Taste Test: Octoberfest beers
There were a couple of surprises when we held our first taste test, this time for Octoberfest-style beers. The first was a mild surprise. We took each beer and put them in non-descript cups. Absent the bottle or tap and context, most of the beers tasted like each other. There was a split between European beers and American in flavor and body, but the American beers were all very similar. One European beer was typical for it’s kind, close in flavor to other European Märzens. The other European beer was the second, unpleasant, surprise.
Quickly, the methodology used in our taste test was one beer was served to each taster in each round. There was a number on each cup so we could refer back to that round, if necessary. The server was not a taster. In this particular test, there were 3 tasters, Melba, Thom, and myself.
Our first beer was Brooklyn Brewery Oktoberfest. We found this to be fairly bland, with a mild bitterness on the finish. We described it as light, flat, watery, slightly malty. On discovering that this was Brooklyn Brewery, I was disappointed. Their Monster barleywine is a very good example of the genre, but their Oktoberfest is weak in a field of ever-expanding options.
Second, we tried Blue Point Brewing Co. Oktoberfest, which we each found to be better example of the American Octoberfest-style. Initially, we found it less bitter than the Brooklyn, but it had a hoppier body. Melba described it as a citrusy hefeweizen, and Thom said it was like a light pale ale. I found it malty, but I was the only one to describe it so. I also found it to be nicely foamy, as the head lasted the pour into the paper cup and the time it took to serve.
Third, we had our first European, Spaten Oktoberfest. This one divided us fairly quickly. My beer background is based on European lagers. I only came around to American beers after trying Samuel Adams over fifteen years ago, but, initially, my rotation included Löwenbräu and Dinkel Acker, so the Spaten was familiar territory for me. I could tell immediately that this unknown beer was a European lager, and enjoyed it, but Melba was not so impressed. Her description of it included that it smelled like marijuana, tasted like bong water, and was chewy to drink. In my opinion, it was hoppy, subtly sweet, and lingered on the tongue, but this was actually the same description. In other words, Spaten Oktoberfest is an acquired taste. Thom described it enigmatically, by saying it smells like Ballantine, his father’s favorite beer. Whether this was good or bad remains a Zen koan. Thom further stated that it was strong. It can be noted that Thom and I finished our 2 oz. servings, where as Melba did not.
The third beer was so strong that we had to eat crackers in between to clear our palates.
Our fourth beer returned us to familiar American form. Samuel Adams Octoberfest was described as citrusy and cidery, very soft and flavorful on the palate, with a bitter kick on the finish. I’ll confess that I guessed this was Sam Adams from the first sip, because it’s an incredibly smooth beer, and I’ve consumed a lot of Octoberfest beers over the years.
And then we hit our big surprise of the night. Our fifth beer was Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest. Hacker-Pschorr is a brewery based in Munich, Germany, and it can trace it’s brewing traditions to 1417. The Oktoberfest Märzen is a 200 year-old German tradition. I’m sure Hacker-Pschorr know what they’re doing, as they’ve had plenty of practice. But, Lord-Almighty, this beer was bad. Our first impression was the smell—described as grape Nerds or Jolly Ranchers. It didn’t get better. We said it tasted like cigarettes, Smarties, and that it was cheaply made. It was bitter on tongue, but finished sour. Was it a bad bottle? Maybe, but I doubt we’ll ever try it again. It was really awful. I’ll probably use the other bottle I have to cook hot dogs or something. I was alone in finishing my 2 oz. sample.
Our final beer was Trader Joe’s house-brand, JosephBrau Brewing Co. Oktoberfest Lager. We found this had the same cidery notes of the Sam Adams. It was hoppy and sweet, not too strong, but Thom and I noticed a bit of an off-finish. When we found out that it was the Trader Joe’s brand, I surmised that they’re using the same wheat as their Hefeweizen, which certainly makes sense. The Seifeweizen-flavor isn’t strong, but it’s there. It’s still a nice example of the American Octoberfest, though, and it was the least expensive bottle.
Any of us would drink the American brands, without complaint, but I was happy to find that I picked the Sam Adams as my favorite. Melba and Thom both found the Blue Point to be their favorite. Blue Point Brewing is a local brewery, not 10 miles from DnU headquarters, and it’s gratifying to have a great brewery close to home. At Drunk & Unemployed, we always like to support our local businesses, and it’s easier to do when they make beer that people enjoy.
So, Blue Point Oktoberfest was our winner, with Samuel Adams coming in very close, and Trader Joe’s JoesephBrau as a satisfyingly inexpensive option. For fans of the European Oktoberfest Märzens, Spaten is a wonderful example of the genre. I know from experience that many other famous German and Czech brewers make fantastic Oktoberfests, but now I also know to stay away from Hacker-Pschorr‘s.