Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, closed last Monday, Oct. 3, which was also German Unity Day. This festival was first held in 1810 as a celebration of King Ludwig I’s marriage to Princess Therese, but it has since been moved to September so that the weather is more favorable, and an agricultural show has been added. Munich only allows breweries within the city limits to participate, which has spawned many small festivals featuring local beer in the surrounding countryside.
The beer style most frequently associated with Oktoberfest is the Marzen style, which is also known as Oktoberfest or Festbier, especially abroad. This is a clean, malty lager stored in icehouses over the summer. I decided to review four American attempts at the Oktoberfest beer style: Flying Dog’s Dogtoberfest, Brooklyn Brewery’s Oktoberfest, Samuel Adams’ Oktoberfest and Victory Brewing Company’s Festbier.
The beers all poured a brown or copper color, ranging from a deep brown with the Brooklyn to a light, honey brown in the Victory version. The Flying Dog had the most notable red color of the four. A thin skim of very fine head formed before quickly disappearing in all four beers, ranging from a tan hue on the Sam Adams to off-white on the Victory.
The aromas varied significantly. The Sam Adams had nothing but some residual sweetness, the Flying Dog was very sweet with caramel notes, and the Victory and Brooklyn were both malty with an acrid plastic character. The body was fairly thick and cloyingly sweet in the Brooklyn, while the remaining three were all quite moderate and balanced with moderate carbonation. All four beers had very low hop character to the point where I really didn’t notice it. The Victory beer had a slightly sweet taste but unfortunately a very notable plastic character as well, which none of the others had in their taste. Both the Brooklyn and the Flying dog were fairly sweet — to a fault in the Brooklyn — and both had some nice, nutty caramel notes. The downfall of these two beers was astringency in the finish. The Sam Adams had a fairly sweet malt character up front, with a nice, slightly nutty finish.
The clear winner in this shootout is the Samuel Adams Oktoberfest. What really surprises me is how much trouble I have had finding a bottled Oktoberfest that is any good. The Sam Adams was decent, but I know from past experience that bottles of it do not keep well. Victory in particular is a disappointment, as I love their Festbier on tap, but I have never had a good bottle of it. My advice is to find a place with some Oktoberfest on tap and avoid bottles altogether. If you need to go bottled, though, the Sam Adams was definitely the best of this batch.
Flying Dog/Brooklyn/Samuel Adams/Victory
Size: all 12-ounce bottle