Monday, October 12, 2015

Guten Tag, Oktoberfest

In this age of pumpkin-mania, Oktoberfest seems to have been squeezed into a much smaller autumn window. A trip to the liquor store just two days into October, for example, revealed only a handful of marzen lagers on the shelf, already being pushed aside for the next seasonal thing.

Truth be told, however, this isn't a trend to be mourned. While the Oktoberfest style celebrates the Old World brewing process, it also is mired in tradition and, in many ways, lacking creativity. A couple weeks worth of sampling the style this year showed a lot of craft beers that, while perfectly well made, were also very similar in flavoring - caramel notes, a lighter body and just enough hops to give them a crisp aftertaste.

The biggest standout and most unique offering of this year came from Odd 13 Brewing - yet another winner in the Lafayette brewery's growing line of successes. Munchen Brett is a 100 percent Brett marzen with Nelson Sauvin hops, and you taste every nuance of both of those additions. It is complex yet also quite simple, offering a touch of funk without overwhelming the natural qualities of the style.

The best of the more traditional recipes, meanwhile, came from Bristol Brewing, a Colorado brewery that is adept at perfecting styles more than it is at breaking barriers. Red Baron offers a soft touch on the malt, with just enough hopping to cut the sweetness and make the body flow easily.

Beyond that, many beers broke the Oktoberfest taste protocol only with a slight derivation of one characteristic or another.

Left Hand's Oktoberfest Marzen Lager came in at a higher alcohol by volume (6.6 percent) that could be felt on the backtaste as a sort of lemony bitterness.

Epic's Fest Devious presented a drier taste, effectively using its hops to create balance.

Fort Collins Brewery's Oktoberfest, the gold-medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival this year, was thicker in body, relying more on the malt to match a traditional German recipe.

And Upslope, maker of some of the best seasonal beers in Colorado, put forward a lighter-bodied lager that was easy and enjoyable but also faded quickly from the palate.

It wasn't a standout year for Oktoberfest beers. Then again, maybe that's the point. These were crafted to be celebration beers that were easy to enjoy and hard to overthink. But at a time of bigger and bolder styles, Oktoberfest may just be the antithesis of the current craft climate.

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