Last week, in an effort to educate the masses and give myself an excuse to buy five different six-packs of beer, I did a piece outlining this year's crop of German Oktoberfest beers. This week, in the interest of patriotism and furthering my premature enjoyment of Autumn, I review a lineup domestic seasonal offerings.
Unlike German breweries, which are best known for their light-gold, sparkling lagers, American breweries have built their reputations on hefty, hoppy ales. During Oktoberfest, most American breweries mimic the traditional German Marzen style, taking a shot at this softer, more subtly flavored lager, with mixed results. Below are my pics for some of America's finest microbreweries' offerings for Fall 2008.
Appearance: Light gold/orange with a full, foamy, long lasting head.
Aroma: Rather intense yeasty-sweet notes, not unlike fresh bread dough.
Flavor: Bitter on the front, with toasty malt qualities throughout. Quite dry and light bodied, with a slightly creamy quality. Finish persists with the same doughy sweetness, and just the briefest sensation of hops.
Overall: A bit of a letdown considering its pedigree. Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is known for producing some of the hoppiest ales and heaviest stouts in America. That said, a lager and an ale are two very different beers, and just because a brewery is really good at one doesn't mean it will do as well with the other. This beer is good and solidly made, don't get me wrong, but I don't see anything that separates it from the pack, particularly given its $11 per six-pack price tag.
Appearance: Dark red/gold. Small bubbled, short lived head.
Aroma: Sweet malt and red fruit elements of grapes and apples.
Flavor: Quite sweet on the front, and the higher than average alcohol comes through with a full mouth feel. Finish is much drier, with a lingering spicy quality.
Overall: A departure from your typical Marzen lager, being overtly fruit driven and rather full. Some will find this beer charming; others, ham-fisted. Either way, this would make a great intro for people who love fruit beers (ie, Magic Hat #9), but want to examine the wider world of classic styles.
Appearance: Copper red with a short but lingering head.
Aroma: Dry, with a slight quality of spent matches along with a faint whiff of blackberries.
Flavor: More berries and slightly sweet on front. Medium bodied and slightly creamy with a dry, short finish.
Overall: Sam Adam's Octoberfest is probably the firm's most popular seasonal release. While I'll agree that it beats the hell out of their awful Spring White Ale, this beer is not without its flaws, and definitely doesn't have any particular qualities to speak for it over its contemporaries, availability notwithstanding.
Appearance: Copper gold, with a short, fine bubbled head.
Aroma: Subtle, with notes of dried leaves and allspice.
Flavor: Hints of honey and citrus fruit on the front, along with the classic flavors of roasted nuts and malt. The finish is slightly sweet and crisp, with more of that dried leaf quality, and a bit of hops.
Overall: An elegant, well made variation on the classic German style. Unlike most of the breweries here (Samuel Adams excluded) Victory is a brewery that stakes its reputation on its lagers, and it shows. While still true to Marzen beer's classic style, the Festbier has a subtle hoppy quality that speaks to its American heritage, while still maintaining admirable balance. Though not for the hedonist, this beer has a lot to offer anyone looking for an easy drinking, yet complicated beer.
Aroma: First whiff reveals an overwhelming aroma of spoiled milk and vegetation. This dissipates quickly, but not completely, giving way to cinnamon and caramel notes.
Flavor: Medium bodied and creamy, with malty flavors. The finish is surprisingly dry given the sweeter qualities of the nose.
Overall: Kinda boring and a bit flawed. The vegetal and milky notes that introduced the beer were hard to forget, despite the nice dry lift of the finish. Weyerbacher has a bit of a reputation of hits and misses, and I would have to characterize this beer as one of the latter.
Okay, so besides luxury automobiles and, arguably, sausage, there are other things the Germans do better than us. Bearing in mind that most of the beers reviewed today are a good deal more expensive than their similarly-styled Teutonic counterparts, it's hard for me to recommend them over several of the gems I reviewed last week. That said, there are now hundreds of American microbreweries out there, many of which offer some sort of fall seasonal — give them all a try, and for America's sake, prove me wrong!