Huge, colorful tents full of men in lederhosen and women in dirndls. Ridiculously large glasses, brimming with gold colored, frothy refreshment. Large trays laden with assorted wursts, krauts and Bavarian pretzels. Sounds of an oompah band joined by traditional drinking songs, raucous cheers and rowdy laughter.
These are the traditional images associated with Germany’s Oktoberfest, and for most beer lovers, a trip to Munich is a must. However, for those of us who can’t make the trip to one of the most significant events in Bavarian culture, at least we can enjoy the same beers at home.
The traditional makers of Oktoberfest beers are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten, all brewed within Munich. Traditional styles are amber-gold-colored lagers, with pronounced malt avors and accents of German noble hops such as Hallertau and Tettnang.
Domestic Märzens are similar to the traditional offerings, though they can be slightly higher in alcohol, redder in color and more robust in hop aroma and flavors.
If Oktoberfest beers aren’t your thing, this month’s reviews also include some other tasty alternatives: Pumpkin beers.
Pumpkin ales can be quite varied in style but always involve pumpkin in some form, ranging from fresh pumpkin pieces to pumpkin purée or flavoring. The beers are also frequently spiced with traditional pumpkin-pie flavorings, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. They can be mild, or over-the- top intense, but typically boast ample malty sweetness and little to no hop character (though there are “imperial” examples that may exhibit more hop presence).
For those still looking for even more seasonally appropriate selections, we also review a couple other autumnal releases.
Good beer… what more could we be thankful for?
Firestone Oaktoberfest Paso Märzen Beer (Märzen; Firestone Walker Brewing Company, CA); $11/16 oz 4 pack, 90 points. The name might mislead consumers into thinking this is an oak-aged Märzen, but it’s really a rich, spicy and traditional interpretation of the traditional Oktoberfest style. The “oak” in Oaktoberfest is merely a playful nod to the brewery’s location in Paso Robles, which translates as “Oak Pass.” It offers upfront aromas and flavors of caramel malt, earthy hops and dried grass, with hints of brown bread and baking spice. The palate is smooth and balanced, full without being heavy, while medium carbonation keeps the finish fresh and lively. A sessionable yet richly satisfactory brew. abv: 5%
Samuel Adams Octoberfest (Märzen; The Boston Beer Co., MA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. This classic American Octoberfest beer remains consistent year after year, with a rich malt core that’s spiced by earthy clove, cinnamon stick and whole hop accents. It pours a brilliant amber color, with a substantial cream-colored head that lingers. Scents of fresh-baked bread and whole roasted peanut add depth to the bouquet, while hints of stone-fruit preserve and orange oil harmonize effortlessly with the malt-dominant palate. Balanced and refreshing, this is surely one to enjoy throughout the entire season, and even with a slice of pumpkin pie. abv: 5.7%
Victory Festbier (Märzen; Victory Brewing Co., PA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. There is a strong malt character to this beer, with dominating notes of chocolate malt, caramel, toasted bread and dried dark fruits to the nose and mouth. Those notes continue through to the medium-bodied palate, which is fluffy and smooth, with coffee and toffee accents that lingers through the finish. There’s a very faint seam of hop presence throughout, but overall it’s a well-balanced and surprisingly drinkable brew. abv: 5.6%
Coronado Brewing Co. Punk’In Drublic (Pumpkin Ale; Coronado Brewing Co., CA); $12/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. Brewed with brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and plenty of pumpkin, this is pretty much everything you’d expect in a pumpkin ale—basically, rich, velvety pumpkin pie in a glass. Mahogany in color, it opens with a warm, spicy bouquet, offering everything from the ingredient list. The mouthfeel is smooth and slightly creamy—not overly sweet—displaying a masterful balance between the fresh pumpkin purée flavors and baking spice additions that all combine harmoniously with the caramel-malt core and subtle hop astringency. A pleasant alcohol warmth marries the beer’s spicy streak, lingering long on the toasty finish. abv: 8%
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Pumpkin Ale; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, DE); $9/12 oz 4 pack, 90 points. This pours a gorgeous, clear burnt-orange color with a small off-white head that quickly fades. The spice aromas—nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—immediately waft from the glass, with the rich, bready malt and roasted-pumpkin core providing a solid backbone. Toasted malt and gourd flavors lead on the medium-bodied palate, with brisk carbonation that keeps the mouthfeel lifted and clean. The spice notes return on the finish, alongside accents of brown sugar and faint hop bitterness. abv: 7%
Other Fall Seasonals
Harpoon Flannel Friday (Amber Ale; Harpoon Brewery, MA & VT); $10/12 oz 6 pack, 91 points. A fun beer that’s completely seasonally appropriate, this brand new fall seasonal in Harpoon’s lineup is a hopped-up amber ale that screams “drink me while you rake leaves.” With Cascade and Citra hop additions, there are bright hop aromas of citrus peel and pine upfront, with supporting tones of caramel malt, ripe peach and apricot. The medium-bodied palate shows off the malty richness of the style’s core, while the hops take command once again through the pleasantly bitter finish. This is a welcome alternative to the more one-note, malt-driven autumnal releases. abv: 5.7%
Hopzeit Autumn IPA (American IPA; Deschutes Brewery, OR); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 89 points. Labeled a “traditional Märzenbier inspired India Pale Ale,” this is a nice option for those looking for a bit more bitter astringency and hop-fueled kick to their Oktoberfest-style beers. It’s truthfully more IPA in style, but there’s a solid malty backbone to the palate and a caramel-like richness, with additional notes of ripe pear flesh and toasted bread. Other than that, it’s quite hop-centric, with forward aromas of citrus rind and pine resin that carry through the mouth and linger long on the earthy, slightly sticky finish. abv: 7%