I’m afraid it’s gotten rather late in the season to post this kind of thing, especially considering that Germany’s real Octoberfest celebration has been over for nearly a month, but I figure better late than never. You should still be able to find pretty much all of these beers on the shelves at large package stores.
And now, on to the concept. Despite writing in the past about my appreciation for the drinkable and bready/biscuity character of octoberfest brews, I have to admit that when I drink them, they’re typically American-made versions of the style, albeit ones that are “true to their roots” like Capital Oktoberfest. I really don’t like the overly sweet, caramel-heavy, generally “orangey-red lager” that some American breweries make as festbiers. But at the same time, I’ve often been quite remiss about tasting examples that are actually German in origin. Indeed, I don’t often find myself drinking beer produced in Germany proper, and I don’t think I’m alone on this among fellow aleheads in the U.S. I like to try to buy American craft brews, and some of them do great German styles. But I was curious about what kind of differences would present themselves in actual German brews.
And so, I found myself at the package store, looking for festbiers that are actually made in Germany. I ended up with five, and decided to compare them against each other. You’ll have to pardon me for including breweries like Spaten, which are owned by InBev. I went with the selection they had and bought singles. The five I ended up with were Spaten Oktoberfestbier, Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen, Warsteiner Oktoberfest, Erdinger Oktoberfest-Weissbeer and Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen. And now, onto the tastings and comparisons. I’ll rank them all in the end.
Spaten Oktoberfest: Dark orange in color. Quite malty with a very bready aroma. Mildly sweet with a little bit of flavor that reminds me of grape nuts. Very clean. My initial impression is that this is something that could easily pass as a good American brewery’s octoberfest beer, and it’s a little bit more assertive than the Capital Oktoberfest, as well as a bit sweeter. I really enjoyed this one more overall than I expected to.
Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen: A little bit drier than the Spaten with more of a fruity characteristic. Light raisiny flavor. Surprisingly it seems milder overall than the Spaten in overall flavor, and doesn’t have quite the grain character that one might expect. Reminds me of something more like a very mild, light-bodied bock than a marzen beer. Interesting.
Warsteiner Oktoberfest: Okay, this one definitely has a bit more of that “Eurolager” character that I immediately associate with Heineken. I have to admit this is something I kind of expected, but it’s definitely there, and I don’t really like that characteristic. I always think it tastes a little metallic. It smells very crisp, lightly grainy. Tastes like a Heineken with a more rounded malt presence, and the bready flavors increase as it warms a bit. I like it better as it starts to warm, but there’s still that ever-present metallic twinge.
Erdinger Oktoberfest-Weissbeer: Combination marzen lager and hefeweizen. Significantly lighter in color than the others, more macro-lager yellow-gold. It smells slightly sweet. Light, honey malt-like flavor up front, but very mild. I think this might be the lightest-flavored of the three, but curiously the body is on the heavier side. Kind of chewy. Mildest of all the brews, but I would still take “inoffensive” over an off-flavor I don’t like.
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen: Grainy and light-bodied with mild sweetness. It was at this point in doing these tastings that I looked back over the previous notes and said to myself “Yup, these are all pretty similar, aren’t they?” I’m afraid there just isn’t a terrible amount of variation to comment upon. I will say that this one finished with a wheat-bread like flavor, and I picked up some herbal hops that were not very present in the other beers.
1. Ayinger Oktoberfest-Marzen
2. Spaten Oktoberfest
3. Erdinger Oktoberfest-Weissbeer
4. Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen
5. Warsteiner Oktoberfest
So there you have it. I’m surprised that the Spaten offering ended up so high, but I’m trying to be honest in these rankings. None of these beers were bad, but none of them were really mind-blowing either. Then again, festbier isn’t exactly supposed to blow minds, except with alcohol poisoning brought on by liter-plus serving sizes. But I digress. If you like American octoberfest offerings, give one of these a try from your package store in the next few weeks. You might even be able to pick them up on clearance. Drink them immediately–that’s what they’re there for.