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 Oktoberfest 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 Oktoberfest 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 Bier. If 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 Octoberfest 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 Oktoberfest 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 Oktoberfest A time-honored take on marzen-style lager that quite simply, speaks for itself. In Akron,the same can be said of Brew Kettle Oktofest 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 Ale 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.