Well, even though August seems a tad early and the whole country is still suffering from record heat, let’s all get on the fall train. Ahhh, fall. Summer’s sweltering heat turns into the cool breeze and beautiful changing colors of autumn’s call. Or, you live in California, things get even hotter, and other parts of the country scoff, for they have something we don’t- seasons. There is one thing we can all share, and that is Oktoberfest beers. [info]
A lesson in Oktoberfest
Prototypically, an Oktoberfest is a Märzen. Lore has it that these were beers brewed in March. März means March in German (or Deutsch, as they call it) and stored (lagered) in the cool caves, to have beer available for summer. Once October rolled around, and with the temperatures falling, it was time to make more beer. Beer left from the March brew was needed to be drunk to make way in the barrels. Drink lots of beer? Sounds like a reason to celebrate.
You know what else is a reason to celebrate? The marriage of royalty … apparently. Don’t know what’s up with you Europeans, but damned if you weirdos don’t love to see your crown wearing demi-gods dress up and make all hoity-toity with the matrimonial merriment. But, hey, it’s worked out well – once. 1810 marked the year that Munich was the site of a parade to honor the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. It was a wedding reception where the rich and the royalty dared to associate themselves with the common folk. And then there was a horse race. Year after year, the horse race (and an accompanying agricultural show) was repeated. It wasn’t long before these crafty Germans realized what goes best with horse racing. Desperation? Okay, second best. BEER!
[quote]So, you’ve got a fest that originally started in October (and now goes into the first Sunday of October), and you’ve this beer that has been lagering and needs to be consumed before we can get to the pressing task of, well, making more beer, of course. Beer meet Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest meet beer. Drink ‘er down. Some 201 years later, we still have Oktoberfest, and it’s the world’s largest beer festival.
My beer style this week is Oktoberfest. You guessed that, didn’t you?
Sure, I could have found myself an Ayinger, Hacker-Pschorr, or Paulaner version of Oktoberfest. But, instead, I found likely one of the freshest versions of the style an American will find this side of Rhineland. I’m talking Samuel Adams Octoberfest. (Shhh, no one tell them they misspelled Oktoberfest). I hear (and refuse to actually research its veracity) that this is far and away the biggest selling Sam (I’m sorry, Samuel) Adams seasonal. Shockingly, Cranberry Lambic was not in the top slot. At any rate, this is a yearly staple, and something I gravitate toward, especially now, when fresh.
Mr. Boston Beer Co.
I once met Jim Koch. Those not familiar with him will recognize him as the guy who looks like a substitute English teacher talking on their commercials. He’s the head cheese over there at Boston Beer Company. I had purchased for a bar owner friend a Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock. This was one of the few bottles left of this beer, which had debuted a year or two before, but not released in these bottles since.
A week or two later, I walked into his bar with the bottle, announced loudly (as I am occasionally verbally energetic) I had arrived, and looked to my left to spot Jim Koch meeting with my friend at the bar. It seemed like a set up, to look like my friend was trying to suck up to Jimmy Koch. He was, but this particular act was not part of the ass kiss barrage; at any rate, I sat down, drank a beer with him, and now get the opportunity to crap all over one of his lovingly brewed creations. Sadly, I am too big of a wimp to do this. Luckily, I really dig this beer.
It’s a lager
Many complain this beer is dumb-down, not only from the original style, but from its own previous incarnations, year to year. First off, sadly, much the same can be said of the lighter (bodied and colored) versions of the style Germans are putting out there to appeal to a wider swath of drinkers. These are their Festbiers, rather than their Marzens. Second, I am an expert on dumb, and I still believe it’s a fine beer, and a great way to introduce a Yank to the beauties of the style. Yes, a lager can be something other than golden fizz water. It can be rich and multi-hued, imbued with flavors from parts of the entire beer spectrum.
From their website, Sam (sorry, Samuel) Adams says:
Samuel Adams Octoberfest masterfully blends together five roasts of malt to create a delicious harmony of sweet flavors including caramel and toffee. The malt is complimented by the elegant bitterness imparted by the Bavarian Noble hops.
Cool. Who needs my review? Nobody. But, hell, I drank the thing. Might as well prove to the in-laws this whole alcoholism thing is actually a “career path”.
Paying homage to tradition, I pour the beer into my true German stein I begged a friend to buy for me on a European excursion. Yay! Now I can hoist the beer in several rounds of rousing drinking songs. Or, sit alone in front of Tosh.0 reruns, and laugh myself silly to the sight of a fat guy getting a Siamese cat caught between the rolls of fat on his rotund frame. Maybe the stein is too festive. Besides, I can’t see the beer inside of a stein.
Grainy Graham cracker sweetness rises in nose, joined by the caramel and roasty notes from the malt. Can I drink it yet? Yes, I can.
Caramel malt flavor rushes to the forefront. There is a slight sulfur note one will often find with a lager. Nothing off putting, but subtle in the back. Maybe a flavor of plum dances across my palate? There’s some definite fruitiness here – surprising for a lager. I attribute that mostly to the roasting and toasting of the malt. There’s also a sweet, malty finish with a ribbon of leafy hop kiss to bring it back to center. Samuel Adams boasts they use Noble hops in this beer, and I believe it. The hopping is elegant, mellow, but balancing – in short, noble.
[quote2 align=right]The body is there. It has a decent mouth-feel. Helped by a moderate carbonation, it’s not overly round and keeps from falling into cloying territory. I want a little more, though. This may be the area people point to with this beer. The flavors are here, the aroma is here, but the body feels smaller than the sum of its parts. It’s like Mike Tyson – strong, tough, and skilled. Then that voice comes, and you think Walt Disney brought a cartoon to life.
Hey, it’s a craft example of a traditional beer style. It’s not perfect, but it’s fresh and it’s utterly drinkable. Why did I only buy one and not a six pack? I gotta get a budget for this thing.
As the fall starts and rolls on, seek Oktoberfest out. Tons of breweries make them. From Victory to Avery to Firestone Walker to Ballast Point to Bell’s to Flying Dog and countless brew pubs that dot the nation, there is a vast cornucopia of malty goodness to dig into. Fresh, local, and delicious – drink it up, brothers and sister. As the Germans say, “Prost.”