Monday, September 29, 2008

Best and Rest of the O-Fest

Aah, Oktoberfest. That time of year when breweries roll out beers in the German fall tradition and we are treated to roasted, caramel malts like they are the only kind of malts one is allowed to use. Oktoberfest beers aren't my favorite style: I prefer my beers hoppier and frankly more diverse. But I've been drinking enough over the past week that I feel compelled to point out how they fit into this longtime tradition.

The Classic Oktoberfest beer: Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen. Malty, oh yes, it's malty. And amber-colored. And, of course, made in Germany. And has that feel that's hard to describe in an Oktoberfest beer - it's an old style, but not an old beer. Perfectly acceptable at street festivals and with a brat. Not something you go rushing to the store to grab. Not something you turn down if offered. Available everywhere.

The Classic Oktoberfest beer with just a little more: Ayinger Oktoberfest-Marzen. Its caramel color gives way to a caramel taste that you expect. But the standard malty chewiness of an Oktoberfest beer gives way just a little bit more quickly here, mellowing into amber enjoyment. There is just a little backbone here, and the beer is just a little fuller than others - and yet smoother. Enjoyable. Available in 500-ml bottles from Aying, Germany.

The Americanized Oktoberfest beer that is worth running to the store for: The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest Lager. Its full-on copper color seems so innocent until you drop Boulder-based Avery's masterful creation into your mouth. Your first impression is that it's a very thick beer, yet it's not overwhelming. There's so much going on here - high malt, high hops, high ABV (10%) - that it blends into a whirlpool-like evenness. But as the beer warms, you feel more of its alcoholic strength, and the back bite becomes just a little more obvious. This is a one-beer-will-do-you-for-the-night sipper. But its worth it. Available in bombers.

The pretender: Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest. There is much to be said for the beer that dares to experiment outside the fairly rigid Oktoberfest formula. Colorado Springs-based Arctic Brewery's Oktoberfest had slightly sour characteristics, bringing out the caramel in ways that I never thought possible. But Leini's version fell disappointingly short, giving you a lead-in malt taste that evaporated quickly. This isn't what I'd call bad, but it's forgettable even for a a beer that comes and goes quickly from the shelves.

Does anyone else have some Oktoberfest suggestions for the last weeks these beers are on the shelf?

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