FALSETOBERFESTS ABOUND IN EUROPE: SOME AMERICANS DO BETTER
There are exactly six Oktoberfest beers. There might be a couple more if you can find an authentic dark version at one or two of the tents, but we don’t think the darks are even offered any more. The “Big Six” of Munich have arranged (conspired?) to ban any beer that is not brewed in Munich from the fest. When smaller brewers built Munich breweries to try to get a piece of the lucrative sales, the law changed to “grandfather out” any new brewery.
In fact you have the choice of only four breweries now that Spaten and Lowenbrau have merged (and sold out to AB InBev). Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr are owned by the same holding company – one that’s 49% owned by Heineken. The two remaining truly Munich breweries are Hofbrau, which is owned by the State of Bavaria and Augustiner, which is owned by a private foundation—and almost operates as a charity.
Any brewer can use the term “Oktoberfest” to sell beer outside Germany. We’ve tasted over 200 beers that call themselves Oktoberfest (or some other form of “oberfest”). WE sometimes snottily refer to them as “falstoberfests”. We object more to non-Munich breweries who misappropriate the term (Becks, for example) that Americans who clearly are not trying to make you think their beer is served at Munich’s Oktoberfest
Here are a half dozen American Oktoberfest-style beers that that are reasonably easy to get. Beyond that this list includes a range of sweetness, authenticity (“Echt”), and complexity You can use these to celebrate all the “Octoberfest” celebrations that in America occur in October instead of the true fest’s September timing.
Yuengling’s Octoberfest is very sweet, but it’s clean. It tastes to us like a stepped up version of their lager. We think if you like the lager, you’ll be fine with this, and the price is an incentive.
D.C Brau is one of our favorite breweries and one of only a handful for which we’ll buy a full six pack to be able to try a new offering. But their Oktoberfest this year seems unusually sweet with caramel almost to the point of sugar.
Straub Oktoberfest – You’ll probably have to go to Pennsylvania to find this one, but if you’re in Pennsylvania, Straub beers can be found in supermarkets and the like in many parts of the states. Straub is one of the last independent 19th century regional/local brewers started by immigrants in the backwaters of Pennsylvania to slake the thirst of other immigrants. We love the old brewery, and we used to love the flagship lager when we were young and sweet-happy. In recent years, the brewery has added a range of specialty products. This Oktoberfest is sweet – the upstate Pennsylvania demands that—but soft herbal hops and even a hint of fruit give it a pretty nice breadth.
Sierra Nevada collaborates with a different German brewer each year to produce it’s Oktoberfest. This year the brewer is Miltenberger, a decent German brewer, but located a long 350 kilometers from Munich. The color is an authentic rich gold, it has chewy rich malt and slightly more bitter at the end than the real deal. It’s not the smoothest beer they’ve ever brewed, but it’s not bad.
Last year’s version, brewed with Bamberg’s Mahrs Brau, was much more complex and interesting, though.
Heavy Seas brews an Oktoberfest that Ellie calls “echtly risky” – 6% abv and very easy to drink. The sweetness is almost balanced by herbal and slightly fruity hops.
Peak Organic from Portland Maine, is usually available in the same distribution markets as Shipyard beers. Their Hop Harvest Oktoberfest is decidedly hoppy for the style, though there’s some chewy malt underneath. It’s unusual to find a hoppy fest beer anywhere in Germany, but this very American entry accompanies a range of foods well.
We’ll have more to say about the following two beers in a subsequent post. Neither is widely available away from the brewery.
Mad Fox ‘s Hitzig Frau Festbier is another winner this year. It leans towards the modern style and has better balance than most. At a recent Oktoberfest beer tasting, it was more popular than Spaten’s version.
Black Hoof is a new brewery in Leesburg, one of Virginia’s premier beer destinations. He brews Briish styles well, but the German beers are sensational. The slightly dark Opa’s Festbier is one of the best we’ve tasted this year [Beer Review # 0128 20171008]
NEXT WE’LL FEATURE BEERS OF LEESBURG VIRGINIA