I was sitting at a beach bonfire overlooking Lake Michigan just south of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. During that visit, I discovered that Sheboygan brats are worth the hype and that Staghorn pairs insanely well with them. The red ale’s aroma is almost nonexistent but roasted malt body turns to a grassy finish. This is a very approachable beer and would be a great introduction to an Oktoberfest newbie.
Left Hand – Oktoberfest
As a left hander, I’m always drawn to this brewery’s lineup. This Oktoberfest Vienna malts hit heavy on the sides of the tongue while getting sweeter toward the center. The beer seems boozy from nose to finish even though it’s only an ABV of 6.6%. Slight astringent notes appear as it warms which could be from tannins in the grains. Out of all the beers this is my least favorite due to the off flavor, I would suggest sticking with Left Hand’s Milk Stout.