Since Oktoberfest beer season is upon us, here is an entry from 2011 about Oktoberfest beer.
Here it is the middle of August and we are seeing the signs of fall on our beer shelves. I have seen a number of Oktoberfest and pumpkin ales appearing already. If you did not know, Oktoberfest is a German festival that dates back to 1810. It is held in Munich and lasts sixteen days — ending with the conclusion of the first weekend in October. So really, most of Oktoberfest actually takes place in September – this year (2011) it begins on September 17th and ends on German Unity Day on October 3rd.
The festival begins with the traditional tapping of the first keg by the Munich mayor. Amazingly, about 1.8 million gallons of beer are consumed during the festival. Only beer brewed within the city of Munich is served at the festival and they include six names that are familiar to US beer shelves: Hacker-Pschorr; Paulaner; Hofbrau; Lowenbrau; Augustiner and Spaten. So, if you are looking for authentic Oktoberfest beer — look for offerings from these brewers.
Like a lot of Oktoberfest beers, the traditional lager is called “Marzen” (translates to March). Since summer’s heat wasn’t conducive to producing (or storing) beer, this traditionally malty ale was brewed in Spring and consumed all summer long. The inventory spent the summer stored in caves and cool places. The alcohol level was also elevated to 5 – 6% to prevent spoilage. The remaining beer was consumed when the brewing season resumed in fall. So — essentially Oktoberfest is basically the equivalent of a big fridge purge.
I’m going to try and give a quick opinion on as many of the “big 6” Oktoberfest beers listed above.
Tasting: August 20, 2011
A lot of beer from mainland europe have that same distinctive skunky aroma and taste — and that’s what I get right off the bat. Once again, a light green bottle might be the culprit here as light is beer’s enemy. Very carbonated with large bubbled white head. The skunky flavor is a flash and it subsides to reveal a sweet lightish malt that is quite pleasant and right behind comes a crisp and bitter finish. This is more of a traditional German pilsner and not one you would think to pick out as a brew made for such a momentous festival. I could see enjoying this out in the hot sun in Munich — I’ll give it 85 points.
Tasting: September 7, 2011
Although it’s a Marzen/Oktoberfest – it’s also described on the label as a malt liquor. As mentioned in another post a malt liquor is just a beer with a high ABV — and years ago 5.9% was considered quite high. This one pours a light ruby brown with grayish white head that goes still quickly. It’s clear and you don’t see any carbonation — but it’s quite evident with my first sip — fizzy. It’s light in body and light in flavor. Slightly sweet and somewhat herbal. I don’t think I should have to concentrate on finding flavor – it should be self-evident. I’m not that impressed, 72 points.
Tasting: October 2, 2011
So, the Oktoberfest festival ends tomorrow with German Unity day. Like other European breweries Hacker-Pschorr can trace its history to the middle ages — 1417 to be exact to the Hacker brewery. Joseph Pschorr bought the brewery from his father-in-law in the late 19th century and established a separate Pschorr brewery under his name. It wasn’t until 1972 that the familiar name was born. You’ll even note that the logo on the bottle carries the symbols of both breweries. Admittedly, this is an annual purchase for me. One other quick label note – 5.8% ABV (right where you’d expect it to be). This Marzen pours a clear brown with a off-white head. The whole beer goes still pretty fast. Nice sweet nose — definitely get the pilsner malts coming through. That same maltiness follows through on the first sip. I describe German pilsner as a sweet skunky flavor. Really its a caramel over a subtly bitter hop (Alpha Acidity — or bitter hops are mild in Germany). Really nice mouthfeel, finishes very crisp. A lot of similarities with Hof Brau’s version — except Hof Brau was a notch sweeter – and this one looks like a fall beer should look – brown. I’ll put this one at 88 points.
Tasting: October 5, 2011
As mentioned there is “the big six” among Munich Oktoberfest beers — This is my fourth from that group. I suspect that Lowenbrau and Augustiner will be hard to find but, I’ll keep looking. This one is also 5.8% ABV. It is also one of my contributions to the “pop-swap” this month. Our theme is Black and Brown. Craig argued that this shouldn’t qualify as brown — but after I pour this one — it’s definitely brown. Looks remarkably the same as the Hacker-Pschorr pour. It’s clear brown and quite still. A little fizzy on my first sip. The sweetness of the pilsner malt is subtle — almost too subtle. I’m picking up some biscuity bread flavors before a very awkward buttering hop closes this one out. I’ll have to put it well behind Hof Brau and Hacker Pschorr — at 80 points.