I was recently asked what is the difference between German and American Oktoberfest. After many years of sampling these annual celebrations, I think it comes down to the yeast and the ester interaction with the malts and hops, which produces in the German versions, a very distinctive dry floral finish. People who complain that American takes on Marzen lack this, really have little to complain about, since fresh versions from Munich are available.
People who do not care for Samuel Adams Octoberfest (with a C rather than the usual K) do not seem to appreciate that Jim Koch and company have developed their own North American take on this style.
It is also equally true that elite beer drinkers have difficulty acknowledging that commercial interests such as Beck’s of Bremen, Germany, have shown they are quite capable of brewing a highly drinkable fest bier themselves.
Since the Marzen march continues to this day, I want to mention a somewhat extraordinary drinking experience from a couple of weeks ago, when I got my thirsty hands on a 25 ounce bottle of Dogfish Head Brewery’s tribute to the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis Bitches Brew, that groundbreaking 2 LP set that is considered by many as the beginning of jazz fusion music.
The Dogfish Head tribute is several parts imperial stout combined with a honey ale that uses gesho, a traditional African root used as a replacement for hops. The result is an incredibly balanced (yet mysterious!) presentation that is silky smooth, where neither the chocolate notes nor honey sweetness dominates. Some reviewers at Beer Advocate have said they taste alcohol, which despite this being a 9% ale, I could not detect at all. Just a delicious focused ale from start to finish.
Of course the perfect musical accompaniment for this is Miles Davis Bitches Brew, which 40 years later is still worth listening to. Alas, bottles of the ale were sold out within a day around here. So it is very likely that I will never taste another. I am happy that I was able to experience it