While I honestly wouldn’t be all that upset if Pumpkin Ales disappeared forever (besides you, Cambridge Brewing Great Pumpkin Ale…I like you), I’m in the camp that believes Oktoberfest-style Lagers should not be restrained to just a few months out of the year.
The golden-colored Festbier – the style that is actually served at Oktoberfest – with it’s sweet doughy maltiness and balanced, crisp finish pairs equally as well with the lawnmower as it does with pretzels and Weißwurst. The Märzen style offers a more rich malt profile, with notes of toffee and caramel that I would love to be drinking in the rainy, raw weeks of early Spring.
Because I am so fond of these styles and wish I could drink them more often than just each Autumn, this is certainly my favorite time of the year for seasonal beer. Each market has their local breweries that take their shot at Festbier and Märzen, but I wanted to taste some of the more easily accessible versions, with regional or national distribution. Here are eight great options for Oktoberfest 2018!
The ‘Which Year was your Favorite?’ Oktoberfest
Sierra Nevada & Weihenstephaner
Chico, CA & Mills River, NC
6.0% ABV, 20 IBU
One of my favorite parts of Oktoberfest season is finding out which amazing German brewer Sierra Nevada collaborated with for their newest vintage of Oktoberfest. The past handful of years have offered iterations of the style with Mahrs Bräu, Brauhaus Miltenberger, and Brauhaus Riegele.
This year, the legendary Chico, CA brewery teamed up with the world’s oldest brewery, Weihenstephan, to brew this orange-golden interpretation on a Festbier. The head on this beer sticks around a lot longer in comparison to the others tasted. A prominent citrus hop profile is the first thing that sticks out here. Instead of offering up all caramel toffee malt flavors, this beer seems to be pretty balanced. Highly refreshing, Sierra’s 2018 Oktoberfest is the one you should be reaching for while the weather is still warm.
The ‘Break out the Stein’ Oktoberfest
Another German seasonal classic, Weihenstephaner Festbier is one of the easiest drinking beers on this list. Rich in malt character with just a touch of hop presence, this is the go-to for when you’re breaking out the stein. Toasty, bready malt, spicy hops, medium-bodied, lively carbonation, and crisp. Checks all of the boxes!
The ‘Bring a 6-Pack to a Party’ Oktoberfest
5.3% ABV, 16 IBU
Pours a bright, deep amber color with a thin lacing of tan head that doesn’t stick around for long. A lot of toffee on the nose here that carries through to the palate. Some hints of baking spices, caramel, and whole grain bread. Low bitterness, a touch sweet, light bodied, and scrubbing carbonation. If it had a bit more body, with either dialed back sweetness or amped up hop bitterness, this would be a hit for me. I could see this interpretation having a wide appeal.
The ‘Spice Cabinet’ Oktoberfest
5.7% ABV, 22 IBU
The appearance certainly fits the name. Copper with a touch of chill haze. Big fluffy beige head that dissipates fairly quickly. Toffee and caramel – classic Märzen characteristics jump out of the glass at first, alongside fruity esters. A hint of green apple as well. Sweet, bready malt upfront on the palate that is washed away by an interesting spice character. Finishes with a licorice note – maybe clove. Fairly light bodied, a touch sweet, and good, lively carbonation.
The ‘End of Lawnmowing Season’ Oktoberfest
Light in color in comparison to the others here. Crystal clear with a beautiful, tight-packed bright white head. Notes of shredded wheat, cereal, and light toffee. As the appearance would suggest, the deep caramel and toffee flavors experienced in the Märzen styles tasted are not as pronounced in this Festbier. A touch high in carbonation, finished nice and dry.
The ‘Gold Standard’ Oktoberfest
If you’re unfamiliar with the Märzen style, start right here, you won’t need to try any others. In my opinion, this is the gold standard of the season. Brilliantly clear and copper in color, Ayinger’s take on the Märzen is so rich in toasty bread and toffee notes. Medium bodied and silky on the palate with just enough of a carbonation bite at the end to keep you coming back. A true exercise of balance and malt complexity.
The ‘Sitting by a Bonfire’ Oktoberfest
6.6% ABV, 24 IBU
Left Hand’s take on the Märzen clocks in a bit higher than the rest of the bunch at 6.6%. In the glass, it’s a brilliantly clear copper color with big fluffy head. A lot of spice on the nose, especially clove and black pepper. There’s a lot of flavor here! Up front there’s a big toffee note alongside the aforementioned spices. Towards the back end, a tannic black tea quality shows its face. It finishes nice and dry, and that extra hint of alcohol peaks its head out. This is definitely a bold American take on the style.
The ‘Easy-Drinker’ Oktoberfest
5.6% ABV, 20 IBU
Victory’s Festbier pours a bit darker than I’d expect for the style, though they do state ‘Amber Lager’ on the label. This beer has a really pleasant green tea character, and while it’s fairly one note, I love what it’s doing. If I wanted to drink three or four beers in a night without having to over analyze too much, this is the one I’m reaching for.