Since my favorite NFL squad was on the road this week, I celebrated Oktoberfest under the ominous glow of the Red Zone channel in high definition. I was feeling the pressure to rate for the masses a cornucopia of this years Oktoberfest brews, but after each beer went down my gullet coincidentally, the pressure began to subside.
What did emerge however, was the disappointing realization that each of my favorite American craft beer maker was missing the mark on the Oktoberfest style. Oktoberfest beer has become a proud tradition and signifies the best time of the year of the fall, harvest festivals, and yes I’m going to throw this in….football!!
What all the websites will tell you (and our last year’s ratings already alluded to) is that Oktoberfest began in Munich as a public party for the royal wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony on October 12, 1811.
But why are Marzen beers brewed in March and drank in October? March is the end of the winter, and nothing has grown since the fall of the previous year. Therefore, folks in Germany used the various remaining wheats, malts, and barleys that were leftover from the winter and brewed one last batch of robust beer. Since these brews ended up so unique and flavorful, the Marzen beer signified a tradition worth keeping around and tapping in the fall!
So now we are here 200 years later, and I am getting paid to drink and rate Oktoberfest beers. Pass me another bratwurst! The first thing that I noticed, was that each American beer was this unusually unnatural vivid orange color. I suspected that there is artificial coloring going on there with each one. In contrast with each German Oktoberfest I sampled, those beers seemed to have more natural colors of amber and copper.
Secondly, the American Oktoberfest beers are dominated by mostly all malt notes and no hint of bitters whatsoever. Many of the American beers weren’t subtle at all about the kind of malt flavors, Victory for example, was way too heavy on the coffee notes. The German styles balanced a nice robust malt with subtle bitterness, more true to the German style.
Lastly, some of the American crafters couldn’t help themselves by sneaking in overt hoppiness into the brew. I definitely appreciate the hoppy pale ales and IPA’s, and the United States is leading in this regard, but this is Germany’s tradition and their style so for once, ease up on the hops.
So in sum, my recommendation to the American crafter beer makers is to stop trying to be so cute, and stick to the fundamentals when it comes to Oktoberfest beers.