Friday, September 25, 2009

The Quest for Oktoberfest

Before the advent of refrigeration, brewing beer during the summer was nearly impossible. In fact, a 16th century Bavarian ordinance declared brewing illegal from late April until late September. As a result, German brewers would store their Märzenbiers underground or in caves from March until September, when they would be unearthed for their Oktoberfest celebrations. The Märzen style became what today we more commonly refer to as an Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest is a seasonal beer style that, to me, has a lot of potential. I always get pretty excited about these brews, but quite often end up a little disappointed. I don't really seem to take to the traditional German varieties, which all too often have a hint of that European lager taste that just puts me off. It's generally the American microbrewed styles that do it for me, but only when done just right.

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what it is that constitutes "just right" in my book, but I'm on a quest to find out. As fall has officially arrived, and this particular beer style seems to be popping up on draft at various establishments, I've decided that I'm going to be committed this season to sampling as many different Oktoberfest offerings as possible. In doing so, I'm going to keep track, of course, of those that I really enjoy and the reasons why, and then I'll profile them here once my mission is complete. I'll also try to identify exactly what it is that really floats my boat about beers in this category.

I need your help, though. Obviously, I'm aware that I need to check out all the standard German Oktoberfests—Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker Pschorr, etc.—and I promise to keep my mind open to the possibility that one or more of these will erase my prejudice against them. But, I'd also like to know what some of you like.

I'm also opening this up to other fall styles, particularly pumpkin ales and harvest ales. Regarding the former, I first tried a pumpkin-spiced beer in the mid-90s at Brown & Moran Brewing Company in Troy, New York. I loved it, but I haven't tasted a pumpkin beer that I've liked since, including Brown & Moran's subsequent batches. I've heard good things about Dogfish's entry into this market, so I'm sure I'll have to check that one out. But, of course, I'm also open to suggestions.

So, I guess what I'm asking is what are your favorite Fall beers? I'd love a few recommendations to help me get started.


  1. I've got a few of the Dogfish Head Pumpkin at home that I'm looking forward to cracking. Might wait 'till is just a tad cooler outside.

    I've always struggled with Octoberfest beers. I'm delighted when I see them (just seems like they should be good) and consistently bummed by their cloying sweetness and general lack of depth (think Sam Adams' offering). Their supposed to have a higher alcohol content, but it's never enough for me to really notice a difference.

    Please do post your findings. I'm ready to revisit the category this fall.

  2. Sounds like we have similar experiences with the Oktoberfests, Joey. Lack of depth = Sam Adams...totally hear you on that one.

  3. Chuck,

    I think we have a winner. Try Victory Brewing's FestBeer. Characteristic low/no hops, but a sufficient malt/yeasty/carmely sweetness to give it something you want to keep tasting. You won't be sorry.

    Let me know if you get your hands on some.

  4. Thanks Joey. I'll definitely seek that one out and let you know what I think.