Autumn is the favorite time of year for many beer aficionados. The light, watery summer brews disappear from the shelves and are replaced by darker, more robust fall seasonal beers, including the acclaimed Oktoberfest.
The Germans have been brewing Oktoberfest Beer, also known as a Marzen, since about 1840 or so. Each mid-September through early-October, it’s served at the biggest party in the world — the official Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, Germany. Of course, smaller festivals are held around the globe every fall.
By style, Oktoberfest/Marzen beer is a clean amber-colored lager know for its slightly sweet, rich, toasty Bavarian malt flavors. Hop notes and bitterness are minimal but subtle tastes of spicy German Noble Hops can often be distinguished. They are normally clear and around 5.5-6.0% abv.
There is a dizzying array of these fall favorites available at the local beer mega mart, with more and more showing up each year. The German brewers are known to be masters in this style but many of their American counterparts have been releasing solid versions for years. We decided to put eleven popular American Oktoberfest beers to the test in a blind tasting. Each mystery brew was graded solely on its own merit with the style guidelines taken into consideration. The only criteria were that the candidates all had to cost under $4 a bottle and be distributed nationally.
So which of these all-American brewskis will be crowned Mr. Oktober? Find out below…
American Oktoberfest Beer challenge: The first five
Abita Fall Fest: Colored a golden-yellow, this 5.4% ABV autumn offering from the famed Louisiana brewery was visually on the lighter side. It’s mild overall, with sweet malt flavors hitting the tongue throughout. The crisp Fall Fest finishes with a hint of vanilla and tasted almost like a Scottish ale. Not quite an Oktoberfest but a solid brew. Grade: B
Sam Adams Octoberfest: Boston Beer Company’s fall seasonal has been around since 1989. Definitely the most popular on the list, the prominent 5.3% ABV micro is available everywhere. The Sammy Octo is attractive in the glass with copper hues and an amazing clarity. A solid, robust malt profile with roasted and caramel malt pleases the palate but it finishes bland. Clean, drinkable and a real crowd favorite. Grade: B
Brooklyn Oktoberfest Beer: Brooklyn’s finest could be mistaken for Munich’s finest. This eye-catching, medium-bodied New York brew pours a transparent amber and weighs in at 5.5% ABV. A rich, flavorful German malt backbone is intertwined with grainy toasted and bready notes. Malt-y and multi-dimensional, this one is smooth with a tasty toasty ending. Complex and perfectly balanced — it is fantastic and authentic. Grade: A-
Shiner Oktoberfest: Hailing from the lone star state, the Shiner is an attractive, light orange-gold color and über clear. Sweet malt flavors are present in this crisp, clean 5.8% ABV lager but its one-dimensional and lacks character. Nothing really stands out and it‘s a little boring. Drinkable no doubt, but certainly no Oktoberfest. Grade: C
Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest: This light brown 5.1% ABV Wisconsin pseudo microbrew (owned by Miller/Coors) was the darkest of the bunch. Sweeter than most but not cloying or syrupy — it’s nicely balanced and highlighted by yummy toasted and caramel malt notes. An easy beer to knock back. Frankly, we were shocked to find out this was a disguised Miller product but it’s reported that the Leinenkugel family still runs the brewery without interference from the macro. Drinkable, delicious, and surprisingly impressive. Grade: A-/B+
Five down, six to go! So far one top notch fall favorite has been discovered, three good ones have been unveiled, and one mediocre beer was identified. Tune in next time for the second half of the American Oktoberfest Challenge…