Fall’n Into Beer: Oktoberfests
Fall is my favorite time of beer.
It is also one of the most distinct seasons for rotational beers throughout the year. Pumpkin beers, Märzen lagers, Halloween-inspired creations, and a host of end-of-harvest-flavors create a unique blend of ales as diverse as color’s of the changing leaves. So what better time to sample what’s available then my favorite season?
One caveat: beer offerings are very regional, and New Orleans is not yet a bastion of craft beer as say Colorado, Chicago, Portland, or Massachusetts. In fact, I would say the Big Easy is one of the last cities to start tapping into that keg, but rest assured—beer will flow in the south!
The Märzen style, or Oktoberfest as many know it, originated in the Bavarian region of southeastern Germany around the 16th Century. The brewing season ended with the coming of Spring, and beers brewed in March (März in German) were brewed with a higher gravity and kept in cold storage over the Summer months. As fall came, these beers came out “dark brown, full-bodied, and bitter” and were served for Oktoberfest.
Today there are many versions of Oktoberfest beers, ranging from pale/light (Helles) through amber to dark brown (Dunkles), though most have a medium to full body, a roasted/malty flavor, and a clean dry finish.
Below is my ranking of the Oktoberfests/Märzen I’ve sampled thus far:
#1 Lagunitas “Tuber Fest” (Petaluma, CA) 7.5%: This hopped up take on the traditional märzen packs a lot of malty complexity into one beer. Slightly malty on the nose, this beer packs a lot Pacific Northwestern Idaho hops with caramel and malt. It’s buttery with touch of herbal tart and a slight hint of cinnamon and spice. It also has a higher ABV then most. This isn’t traditional, it’s Americanized, but that’s exactly what I like about it. This is the Oktoberfest I’ve been looking for!
Zim Score: 4.5/5
#2 Spaten “Oktoberfest” (Munich, Germany) 5.9% : You can’t get much closer to the original märzen style then by going directly to the source. Dark, malty, with a slightly toasted flavor, this bready beer is crispy with a toffee finish. The light caramel is pleasing and slightly sweet.
Zim Score: 4.25/5
#3 Wiseacre “Oktoberfest: Gemütlichkeit” (Memphis, TN) 5.9%: Wiseacre has quickly becoming one of my favorite southern breweries, and their Oktoberfest is no exception. Dark and malty, this lager has a nice balance between hops and roasted brown sugar to give it a caramelized and earthy flavor. It’s a good full-bodied beer that’ll have you asking for more.
And, btw, “gemütlichkeit” means a state of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer!
Zim Score: 4.25/5
#4 Saint Arnold “Oktoberfest” (Houston, TX) 6.6%: This beer from the fine folks in Texas is smooth and crisp, with a buttery cinnamon-brown sugar overtone to it. Yet it’s still easy enough to drink that you could pound plenty of Oktoberfest liter boots of the stuff!
Zim Score: 4/5
Horny Goat “Oktoberfest” (Milwaukee, WI) 5.6%: Light, slightly spiced, well-balanced with some hoppiness and citrus (Zim Score: 4/5)
Santa Fe “Oktoberfest” (Santa Fe, NM) 6%: Malty and sweet with a medium body (Zim Score 3.75/5)
Brooklyn “Oktoberfest” (Utica, NY) 5.5%: This is a very nice Oktoberfest, as satisfying as freshly baked bread, yet still very light; well-balanced between crisp and amber. (Zim Score 3.75/5)
Sierra Nevada “Oktoberfest” (Chico, CA) 6%: Crisp and clean on the front of the tongue, malty and caramel on the back. Light and airy and easy drinking, this one fits closer to the Austrian/Helles style (Zim Score 3.25/5)
Leinenkugel “Oktoberfest” (Zim Score: 3/5)
Covington “Fest Bier” (Zim Score: 3/5)
Bell’s “Oktoberfest” (Zim Score: 2.75/5)
Urban South “Oktoberfest” (Zim Score: 2.75/5)