Just to prove the fact that our beer palates can evolve with time, and sometimes for no discernable reason, I have come to more fully appreciate a beer style that has heretofore been one of my least favorite seasonal offerings. I’m talking about the German, or German-inspired, Oktoberfest (Marzen) beers. These amber lagers always had two things working against them for my personal affection – they’re lagers and they’re amber. This combination, quite frankly, generally always evokes one thought in my mind; boring.
There is exception to every rule, of course, and I have never gone so far as to say that all lagers, and all amber beers in general are boring, but I certainly have counted them among the more pedestrian of beer styles. This has not been an arbitrary assessment either; I’ve sampled plenty of amber ales and lagers that have only strengthened my conviction in this regard. I am an ale man, through and through or at least I was.
Enter the Oktoberfest beer. I don’t know what changed this year for me, but I have really grown to enjoy this fall favorite in a way I’d never enjoyed it before. Maybe I have sampled better examples of the style this year, or maybe I’ve grown to recognize subtleties of aroma and taste that have been lost on me in the past, I don’t know. Whatever it is, though, I’m thankful. The Oktoberfest style is a terrific session beer that also paired very well with a variety of foods and is flavorful enough to stand on it’s own – a particular distinction for a lager, in my opinion (at least a lager than is not a bock).
The first Oktoberfest beer I tried this year was from Millstream Brewing Company. This beer has remained my favorite of the lot so far. I can’t speak to just how closely this beer sticks to the nuanced criteria for a true Oktoberfest beer (noble hops, etc ), as I’m no authority on the style, but I do know that this beer is just plain tasty and in some ways reminds me more of a good nut brown ale than a lager. Here are my tasting notes on this one:
Pours a nice amber brown color with a bubbly light tan head. Active carbonation in the pint glass and thin rings of lacing are evident. The nose is of roasted malt, slightly nutty and a touch of floral hops. The palate is quite malty, with a pleasant nutty character that is , to me, not unlike a good nut brown ale. Well-balanced flavors and enough hop presence to keep this one on the dry side. Mouthfeel is medium, at best, and quite crisp and clean on the finish. This is certainly one of the better American-made Oktoberfest beers I’ve tried in recent memory.
I figure I’ve sampled a total of nine different O-Fest beers so far this year and am planning on a few others in the coming weeks, before I focus my attention more fully on some of the glorious strong and dark ales of winter for which I have a passion. I’ve greatly enjoyed broadening my horizons with this surprising lager. If you’re curious about the other examples of the style I’ve tried so far, here’s a list (in order of preference):
1. Millstream Oktoberfest Lager 2. Schlafly Oktoberfest 3. Beck’s Oktoberfest 4. Harpoon Oktoberfest 5. Paulaner Oktoberfest 6. Samuel Adams Oktoberfest 7. Spaten Oktoberfest 8. Leinenkugel Oktoberfest 9. Michelob Marzen
If you’ve had other O-Fest beers you particularly like, and think I need to add to my list, please let me know. Now that I have a newfound appreciation for this not-so-new beer style, I figure I have some catching up to do! If you’d like to find out more about the Oktoberfest celebration, and the accompanying beer style, start here.
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3. Everything You Need to Know About Oktoberfest Beer | Washingtonian