Hello again, Boilermaker beer enthusiasts! I missed writing for you last week, and spent a lot of time at the beer store thinking about what 3 craft beers I would review for you and present for your approval before the Boilers tussle with SEMO. The Fall is a very happy time for me, because it means the onset of cooler weather that is, in my opinion, a superior climate for beer drinking. Breweries around the country are starting to roll out their annual fall offerings, including many Oktoberfest styles (month on the calendar be damned!). But what exactly is an Oktoberfest style beer and who around here makes the best one? Read on to see me pop the top on this family of autumnal beers.
To get to the bottom of Oktoberfest style beers, we need a little history on Oktoberfest itself. Oktoberfest is an annual festival held in Munich, Germany, every year since 1810, that runs from late September (take that, calendar!) until the first weekend in October. Wikipedia tells me that it’s the world’s largest fair, with attendance figures reaching approximately 5 million visitors every year. A model of the "drink local" movement, only beers brewed within the city limits of Munich are allowed to be served. All in all, 7 million liters of beer are typically served over the duration of the festival. [Doing the math, that is 1.4 liters per visitor, which is honestly less than I expected. Party harder, Munich!]
Most if not all authentic (read: actually made in Munich) and cloned Oktoberfest beers are of the Märzen style, a traditional Bavarian lager. A lager is a beer that is stored and fermented for a relatively long time under cooler temperatures before consumption, compared to other styles of beer. Back in the 1500s, brewers would store their beer in caves and stone cellars over the summer months to keep the fermentation temperatures proper. Once late summer hit, the beer was rolled out of the caves into the streets of Munich for Oktoberfest. The Märzen style is defined by medium to full body, with malty flavors dominating the beer. Märzen style beers typically finish somewhat dry.
So, by technicality, any beer made in the U.S. called "Oktoberfest" is a misnomer. However, that has little bearing on the tastiness of these domestically brewed Märzen style lagers. Keeping that in mind, here are my "Oktoberfest" picks for game 2 against the Red Hawks, when cooler Fall weather will descend on West Lafayette.
Octoberfest Beer –Bell’s Brewery, Comstock, MI
While I always try to represent good Indiana brews, this one is worth reaching across state lines for. Bell’s is one of the premier breweries in the nation, producing such favorites as Oberon and Two-Hearted Ale. They also crank out a tasty Octoberfest offering every fall. This beer has sentimental value for me, since it was the first Octoberfest beer I had ever tried. It has a somewhat hazy orange color in the glass, and is heavy on the malty flavors. I pick up slight notes of pumpkin on the first taste. The back side has a distinct woodiness to it and, correct to style, finishes somewhat dryly. In my opinion, this beer is nicely balanced between sweetness and bitterness, and the hoppiness of the brew is downplayed to let the maltiness shine through. If you’re used to drinking lagers (heck, even Boston Lager), you’ll notice a familiar "Lagery-ness" in this beer. One of my favorites every year, this brew is widely available in liquor stores around the state, running about $9 for a six pack.
MunsterFest – Three Floyds Brewing Co., Munster
Back inside the state we go. You may (fairly) knock me for lack of variety in these first few posts, but I promise you that I will venture out to some of my lesser-frequented breweries in future posts! That said, Three Floyds beers will always be among my favorites, and for good reason. Their Octoberfest offering is a shining example of the Märzen style. It pours a yellowish-orange that has a malty aroma with hints of brown sugar, sweet potato, and autumnal spice (call me crazy, but I smelled them all!). Not as bitter as Bell’s in my opinion, this Oktoberfest goes down easily and satisfies for the duration of the 22 oz bomber it comes in. A yeasty flavor is pervasive throughout. Three Floyds is typically noted for their aggressively hoppy beers; MunsterFest is a complete departure from the norm from them, downplaying their usual hoppiness and doing it well. The only drawback of this beer is the cost; while available in many parts of the state, a 22 oz bottle will usually set you back around 9-10 bucks. This is the norm for Three Floyds offerings in bombers, something I’ve gotten used to from loving nearly everything they roll out of that magical little brewery. To me (and other beer snobs, I’d fathom), it’s a price that’s worth paying.
Oktoberfest – Sun King Brewing Company, Indianapolis
I’d been wanting to try this one since last year, but I had to wait for the season to roll around. Sun King describes this brew as "A traditional German lager crafted with choice German malts and Noble hops." Of the three featured here, this is definitely the most lightly-flavored of them all. I went out and bought a four pack (16 oz cans - $15 [ouch]) and sampled it on tap in the tasting room downtown. It smells great and has sweet, amber maltiness without getting too sweet. As with many Sun King beers, this one has a freshness to it that makes it very easy to drink in high quantity. The only downfall, again, is the price. But it’s only Oktoberfest once and if you dig the Märzen style like I do, you go for it.
Note: I believe that Sun King had a hiatus on growler fills of Oktoberfest last week, but that may have been lifted.
Thanks for reading! Go out and pick up some craft beer, head on down to Ross-Ade, and take in the unveiling of some beautiful Fall weather as well as some Boilermaker football.
Cheers! Hail Purdue!