Friday, November 20, 2009

Oktoberfest: The Finale

It might have been more fitting to title this post "Oktoberfest: The Letdown," because the end result of my quest is the realization that I simply don't like this style. I was disappointed with the offerings from otherwise solid breweries, such as Berkshire Brewing Company, Opa Opa and Geary's, although the latter was actually an Autumn Ale rather than an Oktoberfest. Another disappointment was that I was unsuccessful at tracking down Victory Festbier, the recommendation of one of my faithful readers. In fact, last weekend I went on their web site to try and locate stores in my area that carry their products.

Practically right down the street from me is Ball Square Fine Wines and Liquors, who had what seemed like every brand that I've ever heard of that Victory brews—including HopDevil, Prima Pils, Golden Monkey, Storm King Stout, Hop Wallop and Victory Lager—but no Festbier. In hindsight, I guess mid-November is probably too late for most fall styles, unless they're not big sellers and have been sitting on the shelves all season.

So, despite not getting to taste one of the fall beers that I most highly anticipated, I'm going to summarize. I honestly didn't find a single Oktoberfest that really made a positive impression on me. Even those that I thought were pretty good at first ended up wearing out their welcome before I'd even finished one, generally due to their overbearing sweetness. For that reason, I've come to a conclusion that's the beer-tasting equivalent of "it's not you, it's me." That is, I'm just not the right person to evaluate this style, because it's just not my thing.

That said, there were a few non-Oktoberfest fall brews that I really liked, so I'm going to rate my three favorites here. Unfortunately, you may have to wait until next September to get your hands on these.

Southern Tier Harvest Ale - Southern Tier Brewing Company is located in the village of Lakewood, in the southern part of western New York commonly referred to as the Southern Tier. I've seen their beers on draft around town occasionally, and even tasted their IPA before, but this fall they've become one of my new favorite breweries. This dry-hopped ale has a wonderfully hoppy aroma—unusual, of course, for a fall style—is nicely balanced and goes down smoothly. Grade: B+

Southern Tier Pumking - This one practically knocked me over with its powerful aroma, which is pumpkiny, of course, but also reminds me of gingerbread. At 9% ABV, you would think a brew of this variety would be overly sweet, but it's not. It's only a little hoppy, but that's just enough to offset its pumpkin-spiced sweetness. This is absolutely the best pumpkin ale I've ever tasted. Grade: A

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale - Not nearly as pumpkiny as Southern Tier, Dogfish's attempt at this style is a mildly spiced—with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as pumpkin—and mildly hoppy brown ale. In my experience, everything that Dogfish brews is excellent, and Punkin Ale is no exception. Grade: A-

Finally, here is the list of all the fall brews I tried this season (Oktoberfests unless otherwise indicated): Hacker Pschorr, Paulaner, Harpoon, Samuel Adams, Blue Hills Okto-brau, Southern Tier Harvest Ale, Gritty's Halloween Ale, BBC, Southern Tier Pumking, Shipyard Pumpkin, Geary's Autumn Ale, Leef Peeper Lager, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, Opa Opa.


  1. Southern Tier is now on tap at the local watering hole. Good stuff.

    I am a fan of the Oktoberfest style. We happened upon the Sam Adams Brewery tour for the first of the season. Like Campbell's soups mmm...mmm. good.

  2. Oh, that's right...Southern Tier is kind of in your neck of the woods. I might have to get you to ship me some. Actually, I've seen their products in stores here.

  3. Hope you get ahold of some Festbier next season.

    On a related note...have you had the Ommegang Double Chocolate 10th Anniversary Stout? Cracked a bottle last night. Just outstanding.

  4. That's the Chocolate Indulgence, right? Had that on our trip to the brewery in February. Very good stuff...didn't bring home any, though, so it's been a while.

    Too many beers, too little time.