As the day shortens and a cool crispness spikes the air, you know it’s fall. While I’m not particularly a fan of fall since it means the ominous arrival of winter, there are a few winning features that I enjoy: nature’s sublime colors, hearty food and, my personal redeemer, Oktoberfest beer. Conceived in March, bottom fermented in cold, dark caves through summer and finally released in late September into a world mimicking its coppery hue. I love this beer, its history, its process, its maltiness, sweetness, complexity, color… it is a perfect reason to celebrate fall (also the 1810 wedding of Prince Ludwig but that’s just a side story).
Like nature’s changing colors, there are hundreds of variations of Oktoberfest beer. Technically, the only beer that can claim to be Oktoberfest beer has to be brewed in Munich’s city limits, but almost every brewery in the world crafts a batch of the iconic Marzen-style for the season. This lager tends toward more malts, less hops, higher alcohol and a medium to heavy body. I have chosen to review seven from our country’s local and national micro-breweries. While traditional Oktoberfest beers include Spaten, Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, I’d like to see how we do on this side of the Atlantic.
Magic Hat Hex
- ABV: 5.4%
- Gravity: 14° Plato
- Color: 18 SRM (Actual may vary)
- IBUs: 25
- Malts: Pale, Vienna, Crystal, Cherry wood smoked Malt, Rye
- Hops: Hallertauer
- Yeast: German Ale yeast
- Their description: Hex is a malty amber offering hints of toffee and caramel with its slightly smoky finish.
I’ve been a fan of Magic Hat since I first tried their #9 on tap at Rudyard’s Bar, so I knew I would enjoy their Hex Oktoberfest. While it wasn’t the favorite, it nestled perfectly in the middle of the pack. With hints of caramel apple, toffee and hearty malt, Hex is mildly complex with a light bitterness. Overall, balanced but there wasn’t much else to write about. I think if you want a par beer to gauge others from, this would be it.
- ABV: 5.1%
- IBUs: 20
- Malts: Pale, Caramel, Munich
- Hops: Tettnang, Perle, Cluster and Hallertau
A deep, rich malty aroma with a bit heavier body. The head is fairly thin but the foam ring stays though the entire glass. The taste is complex with a pleasant caramel sweetness and robust bitterness in the back. It will definitely complement any sausage, smoked meat or game you throw on the grill. This is a fine example of an Oktoberfest beer.
Stoudts Oktober Fest
- ABV: 5%
- IBUs: 26
- Malts: Two-row and Munich
- Bittering Hops: Perle and Hallertau
- Aroma Hops: Saaz and Hallertau
- Yeast: Bottom Fermenting Lager
- Their description: This medium-bodied amber beer elegantly combines a touch of malty sweetness with a pleasingly subtle aromatic hop character.
With a bright, almost citrusy aroma, Stoudts Oktoberfest is a much lighter, crisper brew much like you’d find in an ale or pilsner. Initial sip glides right over the tongue with little weight and splashes back with a slight bitterness. Sweet and balanced though lacking in depth, it would be a nice beginner Oktoberfest. The head is quick to foam but thins out quickly and leaves no ring.
- ABV: 5.4%
- Hops: American Tettnang, German Hallertau, Czech Saaz, Spalt
- Malt: Vienna, Munich and Caramel
Surprisingly clear with a thicker head than the others, this was our favorite out of the line up. Legend’s Oktoberfest gives aromas of buttered toffee, fall spice and roasted coffee. It is a much heartier beer with a heavier body and complex, malty taste. It displays layers of mocha and spice with pleasing hops and a balanced bitterness. As Erin described, “ [It] feels like fall, sitting around a campfire.” I couldn’t say it better myself.
St. George’s Brewery Oktoberfest
I’ll be honest. I was really pulling for these guys being that they are the home team. I even reached out for their description and product info. But like their beer, I didn’t get much back in response. That being said, St. George’s Oktoberfest can best be described as “just beer”. It smells like beer (think, “I just walked inside of a beerhall”) and tastes like generic (commercial) beer with very apparent bitterness. Not overwhelmingly bitter but unbalanced. It has a light, bright aroma and medium body. All in all, we found their Oktoberfest to be an easy-drinking beer (which is a nice way of saying, “It’s not bad, it’s boring”).
Flying Dog Dogtoberfest
- ABV: 5.6%
- Gravity: 14° Plato
- IBUs: 30
- Hops: German Perle, Hallertau
- Yeast: Proprietary
- Their description: Full-bodied caramel sweet with a light toasted and crisp, clean finish.
Unfortunately, not everyone can be at the head of the pack. Someone needs to bring up the rear and Flying Dog’s Dogtoberfest has taken this one for the team. While it shared the same dark amber color as our favorite, it lacked the weight, balance, complexity and even the same season, “Tastes like a spring or summery type beer”. Dogtoberfest has a very light body, thin head and almost no bitterness but exudes a metallic after taste and a confusing aroma of artificial cherry gummies mixed with Worther’s butterscotch candies. I hate to dog on company that seems to produce decent beer but they definitely need to be whacked with a rolled up newspaper for this one. Pun complete.
And finally… Six Point Autumnation Harvest Ale. Okay, I know it’s not an Oktoberfest beer, but harvest beers and pumpkin ales are a great fall tradition and I couldn’t resist the cool packaging of Six Point’s Autumnation. Plus, they a have a pretty neat video (I’m a sucker for good visual storytelling).
Six Point Autumnation
- ABV: 6.7%
- Color: 15 SRM
- IBUs: 68
- Hops: Citra (fresh harvested)
- Their description: Brewed with pumpkin, ginger and white pepper, and wet-hopped with just-harvested Citra hops from the oldest continually farmed hop farm in the country, it’s a burst of fresh, seasonal spices trapped in a 16-ounce can.
While I’m not a fan of hoppy beer, this one is right on the cusp of my taste at 68 IBU’s. Light and refreshing at first turns bitter then ends with a metallic after taste. As Six Point explains, “Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay. Autumnation is the Sixpoint creation that chronicles this life cycle.” Warm spices and ginger are masked by aggressive, citrusy hop aromas. Crisp and light with very subtle hints of pumpkin and spice, it’s hard to actually distinguish flavors. Not to jump on a soap box here but this is where the beer trend is going. Drinkers searching for flavor notes through a heaping helping of hops. But then again, there is a beer out there for everyone.
So with the Oktoberfest season coming to an end, I hope that you get to try some of these fantastic, American brewed versions of a German tradition. It will always be one of my favorites and I hope it will become one of yours. Thanks!
P.S. Here is a killer recipe to go along with any Oktoberfest celebration.
Beef Schnitzel with Old Bay™ Cabbage, Carrots & Potatoes
1-lb cubed steak or minute steak
3-cups all purpose flour
3-tsp seasoning salt
½-cup vegetable oil (for frying)
1-pint chicken stock
5-small white potatoes (scrubbed)
1/2-lb baby carrots
½-onion (1/4” sliced)
½-head red cabbage (sliced)
1-clove garlic (smashed)
3-Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
2-Tbsp cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Place stock, water and potatoes in a medium size saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the rest of the vegetables, vinegar, Old Bay and season to taste, adjust as needed. Boil until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 min.
For the schnitzel, set up a dredging station with one pan of the flour and seasoning salt mixed together and another pan with the egg beaten. Start by dredging the steak in the flour to give a light coat, and then place in the egg wash to coat and return to dredge in the flour. Shake off the excess flour. Pre-heat the oil in a skillet on medium high heat, add the battered steak and fry for 2 min or until a golden brown crust has form and the meat does not stick. Turn over and fry for an additional 3 min. or until a golden crust has formed and the meat does not stick. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain excess oil. Serve with cabbage, carrots and potatoes and a pint of Oktoberfest beer.