Category Archives: oktoberfest

One Time Only

When everything in the beer world seems out of sync, often with questionable nonsense being offered as the latest examples of superior beer, I only have to turn to Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest collaborations to remind me that are still breweries, as Carol Stoudt once famously said, that still remember and respect “the integrity of the beer”.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest 2017 is the latest German collaborative brew, this time with Brauhaus Miltenberger, known as Faust Miltenberger in Germany, but because the Faust brand is a trademark owned by AB-I it is not allowed in this context. So be it, this Oktoberfest 2017 is a malt forward recipe that is wonderfully complex and simultaneously quite drinkable oktoberfest2017bottlepint using the finest German malts and hops. this is yet another outstanding example of Sierra Nevada collaboration project success. This from a very large family owned brewery, “owned, operated and argued over” now producing beer on west and east sides of the country.

But the true magic of these collaborative efforts is that each of these Oktoberfests are one time only. Enjoy this great 2017 Oktoberfest while it is available.
The Beer Doctor


Blessed Fest and other Autumn Adventures

Despite outbreaks of extreme hop insanity, the Marzen style also known as Fest beer, abides. For those who think the lupulin of hops is their main reason to consume beer, their aversion to the malty approach of Fest beer reveals a one dimensional outlook that remarkably almost denies the history of brewing. Face the fact that without malt, there is no beer.

Oktoberfest has many manifestations. This year, the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, which I have already written about, with its use of traditional Steffi barley, caused me to celebrate Fest beers, with a newly found appreciation. Putting aside the judgmental frame-of-mind, I find these Oktoberfest beers to be wonderful variations on a timeless beautiful theme.

Take for example Left Hand Oktoberfestleft-hand-oktoberfest-e1346369480368-200x200 A dark copper-amber colored pour with plenty of malty depth. It is also superbly balanced with a biscuit profile complimented by precise hop support. An outstanding pleasurable drink.

For those who think only microbreweries are capable of making good marzen, it would be wise to check out Yuengling Oktoberfest1_118442126_3  A quite good example of Fest bier from America’s oldest brewery. A clean malty profile has nothing out of place. This year’s production is one of my favorites.

Here in Cincinnati, home of the largest Oktoberfest in the United States, we have several very good examples. Hudepohl Oktoberfest BierHUDEPOHL_OKT_6pk_renderIf you Google up Hudepohl Oktoberfest, you mostly see reviews of when the beer was contract brewed by the The Lion Brewery in Pennsylvania. But now it is brewed right here in Cincinnati and it is even better. This dark amber marzen style, is straight forward and unpretentious.
This also of course is where Samuel Adams Octoberfestoctoberfest is produced (please note the earlier label), the world’s best-selling Fest beer, and quite understandably. As I noted in 2009: “this big bright malty recipe is so in tune with the end of summer that I can not think of autumn without it. This is one of my favorite beers, period.”
Locally there is the great Christian Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest38285 Hudepohl’s big brother, emphasizing the location of the world’s largest chicken dance.
Then there is the can of Franz, from Rhinegeist Brewery, another fine example of why this blessed recipe style is in the soul of Cincinnati. The exclusive use of of Munich and Vienna malts give this recipe character, with an inviting aromatic nose.

Moving north in the state of Ohio, there is the mighty Great Lakes Oktoberfestgreat-lakes-updates-oktoberfest-packaging-L-l0OeuZ A time-honored take on marzen-style lager that quite simply, speaks for itself. In Akron,the same can be said of Brew Kettle Oktofestbrewkettleok where the malts, by the very nature of this recipe style, do all the talking.

This year, I thought I was not going to sample pumpkin beers. This was due to the fact that I was disappointed when my beloved Saranac Pumpkin Ale seemed compromised last year. How do I know this? Well the abv of this beer was 5.1%, while in previous years it was 5.4%. I asked about this on line, but I never got an answer from F.X. Matt Brewery. Perhaps the change in alcohol strength meant a slight reduction in the use of Maris Otter malt? Anyway, I was surprisingly disappointed, and what made it worse, my friend Sam at Winner’s Market had gone to the trouble of getting it in stock for me.
Thankfully, I overcame my pumpkin beer aversion, in order to experience Samuel Adams Pumpkin Batch. A lovely golden pour. A saison style take on pumpkin ale that uses its Belgian yeast strain quite effectively. A marvelously complex palate presentation that reveals that artisan thought went into this recipe’s creation, and not just slamming spices into an ordinary ale. With its long dry finish, it reveals itself to be a pleasurable, sophisticated drink.
Then there is Schlafly Pumpkin Aleschlafly  from The Saint Louis Brewery. This ale has literally, a pumpkin pie nose! This big time pumpkin ale is a bit of a departure from Southern Tier’s Pumking, with its candy corn profile. Here, this autumn wassail goes deep with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, making this a bit of a shocker, but nonetheless a very interesting recipe. Unless you do not like the taste of pumpkin pie. In that case, don’t even think about it.

The March Of Marzen

When discussing the history of Oktoberfest, a little known fact these days is that at the original, held in 1810, there was no beer! That was when King Ludwig I tied the knot with Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, and renewed his nuptial happiness every year with the autumn party. By 1814, beer gained importance. But it wasn’t until 1841 that a major step in the creation of what is now known as Oktoberfestbier, came into being. That is when Gabriel Sedlmayr of Spaten Brewing collaborated with Anton Dreher of the Dreher Brewery in Vienna, and introduced Vienna malt which lightened the color of the brew and also saw the creation of Vienna Amber lager. This is why it has been said that Oktoberfest beer is Vienna lager’s big brother.
The history of Marzen, or bier de Mars, goes back to a time before refrigeration, when the beer of March was stored in caves to be consumed at the end of summer. This is why traditional Marzen can be lagered (or aged) for 3 to 4 months.
There is plenty of time for this malty brew to become rich and mellow.
I have heard people speak ill of the Marzen style which I find puzzling. Maybe they don’t like a malt forward recipe style. Or maybe they just don’t like beer. Whatever the case, I have always enjoyed Oktoberfest beers.
Left Hand Brewing’s Oktoberfest stays true to the Marzen style, although at 6.6% abv is one of the stronger examples, although there are super strong Imperial Oktoberfest beers, such as The Kaiser from Avery and Dragonhosen from Boulder Beer, along with Hansel and Kettle from Three Notch Brewing.
Here in Cincinnati, Oktoberfest beer abounds. From Samuel Adams Octoberfest to Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier (a personal favorite) to Christian Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest to Franz from Rhinegeist Brewery.
I have been often asked which one is best? I say that is meaningless. They are all variations of a very beautiful theme.Prosit!

September Is Already Here

Every year there is always controversy about exactly when seasonal beers should appear on the market. I’ve read anguished responses by those who complain that autumnal creations have no business appearing in August. Well, this may bother the weather-cycle sensitive, but the truth of the matter is that breweries want to sell more beer in an ever-expanding platform of choices. So getting their products in the hands of their customers is definitely a priority.
According to the 2012 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Craft Beer is a specialty beer produced in limited quantities, which provides plenty of room to dispel many notions of what craft is suppose to mean. It is downright silly to hear such terms as microand macroused in an attempt to define the quality of a recipe. Never for a moment it seems, that the term craftsmen is ever applied to those brewers who apply their skills to make a beer consistently. Even those wretched pale lagers that the beer elite sneer at, who are shocked (absolutely shocked!) that so many millions not only drink those beers, but actually love them.
But taking into consideration the quantities part of the craft definition, this also can become problematic. Some craft beer seekers are surprised that their favourite brands are made by regional breweries, the unsung heroes of the beer revolution, who, in fact, make much of the good beer possible; whether they are located in Rochester and Utica, New York, or Wilkes-Barre and Pottsville, Pennsylvania, or St. Paul, Minnesota. They also are often surprised to learn that those lagers dreaded by the extreme India Pale Ale crowd, actually take longer to produce than their top-fermented favourites. Take for example, what happened with the Saint Arnold Brewery in Texas, when they decided to make a seasonal Oktoberfest, that was top fermented:
“When it came time to do our blind tasting to choose our beer, the ale version won by a large margin. And the ale took only two weeks to make, versus seven weeks for the lager. Tastes better, brews faster, easy decision. The ale won out.”
Which also reveals that when it comes to traditional Oktoberfest/ Marzen a considerable passage of time is required to make this great brewing style successful.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest
Probably the closest thing to a national Oktoberfest, partially due to being available nearly everywhere. This is an exquisite malt showcase recipe that is celebratory and a delicious accompaniment to a wide variety of foods.

Yuengling Oktoberfest
The first time this seasonal has been bottled. America’s oldest brewery does a solid job using their famous house yeast. Very refreshing and focused.

Great Lakes Oktoberfest
Cleveland, Ohio brewer’s malty strong production of Marzen. Eliot Ness Amber Lager’s big brother. Strong and sweet. Plenty of flavour notes.

Christian Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest
Perfectly balanced rendition, brewed in honor of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.

Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier
A Beer Doctor personal favourite. This recipe has a very tasty nut-malty character that I never grow tired of.

Autumn Preparations

Having recently opened a Twitter account (TheBeerDoctor2), I sent a tweet to Beer Advocate, jokingly asking if all the Oktoberfest beers could be listed on a single thread. “All is not possible” was their earnest reply, and indeed this is true.
Then there is always the perennial question: Which is the best Oktoberfest? Which is, when I come to think of it, a very silly question indeed. Each brewer has their own take on the Marzen style, Samuel Adams uses five kinds of malt. Leinenkugel four specialty hops. The Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin uses Vienna, Crystal, and two-row Munich malts, combined with Tettnanger, Hallertau, and Perle hops. Variations on a theme for sure.
Marzen being a bottom fermented beer takes time to produce. The Saint Arnold Brewery in Texas has their own take on this, replacing lager yeast with a top fermenting ale yeast. While their state brethren over at the Spoetzl Brewery produce Shiner Oktoberfest, using a more traditional approach, which is surprisingly moderate in alcohol. In other words, there is no such thing as the best Oktoberfest. The only criteria is freshness, and which flavor profile you like.
The authentic Oktoberfest beers, which are the six breweries located within the city of Munich, Germany, have a floral note in the finish, which I suspect is due to their proprietary house yeast, of which each brewery is so proud. A fresh five liter can of Hofbrau anyone?

Of course, Marzen style beer is not for everyone. The emphasis on malt, puts off some of the hop obsessed crowd, and quite remarkably, I have read people who say they quickly grow tired of the style, which seems odd, since this style of beer is consumed in the millions of liters.
It is also one of the most food friendly styles, complimenting many hearty dishes. Good beer and good food: what’s there not to love?

The March of Marzen 2 and a 40th Anniversary

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

First Things First, Second Things Second

Much has happened since neglecting my favorite web site, due to crazy local events. I refuse to bore you with those details, so let me get to the subject at hand: Beer!
I am sure by now almost everybody has tasted their fall marzen, or what is commonly called Oktoberfest. I usually sample as many of these as possible, but this year I slacked off a bit, but still had time to try the Kostritzer version from the black bier people in Germany. A change of pace from the caramel malt laden versions around, like Samuel Adams Octoberfest.
But the caramel malt profile has become synonymous with autumn beers in the United States. As the weather turns cooler the body has a need for more malts, which makes super hop productions seem out of season for the moment.
Since it is autumn and we are rapidly moving towards Halloween, I do want to mention one of my favorite seasonal productions, that being Saranac Pumpkin Ale.
Many compare this beer to pumpkin pie, although I do not eat pumpkin pie as a rule. No, what I like about this pumpkin ale is the recipe. I prefer it over Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road, which Matt Brewing does the contract brewing for.
About a month ago I attended a distributor trade show where Rochester, New York brewer Dundee had samples of their Oktoberfest. A very good take on the style, that is not as widely distributed as it should.
I also got to sample Sierra-Nevada’s Chico Estate. A complete “in-house” brew, using hops grown by the brewery. It was quite good, but time limitations prevented the kind of serious, sit down contemplation this smooth ale demanded.
At the very same show (hell, it might as well been called a party) the Schlitz Gusto folks were in full promotional mode. Schlitz Gusto is the trade book name for the revived early 1960’s formula of Schlitz, before the marketing geniuses came up with the idea of tweaking the recipe, to supposedly produce more, while using less ingredients. That lead to the ultimate disaster where Schlitz, the number one beer in America since World War II, lost its market dominance to Budweiser, and never gained it back. As a kid, I heard beer drinking adults refer to Schlitz as “Shits” when the reformulated suds turned people away in droves.
But corporate amnesia was in full play this evening. Like Microsoft wanting you to buy 7 and forget all about something once known as Vista, the Schlitz Gusto had not only tied in to their daddy or granddaddy’s beer, with its Schlitz classic logo, they even had buttons promoting it as the beer of choice for the 1969 Woodstock music festival.
I also had to marvel at the riffs being used by the sales representative. Not only was he promoting Schlitz with quite a bit of gusto, he also had on hand their strong (8.5%) malt liquor, which he made a distinction that it was not malt liquor (which is in fact, a rather ambiguous term) but a high gravity lager.
Which was also in full play at this trade show, the distinction between craft, regional retro and corporate has becomes pretty much of a blur. I know the so-called craft brewers want to seperate themselves from the rest of the brewing industry, but is that actually possible, or is it by now, just another marketing ploy? I mean after trying Samuel Adams Coastal Wheat, how is it different than other big brewer’s wheat productions? From Coors’ Blue Moon to Bud Light Golden Wheat?
As I stated in a previous post, the recipe is the final deciding factor. Consolidation of brewing interests can reek havoc on a beloved brew. Take what A-B Inbev as done to the venerable Bass Ale. Corporate concerns have forgotten all about the character of this famous ale, that once upon a time, in Burton-On-Trent England, was brewed with gypsum mineral rich water that provided a somewhat chalky but delicious finish. None of that is present in the concoction now sold as Bass.
Luckily, some recipes have not been changed, or in rare cases, actually improved. Two of the early winter arrivals are outstanding: Avery’s Old Jubilation Ale and Flying Dog’s K-9. Both of these examples show that if you are going to fork out some serious money for a six pack of beer, it had better be worth it. In the case of these two, I would say it is.
As always my only prayer is thank you.