Raising a Stein (or Five) to Oktoberfest
To properly pay homage to the German festival, we’ve selected a perfect beer for each of the five Saturdays in October.
By Daniel Wilcox, University of Texas at San Antonio
Tis the season!
No, not that season. I’m talking about the one where the reddening leaves, subtle morning breezes and lean afternoon shadows quietly shoo summer away. Autumn, glorious autumn!
Along with the start of football season, the World Series and the sudden preponderance of Halloween decorations at your local grocery store, autumn is heralded by one other classic staple: harvest beers. Specifically, the Oktoberfest.
That sublime melding of malt, caramel and spice present in every pint of Oktoberfest cannot be overstated. Don’t ask me why.
It could be that the appearance of the seasonal brew coincides with the aforementioned harbingers of fall (which I think we can all agree is the best season). Or perhaps its je ne sais quoi can be pinned to the rich history of the Bavarian festival where the beer first debuted. Or maybe it’s some amalgamation of all the above.
Whatever. The point is that October is here, and for the last time until 2020 we’ll be blessed with five weekends of it to enjoy. Below, I present five of the finest Oktoberfest brews from at home and abroad, one for you to savor on each Saturday of the month.
1. October 1: Weihenstephaner “Festbier” – Freising, Bavaria, Germany
True, the traditional Bavarian festival of Oktoberfest actually occurs in September. Seems a bit premature, but who can argue with tradition?
Since September is nearly finished, odds are you missed the party. No fear—if you couldn’t get to Germany this year, why not let Germany come to you? Fresh off the festival comes this crisp little selection from Weihenstephaner (that’s pronounced “vy-hen-shteff-ow-na,” so you don’t embarrass yourself ordering it at a bar), touted as the oldest continuously operating brewery in the world.
Out of the bottle, Festbier is a gleaming honey-tinted Märzen, topped off with a dainty head. Seriously, in a clean pint glass this beer looks like liquefied gold. It teases you with a sweet aroma, hints of tree fruit and maple. Once you get it on your palate, those notes get blasted with dense hops and rich grains, tying its flirty nose to an unexpected complexity, leaving a creamy yet bitter finish. As the thin head evaporates, it leaves a residual halo around the rim of the glass, reminding you of the fleeting nature of all seasons.
Festbier’s innate playfulness makes it an easy transition from summer lagers into fall harvests. Sip this one on your patio as you watch the early fall sunset slip behind the horizon. You won’t get this moment again, so relish in it. Fall has begun.
2. October 8: Shiner “Oktoberfest” – Shiner, Texas, USA
If OU wins the game, they get to retain their statehood for another year. Lose, and we—provisionally, mind you—remove one star from the American flag. It’s called the Red River Shootout (or “Red River Showdown” if you hate the English language) and for our purposes, it’s the ideal moment of the week to have a beer or seven.
What beer best suits this occasion? Well this is Texas; you’re free to have whatever beer you want, even one from Oklahoma (if such a thing even exists). But might I make a recommendation: Shiner’s Oktoberfest, from the Spoetzl Brewery in—you guessed it—Shiner, Texas. Why shouldn’t the great state of Texas produce a historically German style? As any local historian can tell you, the German influence in South Texas is as robust as the beer itself.
Which brings us to the beer, which pours into the stein a cozy brownish amber, like the sap of a Texas mesquite. Tea leaves and wheat tickle the nose. Take a sip, and Oktoberfest introduces notes of coffee, vanilla and caramel. Delicately spiced. Even with the malty profile, it’s not a weighty beer; finishing a pint won’t put you in a coma. Still, don’t guzzle this one. This is one to be swished.
So crack open a Shiner with us as we watch Oklahoma in their continuous fight to stay in the union.
3. October 15: Brooklyn “Oktoberfest” – Brooklyn, New York, USA
By this point of the semester, you’re likely through midterms. I don’t have to tell you what the last week has been like; if your professor is willing to designate a class meeting time as a “study session,” you know you may be in for it come exam time.
When you finally take the exam, you may find you were worrying over nothing, or you’ll realize that all the studying in the world can’t save you from this particular beast. Regardless, when you let your guard down this weekend, you’ll feel you owe yourself a little treat for your efforts.
Brooklyn Brewery has just the treat for you. Upon pouring this Oktoberfest, you see a storm of bubbles rise to the top, yielding a luscious, frothy head. The color’s an opaque mahogany, so dense you scarcely see your fingers on the other side of the glass. Brown sugar and nuts on the nose compliment some fruitier elements (I could swear I smell banana in there). A hoppiness is hinted at in its aroma, confirmed on the palate. The taste is of dark wheat, mixed with toffee and spice –almost like rum—with a faint but lingering sweetness.
And thick, the heaviest beer we’ve had this month. We’re really getting deep into the season now.
4. October 22: Spaten “Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen” – Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Halloween is but a week away. Midterms are behind you. The World Series begins in few days. All around you the autumn atmosphere is palpable.
This is your time to carve a pumpkin with your friends, invite over that cutie who lives one floor above you to watch that scary movie that’s been haunting your Netflix queue for a month, maybe pull a little prank on someone.
Or, you know, have another Oktoberfest.
Let’s take it back to the Old World this weekend. There are number of interesting things happening in this cloudy Märzen from Munich. The aroma is floral, with white grapes and earthy tones. Refreshing mouthfeel, with a toasty flavor profile. Swish and aerate this one a bit and an intense minerality will you hit you, like you’re drinking straight from the soil of Bavaria. Even with the trademark bready quality, this one feels distinct. In all, it’s akin to drinking a Germanic white wine: faintly metallic, crisp, bright and long.
5. October 29: Left Hand “Oktoberfest” – Longmont, Colorado, USA
Halloween falls on a Monday this year, which for you means that Halloween is actually on Saturday the 29th, the only day that accommodates Halloween parties.
But wait, across the room you spot someone dressed as a police officer—not a sexy police officer, per se, but for sure a sexy person. They seem innocuous enough, but then you look at their hand and notice their beer isn’t the same piss that everyone else at this party is swilling. “Nice cop costume,” you say.
“Actually, I’m not a cop,” they reply. “I’m the illusion of justice in our country.” How you react to that is up to you, but at least you’re close enough now to read the label on their beer.
Left Hand Oktoberfest, from our friends in Colorado. Help yourself to a bottle out of the fridge and pour a glass. You’ll notice a clean copper color with a mother-of-pearl head. Plum and cherry on the nose, with obvious malt. It boasts a toasty, biscuity flavor, with a minerality reminiscent of Spaten. Roasted coffee with whispers of fruit (lime, is that you?) hang on the finish. The hops provide a noticeably piney flavor as well, a bitter undertone amidst the beer’s pervasive sweetness. Take a break between sips and you’ll notice a lingering smoky nuttiness, rounding out a beer that’s complex enough to distract you from whatever fresh nonsense is brewing at this party. Prost