Days of Oktoberfest 2016 Wrap Up
In September of 2016 a challenge was put forth - try every single beer labeled "Oktoberfest" or similar that I could get my hands on. This included "Oktoberfest", "Octoberfest", "Festbeer", "Festbier", or "Märzen" although most were simply labeled as "Oktoberfest". The beers could be of any style, ABV, or origin as long as they were labeled as a seasonal "Oktoberfest" or "Fest" style beer. Each beer was posted to the Entry Proof Instagram account with a mini review and the #daysofoktoberfest tag. A spreadsheet with all the beers can be found here. The initial goal for this challenge was to try 25 different beers and not only was I able to meet that goal but I exceeded it was well. Lets take a look at some quick stats:
- Total # of different beers tasted: 26
- Time to complete: 59 days
- Countries of Origin: USA, England, Germany
- US States of Origin: CA, CO, IL, MA, MI, MO, NC, NY, PA, SC, TX, UT, VA, WI
- BJCP Styles: German Helles Export, Festbier, Märzen, Smoked Beer, British Golden Ale
- ABV Range: 4.2% - 8.0%
- Method of Packaging: Bottle, Can, Keg, Firkin (hand pumped), Growler
Going into this challenge I quickly realized that two styles of lager beer made up the majority of seasonal Oktoberfest releases: Märzen and Festbier. Prior I had been ignorant to the existence of the Festbier style and have really come to love the simplicity and drinkability. Lighter in color with the malt notes in the bready and honey side of the spectrum. This is a stark contrast to the darker Märzen which exists in the caramel and toasty end of the malt spectrum. However, Oktoberfest is a reference to a beer festival and not an actual beer style. For specifics on the Märzen and Festbier styles check out the 2015 BJCP guidelines. Building on that statement its not uncommon to find seasonal Oktoberfest beers that are neither Märzen nor Festbier. Even less common are the imperial variants of the Märzen style.
- Erdinger Oktoberfest: Weissbier (Much like a hefeweizen but likely fermented at a lower temp to temper the banana and clove notes.)
- Uinta Fest Helles: Helles Style rather than Festbier
- Greene King Oompah Oktoberfest: English Golden Ale cask conditioned and served via a beer engineer rather co2/beer gas.
- Schlafly Imperial Oktoberfest: Märzen with an ABV of 8% which is above the 6.3% in the BJCP guidelines
- Holy City Schmetterling Barrel-Aged Smoked Märzen: Cross between Märzen and Smoked Beer
Another surprise was the variance in packing of these beers. Most popular were bottles, draft and growler fills. With the growing popularity of canning in the craft beer community I honestly expected to find more examples of this seasonal packaged in cans yet only encountered one example: Fort Collins Brewing Oktoberfest. I am a huge proponent of cans for a number of reasons including portability, less weight/packaging and no exposure to UV. However the FCB cans were criminally under-carbonated was likely due to some quality control issue. I reached out to FCB via social media but they couldn't be bothered to give a shit. Last was my encounter with Greene King Oompah Oktoberfest - an english golden ale hand pumped from a firkin. I was not a fan and honestly don't think this should have been labeled as an "oktoberfest".
Below are the standout examples of each style that I will be revisiting again next year. Some were available in my market while others were more difficult to obtain. Ayinger being the most difficult as bottles were not even distributed in Charleston and I believe the late CBX got the only keg in the state
- Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen
- Tied with Ayinger for my favorite example of the style. Points for better availability.
- Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
- Tied with Paulaner however points deducted for lack of availability. I also found that the bottles I came across in Asheville, NC tasted far better than the growlers that were filled from the keg at CBX.
- Victory Brewing Company Festbier
- One of the few American brewed examples that featured the toasted malt notes that give so much depth to the offerings from Ayinger and Paulaner. Wide availability.
- Goose Island Oktober Fest
- This was another rare example in the pack of American Märzens that featured depth beyond the simple caramel malts. More on the nutty side than the toasty side but still quite good. Wide availability.
- Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
- This is the king of festbiers. Good depth, very drinkable and possibly the most widely available of the 2016 season. I could go to any store with a reasonable beer selection and grab a 12 pack no problem. Partnering with Mahrs Bräu for this beer was a smart move on Sierra Nevada's part.
- Weihenstephan Oktoberfest/Festbier
- Super solid festbeer that I could drink all day. For me this was only available via growler fills.
- Spaten Oktoberfest
- A complete surprise to me and honestly fantastic. Kicking myself for not buying more. Only available at one store in my area and in 12 packs.
Other Notable Mentions
- Erdinger Oktoberfest (Weissebier)
- Hefeweissen and Weissebiers will always have a special place in my heart as they were my first true beer love. This drank like a weisse fermented at a lower temp yielding a slightly cleaner profile. Super drinkable and very refreshing.
- Uinta Fest Helles (Helles)
- Another solid session lager that was very close in profile to the Festbier but not quite. I actually drank this in MD and was not able to find it in my local market.
This challenge was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. Overall there were a lot of mediocre examples from US brewers while German brewers were typically on point. There were a few standout examples from the US including some that didn't adhere to the typical Märzen/Festbier expectations. One lesson I learned for next year is to start the challenge earlier in the season. Waiting till the middle of September allowed for some missed opportunities from local brewers. It's kind of tough to get into the fest mood when beers are being released in August and the temps are still hovering in the 100s. Look for an even bigger challenge in 2017. Cheers!