As the temperatures begin to drop (well, that hasn't quite happened yet...) and the leaves begin to turn, we focus our attention on the coming of fall and those tasty fall beers. Oktoberfest is a style that a lot of breweries put their own spin on - our quest to sample them all left us with bottles from 28 different breweries.
As a drinker, the choices can be overwhelming, but we're here to help. That's why we've taken in on ourselves to make our way through all 28 and chose our Oktoberfest Challenge Champion.
Scoring Explained - Four Knights (Gina, Jason, Mike and Knight Emeritus Kelly) voted on the beers in the first ten rounds. The top beer was given 3 points, 2 for second, 1 for last. The beer with the most total points was promoted to the second round.
A. Beck's Oktoberfest - 11 points
B. Hofbrau Oktoberfest - 9 points
C. Weihenstephaner Festbier - 4 points
A. Berghoff Oktoberfest - 6 points
B. Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest - 9 points
C. Saranac Oktoberfest - 8 points
A. Thirsty Dog Barktoberfest - 5 points
B. Sprecher Oktoberfest - 11 points
C. Lakefront Oktoberfest - 8 points
A. Harpoon Oktoberfest - 7 points
B. Three Floyds Munsterfest - 12 points
C. Dundee Oktoberfest - 5 points
A. Atwater Bloktoberfest - 10 points
B. Shiner Oktoberfest - 7 points
C. Schlafly Oktoberfest - 7 points
A. Coney Island Freaktoberfest - 8 points
B. Brooklyn Oktoberfest - 8 points
C. Stegmaier Oktoberfest - 8 points
Freaktoberfest was thrown out because it obviously didn't fit style, both the Brooklyn and Stegmaier beers were promoted to the next round.
A. Point Oktoberfest - 10 points
B. Rogue Maierfest - 6 points
C. Clipper City Marz Hon - 7 points
A. Left Hand Oktoberfest - 8 points
B. Two Brothers Atom Smasher - 12 points
C. Samuel Adams Oktoberfest - 4 points
A. Bell's Oktoberfest - 6 points
B. Upland Oktoberfest - 6 points
Both beers advance.
A. Paulaner Oktoberfest - 8 points
B. Spaten Oktoberfest - 4 points
ROUND 2 GROUP 1
Kelly removed herself from the evening's activities for the second round.
A. Beck's Oktoberfest - 6 points
B. Stegmaier Oktoberfest - 3 points
C. Paulaner Oktoberfest - 9 points
ROUND 2 GROUP 2
A. Three Floyd's Munsterfest - 7 points
B. Point Oktoberfest - 6 points
C. Upland Oktoberfest - 5 points
ROUND 2 GROUP 3
A. Atwater Bloktoberfest - 8 points
B. Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest - 3 points
C. Sprecher Oktoberfest - 7 points
ROUND 2 GROUP 4
A. Bell's Oktoberfest - 4 points
B. Brooklyn Oktoberfest - 6 points
C. Two Brothers Atom Smasher - 8 points
A. Paulaner Oktoberfest - 9 points
B. Three Floyd's Munsterfest - 8 points
C. Atwater Bloktoberfest - 5 points
D. Two Brothers Atom Smasher - 8 points
2010 OKTOBERFEST CHALLENGE CHAMPION
What's to be learned in drinking 28 (well, 27) beers of the same style? A few things, actually.
First off, we've learned that drinking 28 examples of anything might be a bigger mission than it looks like from the outside. Back in 2008 when we did our Pumpkin Beer Challenge we were only dealing with 11 varieties, and it seemed like a manageable task. But when more than doubling that number we quickly found out that working our way through was going to take most of the evening - we started sampling (about one ounce at a time) at around 7pm and didn't finish up until around midnight. (That's roughly 44 oz. over 5 hours if you're keeping track.)
Secondly we learned that just because a beer is listed as a style doesn't necessarily mean it's going to take like all the others. Atwater's Bloktoberfest tasted more like an Old Ale than an Oktoberfest to me, and Berghoff's Oktoberfest is just plain bad - I'm no beer judge but it was pretty much impossible to miss the buttery diacetyl flavor coming through. Knowing which beers were in the lineup, and despite drinking all the beers blind, I immediately asked if our sample was Berghoff - we'd had the beer before (I have no idea why my score was that high, but we don't edit old reviews).
Lastly we learned that when all else fails, style guidelines (or at least expectation of a style) have to be your guide. Three of our final four beers had distinctly different flavors, but my top choice (Three Floyd's Munsterfest) was highly reminicent of the Sun King Oktoberfest we recently reviewed). I couldn't in good faith vote Blocktoberfest the winner because it just didn't fit the style - no one buys an Oktoberfest in hopes of drinking an Old Ale. And Paulaner was exactly what it was supposed to be - a true German Oktoberfest. It's a fitting winner of this challenge.
For my money I'd still go with the Three Floyd's Munsterfest though - it comes in a bomber instead of a six pack, and after making my way through 28 Oktoberfests, I know that it'd be a long time before I got through six more.
Of everyone at Hoosier Beer Geek, I suspect I'm the one most excited when Oktoberfest beers come out. Given that at least half of my DNA speaks with German accent, it is not surprise that I love events that involve leather pants, big sausages, polka, and beer. I never would have thought that I would tire of drinking Oktoberfest beers.
This 28 beer tasting session proved me wrong. I don't know how beer judges do it. Normally, when we roundtable a beer, I'm looking for what's right with it. When tasting 28 beers from the same style, you end up looking for what is wrong. That takes the fun out of beer drinking.
When it was all said and done with, my favorite beer of the night came straight from Germany: Pauliner. But I would happily drink any of the other final four beers: Blocktoberfest, Munsterfest, and Atom Smasher. I also concur with Mike at Blocktoberfest is not true to style. I don't know if I'd call it an Old Ale, but I noted "It tastes like fall fruit harvest to me."
Other Oktoberfest beers that I made note of during the blind tasting:
-The third group of beers were hard to choose between for me. They included Thirsty Dog's Barktoberfest, Sprecher, and Lakefront. Of the three, Sprecher just edged out the other two.
-I should have known better when I was snatching up any beer that remotely sounded like an Oktoberfest beer that Coney Island's Freaktoberfest would not be to style. I laughed out loud at the crazy color that it had.
-They didn't advance, but I did enjoy the carmelly goodness of Clipper City's Marz Hon and the pilsner-esque quality of Rogue's Maierfest.
-I've tweeted about my enjoyment of Sam Adams' Octoberfest. It met up with Left Hand and Two Brothers Atom Smasher. I have noted that I enjoyed all three in this group, that I just enjoyed Sam Adams a little bit less. And I had a hard time deciding between Left Hand and Atom Smasher.
-In a head to head group, Bell's and Upland evenly split the votes amongst the four of us (thanks Kelly for joining us!).
-While Beck's was able to move into the second round with it's green bottled beer, Spaten was not because it had skunked. Badly. Beware the green bottles.
For me, the Oktoberfest challenge was met with some highs and lows. The bad news is highs weren't super high, but the good news is that the lows weren't super low either. For some rounds, distinguishing different aromas and flavors from the samples was easier. For others, I wondered if Jason was messing with us and pouring the same beer in each glass.
Out of the gate, the Hofbrau Oktoberfest was a top choice and Munsterfest lingered on my brain long after it was poured in group 4. The Brooklyn Oktoberfest scored very low from me in early rounds, but later it strongly reminded me of black tea in an old musty kitchen (in a good way). Some had a lot of fruity esters (Left Hand, Sam Adams), some tasted soapy (Schlafly, Shiner), and unfortunately some were skunked (Spaten).
The most exciting of the 28 beers was the Blocktoberfest from Atwater Block. One sip and I immediately wrote "woah, sour" in my notes. I think it was more dark fruit than sour, but it had a tart bite similar to some sours. It was a very different take on the style and to me, that was a good thing. Other favorites for me were Stevens Point Oktoberfest which consistently scored well in my rankings, as well as Sprecher's version. In our last bracket, I scored the final four from low to high as follows: Blocktoberfest, Munsterfest, Paulaner, and Atom Smasher.
In the end, I have a greater appreciation for this style and also for beer judges that do this type of thing on a regular basis. Blind tasting 28 beers and trying to dissect them, though fun, is not an easy task. And we weren't necessarily concerned about how they fit to the proper style parameters. I do find it interesting that there were some parallels in BJCP commercial examples and the ones we voted through. I think the easiest explanation is that it comes down to the fact that a good beer is a good beer.