Bar Talk: Oktoberfest taste test
When that definitive fall crisp returns to the Rocky Mountain air, my drinking preferences start to shift, and I find myself choosing beer over cocktails more often.
Now, I am no beer connoisseur, and I understand the world of spirits better, as this column focuses more on craft cocktails than craft beer. But this week, I thought it would be fun to do an Oktoberfest taste test.
By the time this column is published, it will be the midway point of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany (This year, it runs from Sept. 16-Oct. 3), and many breweries, Colorado ones included, have released their version of a German-style Märzen, aka an Oktoberfest-inspired lager.
In Germany, the rules dictate that only six Munich-based breweries — Augustiner, Spaten, Hofbräuhaus, Paulaner, Löwenbräu, and Hacker-Pschorr — can use the Oktoberfestbeir label and, subsequentially, are the only beers sold within the Oktoberfest grounds.
Outside of Germany, the rules of using “Oktoberfest” on a beer are much more lax, although many cans will specify that the liquid inside is a “Germany-style lager” or a “Märzen-style lager.”
According to a deep dive on the internet, a traditional Oktoberfestbeir is a brilliant (read: clear, not cloudy), gold-colored brew with a bready/doughy malt aroma and flavor. It should have a dry finish with low hops, minimal taste of alcohol, and reside between 5.5 to 6.3 percent ABV.
More often what you’ll find outside of the official Oktoberfest is a more Märzen-style beer falling into the Oktoberfest category. A good brew in this category, which is what I am using to judge in this taste test, is a brilliant-amber-to-copper color with a rich, toasty, and bready malt aroma and flavor. It should have a smooth mouthfeel, a dry finish, a minimal alcohol taste, relatively low hops/bitterness, and land between 5.1 to 6 percent ABV.
For this Oktoberfest beer taste test, I stuck with ones from Colorado-only breweries, and they had to be able to be sourced from the liquor stores in downtown Aspen. Of note before we begin is that one of the stores actually had zero Colorado-based options available while others had a lot of the same options. I did try and seek out an option from Prost Brewing Company, based in Denver, as that German-style brewery has a Märzen as its fall seasonal option, but it seems that Aspen is still relegated to summer since the only option I could find was the Prost Radler.
There are four cans to consider in this taste test: 4 Noses Oktoberfest Märzen Style Lager, Odell Brewing Co. Oktoberfest Mârzen Style Lager, Wibby Brewing Oktoberfest Lager, and Ska Brewing Co. Oktoberfest German Style Lager.
Here is how they fared in each category, judged by myself and my taste-test companion –
Ska: From can to glass, it was the least carbonated on the pour with not much head and a light copper color with brilliant clarity.
Wibby: It poured with a medium amount of carbonation from can to glass that resulted in a saddle brown color that also had the clarity I’d rate just below brilliant, which would be clear.
Odell: This was distinctly copper in color, with clarity and medium carbonation when poured in the glass. It had moderate head retention.
4 Noses: This brew poured almost identically to the Odell except instead of clear on the clarity scale, I’d rank it as brilliant.
Ska: It didn’t have much aroma besides just smelling like a beer.
Wibby: This lager had a distinct and instant aroma of bread and yeast. More along the lines of what you’d expect for a traditional Oktoberfest.
Odell: Instead of a bready scent, it came off as a more crisp, fall-fruit aroma of apples and apricots, although it was mild.
4 Noses: This variety had mild scent, but what was there was a somewhat sweet mix between caramel and pine sap.
Ska: The first words that came to mind with this German-style lager was crisp and clean. It has a very mild alcohol taste, as a good Oktoberfest beer should, yet it’s 6.1 percent. We initially thought the flavor was kind of simple, but after tasting some of the other beers, we realized it was well-balanced with a short, dry finish. This is the one that would be the easiest to knock back a few.
Wibby: When I pulled this beer out of the fridge at the liquor store, one of the employees applauded me for my choice, saying it was an excellent take on an Oktoberfest beer. And wouldn’t you know it, he was correct, as this was the one that checked most of the boxes based on the description of a good Märzen. It had a full, smooth mouthfeel with a mild alcohol taste and a medium-dry finish. It’s definitely strong on the bready, malt flavor and is nicely balanced, so it doesn’t linger too much.
Odell: Compared to the Ska and Wibby, the Odell had a stronger flavor with a long finish. You can taste the toasty malt, but you also get a noticeable alcohol taste. It also has a moderately bitter note to it and seems a little unbalanced.
4 Noses: When set against the other three beers, the 4 Noses is doing a lot on the flavor front and maybe a little too much for a Märzen-style lager. It had a strong, piney hop taste, medium malt sweetness, and was a bit astringent. The sip had a long finish although dry, and overall, it had a noticeable alcoholic taste. My taste test buddy said, “it tastes like someone tried to make an IPA out of a German beer.”
4. 4 Noses
Feel free to disagree with my rankings, as everyone’s palette is different, but those were my unscientific Oktoberfest taste-test thoughts.
Now grab a beer, say “Prost!” and enjoy the change of the season!