Oktoberfest beers are still here, but not for long

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

The official German Oktoberfest in Munich will begin on Sept. 16 and end on Oct. 3, 2023. But in the United States, Oktoberfest beers started hitting the shelves in July, and most will be gone by late September.

What makes a beer an Oktoberfest-style beer? That’s a surprisingly complicated question.

Early on, the official Oktoberfest beer was a dark dunkel-style lager. Later, the lighter, amber lager called Märzen became the official beer of Oktoberfest. And nowadays, a clean, pale German lager known as Festbier is what you’d be drinking in Munich.

Only six breweries are permitted to serve their beers during the official days of Octoberfest: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten.

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Right now, many American brewers have embraced Märzen as their Oktoberfest style. What’s more interesting, they’re adding American hops and a variety of malts to the mix, making what could be called a hybrid style.

Recently, I made a pilgrimage to a nearby beer store to see what I could find on the shelves.

I was happy to spy several German classics, including my all-time favorite, Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen. And, of course, there are some very good local takes on the style, including Bold Monk Brewing Co. Festbier, Elsewhere Brewing Oktoberfest Lager and New Realm Brewing Company Bavarian Prince.

But I decided to grab a DIY mixed six-pack of canned American Oktoberfest beers that I hadn’t tried in a while, including a couple of non-alcoholic brews.

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Here are my tasting notes, in alphabetical order:

Athletic Brewing Co. Oktoberfest Fest Brew is the offering from the powerhouse of NA beers, and its Oktoberfest doesn’t disappoint. Pale gold in color, and well balanced, it features Vienna and Munich malts, Hallertau Mittelfruh hops, and a fine fluffy head. As always, I was pleased by how Athletic produces near-beer that tastes like the real thing.

Printer’s Ale Manufacturing Co. Monoprint Oktoberfest uses 100% German-grown hops and malts. At 5.8% alcohol, it features rich, traditional malty flavors balanced by a mild, clean hop bitterness in the crisp, dry finish. I really liked the counterpoise of ingredients, and it’s now available in cool cans.

Reformation Brewery Oktoberfest is dubbed a Märzen-style beer. At 5.5% alcohol, it’s malty and slightly sweet, with hints of caramel. As with almost all Reformation beers, there’s very little recipe information, though coffee malt is mentioned on the website. I liked it less than the last time I tried it, but it’s certainly not bad beer.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Oktoberfest Festbier is a copper-colored collaboration with Germany’s Kehrwieder Creative Brewery. At 6% alcohol, its American and German blend of Cascade, Tettnang and Hallertau Tradition shows Sierra’s legendary way with hops. The complex aromatic display made it my favorite beer of the bunch.

Untitled Art Oktoberfest is the offering from the other best-known NA beer company. Its non-alcoholic version of German Festbier mixes caramel and Vienna malts with Cascade hops, giving it an amber color, and a sweetish flavor, a bit thin with just a touch of grapefruit bitterness. I’m not sure how fresh it was, but there were some off-notes in the sample I tried.

Wiseacre Brewing Co. Gemütlichkeit Märzen Oktoberfest boasts that it’s a smooth, clean German lager. At 6% alcohol, it’s brewed with an array of malts, including Munich and Vienna, plus Pilsner Melanoidin, which add honey flavor and amber color. Bravo hops impart fruity and floral notes, and I really liked the balance of this beer.

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