Pumpkin beers of course aren’t the only new offerings beginning to fill up the shelves this September. Fall also brings with it a wave of Oktoberfest beers and in keeping with the spirit of the season, I will be doing another series of blind tastings focused solely on these offerings. The methodology is the same as with the pumpkin beers; I hit up some bottle shops, load up on singles, and then my loving wife prepares some samples, typically three per tasting session. After recording my thoughts the beers are revealed. Appropriately enough, all three beers sampled for this first session were named Oktoberfest, so O’zapft is! (at least in my kitchen). Let’s get on with the first round!
My first Oktoberfest style beer of the year turned out to be from Berkshire Brewing Company. I loved this beer as a sample and continued to enjoy it as I worked my way through the bomber, though it did get a bit tough to finish it off solo as it gets pretty aggressive as the bottle goes on (and especially as it warms). At 7.5% this beer was slightly bigger than one might typically expect for the style. It poured a deep amber/caramel body topped off by a foamy white head. The smell was sweet and the taste was quite similar. The sweetness started right up front and carried on through to the end. The finish was caramel malts, just a hint of bitterness, and some alcohol heat. A thicker mouthfeel really kept this beer together well. It wasn’t entirely what I expected it to be, but I sure did like the way it tasted.
Next up was a more classic take on the style which to no surprise to me was brewed by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, who teamed up with German brewers Brauhaus Reigele for this year’s release. It came in at a sneaky 6.0% and poured a golden yellow body with a fizzy white head. Smell was just slightly sweet with subtle hints of light malts and a bready yeast. The taste was rather crisp and carried over the light malt and bready yeast tastes suggested by the smell. The sweetness was also present but was not particularly prominent. Mouthfeel was on the lighter side of medium and there was a moderate amount of carbonation. While this beer certainly wasn’t as big and bold as the first offering, it was quite good in its own way and left me wanting a big stein of it outdoors on a clear fall day. I’d say they hit their mark on this one.
Last beer of the session was put out by Spoetzl Brewery/Shiner. At 5.8%, this beer was just barely the mildest of the day. It poured a light amber, almost golden dark orange body. The smell was a tantalizing blast of sweet, rich malts. The taste that followed was almost exactly the same and quite fantastic. Sweet, rich dark malty goodness with hints of caramel. Mouthfeel was medium plus thickness and the carbonation was on the lighter side of medium. I really liked the malts going on in this beer and was quite happy with it.
To my pleasant surprise I really lucked out with this set of beers. All of them were enjoyable and that makes this initial ranking particularly difficult, especially since there was so much variety in how each brewery interpreted the style (definitely something I’ll keep an eye on). These three should all end up in good standing when all is said and done but for now one has to finish on top and another has to finish on the bottom. It took a lot of thought, but after round one the standings are as follows:
- Spoetzl Brewery/Shiner – Oktoberfest: The malts really did it for me.
- Sierra Nevada & BrauHaus Riegele – Oktoberfest: While the Spoetzl Brewery’s won on taste, if I was going to drink one of these beers all day at a festival, I would choose the Sierra Nevada. This beer was right on the mark for the style and left me wanting more.
- Berkshire Brewing Company – Oktoberfest: While I really liked this beer, ultimately it wasn’t as drinkable as the Sierra Nevada and didn’t come together quite as well as the Spoetzl did for me. That said, I still wouldn’t hesitate to pick up one of these again.
These are my standings, and I am sticking with them. I seriously considered flipping 2 and 3 (or even 1 and 2) but ultimately had to go with my gut feeling and leave it at that. And thus the bar has been set pretty high for round Oktoberfest round two. Cheers!