September 29th, 2010
The First Sip: Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit!
Fall is officially upon us. Well, according to the calendar, in any case. Obviously here in Houston the leaves aren’t turning beautiful colors and the warm, sticky weather still abounds… but one true sign of fall has already arrived: Oktoberfest beers! Let us not lament the uncanny nature of Houston blend the four seasons into two categories (“hot”, and “not hot”) but rather let us celebrate the advent of one of the most popular seasonal beer varieties!
Oktoberfest is the common name for a German Märzen style beer. Märzen (German for “March”) originates from back in the 15th-16th century. As the name implies, this beer was brewed in March and then lagered (German for “stored”) in caves with blocks of ice until September/October when it was brought out and enjoyed by the masses! It’s a hardier and stronger alcohol beer than typical, so it was a typically enjoyed as a celebration beer.
Märzen is called commonly called “Oktoberfest” (or “Oktoberfestbier” or “Festbier”) because it was the beer that happened to be available at the creation the original Oktoberfest celebrations.
Usually dark gold to deep-amber.
Malty sweet with notes of caramel and toasty accents.
This beer is full bodied and sweet, but finishes clean and dry and leaves you ready for another sip almost immediately.
Märzens are one of those great gateway beers. Take anyone who is a steadfast light lager drinker and give them a nice traditional Oktoberfest, and you seldom get a negative result. The beer is anchored by smooth, clean malty sweetness while hinting at some light grain and toast flavors in the background. The hops are subdued and only added to the point of balance. A traditional Oktoberfest shouldn’t be bitter or have much, if any, hop flavor.
As I said earlier, Oktoberfest is one of the most popular seasonal styles out there. As such, you will find no shortage of the seasonal offering from just about every brewery that distributes to our fair city!
Do you want to keep it traditional? You can easily find some German brewed imports on our shelves. Try a traditional example from the likes of Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Ayinger, Erdinger and Spaten braueries. You can typically find these sold in individual bottles, so setting up a nice German flight and enjoying some German wurst is a great way to bring Munich to your living room!
Of course, to me, nothing is quite as good as Oktoberfest on tap. Though you can find some of these wonderful imports on draft, I am always impressed and happy to enjoy some locally produced Oktoberfest!
Saint Arnold Oktoberfest is a tried and true champion of Houston. Saint Arnold actually brews this as an ale rather than a lager. That being said, some people find it to be a little more full bodied with some slight fruitlike undertones. Whereas I do find this one a bit more rounded with some ale-like complexities, they still are able to really hit the mark with the flavors and smoothness we come to expect out of our Oktoberfestbiers, so it’s not to the detriment of my enjoyment!
Real Ale Brewing has recently started bottling and distributing their seasonal offerings, so I’m excited to see their Oktoberfest on our shelves. This example follows all the guidelines of tradition, but seems to have a little lighter body than typical. Of course, since our Texas “fall” weather is still in the 90’s, I see no problem with a lighter fall beer!
A popular tap you can find at just about any restaurant, is Sam Adams Octoberfest. I find this example to be a little more rich with some more prevalent caramel flavors. This beer also has just a little more hops than usual, but nothing over the top. It’s a great beer and widely available, although I prefer something a little more traditional.
Rounding out my list is another one of my original gateway beers from that little brewery in Spotzel, Texas: Shiner Oktoberfest. This is actually a reproduction of Shiner 96, brewed in 2005 as the first in a series of anniversary beers leading up to Shiner’s 100th anniversary. As usual with Shiner beers, it’s slightly lighter bodied than traditional (gotta appeal to the masses), but the beer still carries the full gamut of the traditional German flavors you’d hope to find. Shiner is, after all, a German rooted brewery!
There are several other great commercial examples available on draft and on the shelves. As I said, the style is quite popular, so it’s very likely that your favorite brewery probably makes one. If you want to get a little crazy, you can even pick up a bottle of Avery Imperial Oktoberfest, which is basically a double version of the traditional style (coming in at around 10% alcohol, mind you)!
So there you have it. I hope everyone is out there enjoying some great Oktoberfest beers and getting in touch with their inner German!
As The Loop Scoop’s beer geek/profiler, I’ll continue to try and bring you information on the best beers for the season as well as our local offerings. If there are any you would like to know about, drop a comment and I’ll make a note to get it written up. Enjoy your fall, Houston!