2010 is the 200th anniversary of the most well known drinking party in history, Oktoberfest. I won't bore you with all the details, because if you're reading a review of an Oktoberfest beer you should really already know the store of Oktoberfest... Suffice it to say, Oktoberfest is the annual remembrance of a wedding that took place on the Theresienwiese in Munich 200 years ago. People have been returning every year to get drunk and ogle dirndl-clad frauleins ever since. Paulaner, one of Munich's big six breweries, is commemorating the bicentennial with a liter sized can of their Wiesn Bier that comes with the iconic Maßkrug. O'zapft is!
The Kaiser has a lot going for it. Not the least of which is its reference to the turn of the century German monarchy. The label is thoroughly Germanic and even has a picture of Wilhelm II donning his favorite Pickelhaube. This beer speaks to me on levels that I'm uncomfortable discussing in public... and yet, I can't quite come to terms with the actual beer inside the bottle. First impressions mean a lot, even when it comes to drinking a specialty beer. The Kaiser does just about everything right, it's got a killer bottle, mouth watering appearance and aroma... but it ends up being all for naught. Well, that may be a little melodramatic, but you get the idea. There's some deceptively awesome packaging here and I really want to like this beer but the flavor falls short. Actually, it falls too far... as in, it's too strong, too alcoholic and too sugary sweet.
I'd heard a lot of good things about New Belgium's Hoptober Golden Ale. I was a little hesitant to pick this beer up because of how it has been compared to Pale Ales. I'm very particular about the kind of strong hop flavors I like and considering how this beer is New Belgium's Oktoberfest seasonal I couldn't help but think of a hoppy Amber or Märzen. Neither of those options sounded particularly appealing but I decided to pick up a bottle of Hoptober before I completely convinced myself that I wouldn't like it. So, for starters, this beer isn't a traditional fall seasonal style. It's really more of a summer or spring Pale Ale. New Belgium calls this a Golden Ale which puts it into the Blonde style. The Hoptober's appearance is rather light, you could even go so far as to call it pale... The aroma is very hoppy, it has that tell tale grassy citrus flavor which pushes this beer closer to Pale Ale territory. After taking the first sip of the Hoptober I'm convinced, there really isn't anything Autumn about this beer...
The Christmas seasonals are starting to hit the shelves so I thought it was the perfect time to pick up a bottle of Redhook's Late Harvest Autumn Ale. As the name would imply, this is Redhook's fall seasonal. This beer is not a Märzen like most Oktoberfest seasonal beer, this is much more of an Amber. The Late Harvest does have a number of Märzen characteristics, which makes it an interesting Amber. Make no mistake about it this is definitely an Amber. The first thing you'll notice when you take a sip of the Late Harvest is the hops. The hop flavor is a bit different than the dry, spicy Amber flavor you'd expect. The Late Harvest has a much more grassy flavor like you'd expect in a Pale Ale. What sets the Late Harvest apart from other (early harvest?) Amber beers is the rich, warm malt flavor. The malt really takes the edge off of the hops and balances the beer out nicely.
Erdinger's Oktoberfest Weizen is a beer I hate to love. It's simple and seemingly uninspired, but it tastes great and is so easy to drink. There really isn't anything about this beer I don't like... It's a creamy wheat that has a light carbonated fizz that brings out the subtle citrus flavor in this beer. It's good, quite good, but it's also pretty boring. I don't mean to imply that I'm looking for a life changing experience every time I order a pint, but I like to have a good time. Erdinger's Oktoberfest seasonal Weizen is just underwhelming. I mean, seasonal beers should be something a little different. Oktoberfest comes but once a year so you should bring your A game (or A beer as the case may be). What it seems like Erdinger did here was just slap a slightly more Bavarian label on a regular Weizen.
Dundee's Oktoberfest has a lot going for it. Just like books and their covers, you shouldn't judge a beer by it's label but sometimes it's hard not to get attached to a great label. This beer, case in point, has a great label and you can't help but think, "I wanna drink this!" You see, this Dundee's label shows a scarecrow who's being picked apart by a crow while eying the frothy beer mug in his left hand. It's a little kitschy but it's fun and fits into the whole Oktoberfest theme. Speaking of which, this is an Oktoberfest Märzen style beer. Märzens are those copper colored lagers that taste like liquid whole grain bread and make you wanna jump in a pile of dry leaves. Dundee's Oktoberfest is a solid Märzen. This beer is copper in color, creamy in texture and roasted in flavor. What more could you ask for?
Breckenridge's Autumn Ale isn't a Märzen or and Altbier... it's not the kind of beer you'd expect by looking at the label. With pictures of leaves and earth tone hues you'd be forgiven for thinking this was an Oktoberfest style lager. Instead of bottling a hoppy or bitter Oktoberfest beer Breckenridge has brewed up the darkest fall seasonal I've seen yet. This beer can best be described as somewhere between a Märzen and a Stout. It's a bit odd, even more so because Breckenridge calls this an Old Ale. It's really all semantics, you can call your beer whatever you want so long as there is a passing semblance of logic to it. What's really more important is how your beer tastes, and in that regard Breckenridge has succeeded in making a good beer.
I'm not real sure about this beer... Spaten is a brand I don't drink too often and I've never really been able to explain why in a meaningful way. I don't hate Spaten, but I don't love their beers either. Generally speaking, their beers are about 80% of the way there. They taste vaguely German, kinda how unsauced sweet and sour chicken pieces taste vaguely like chicken nuggets. All of the ingredients are there but something's just... off. Spaten's Oktoberfest plays right into all of my preconceived notions of what a Spaten is, or isn't. This beer follows the Oktoberfest archetype pretty well, it looks and smells like a Märzen style beer. It tastes, however, like someone was meaning to make an Oktoberfest but cut as many corners as possible to do it.
Ayinger certainly gets bonus points for packaging on this beer. It has nothing to do with their label really, it's all about the bottle cap. I find this bottle cap... hilarious. It depicts a German family sitting down to beers in a field just outside of Aying. The father has a nice Bavarian mustache, wearing what might be a full leg-length pair of lederhosen. Mutti is seated to his left with a beer of her own. Seated on stage right is the young hell raiser of the family, wearing a grey wool suit.... with a beer of his own, of course. The table cloth is a Bavarian blue and white checked pattern, just in case you had any guestion about where this family of three was sitting down to enjoy their liter and a half of beer... It doesn't get much more stereotypically German than this.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest, despite its spelling, is probably my favorite domestic Märzen style beer. Admittedly, I haven't had a huge number of American Oktoberfest beers, but those that I have had just don't taste as well rounded as the Sam Adams. The Octoberfest has a great set of flavors that are rich but not overpowering at all. This is a beer you could certainly drink more than a few of without stripping your taste buds. This beer has a warm toasted malt sweet and salty harmony that finishes with just a bit of hops on the end. This is a nice, well rounded Märzen style lager that most people will enjoy. If you're new to fall seasonal beers, Sam Adams is the perfect jumping on point.