In general, Oktoberfest beers tend to reflect the changing season by leaving the lighter summer seasonals behind in favor of darker, heartier, more robust ales. And while I love summer, I don't particularly love summer ales which tend to be light, fruity and lacking in much true beer flavor. With Oktobefest style beers malt tends to dominate, but many have a good dose of hops as well.
This time we met at Gerry's and he created a rating sheet that allowed each of us to rate the beers for aroma, appearance (color and head) and taste. He had a 1-5 rating with the caveat that 1 is good 5 is superior. Without further ado, here are the results, presented alphabetically.
2. Harpoon Octoberfest Beer - Nearly superior malt aroma with only moderate hops coming through. Far better than average color, clarity and head. The taste was a complex one with malt dominating with some sweet and fruity overtones. The finish was felt to be strong by most, but was rated by a few as only memorable and even weak. Comments include: "Ed has done a good job! Let's tour the facility; Opens sweet, finishes with a warm bitterness - hint of banana; Tastes like fall to me."
4. Saranac Octoberfest Lager - In truth we don't include a lot of lagers, mainly because the typical lager tends to be along the lines of Bud, Miller, Coors etc. All pretty much the same. However there are some lagers that dare to be different and actually have some taste. This is one of them. It has a slight malty/hoppy aroma, certainly much more so than your typical lager. It scored above average in color and clarity and average head. The taste was a very pleasant malty taste, with hints of roasted malt and nuts. The finish was firm to memorable. Some comments: "A long way from Utica Club. Schultz and Dooley would be impressed; To me, a classic Octoberfest - nice malty taste - some hop bitterness. Very drinkable."
We ultimately ranked the beers, though they were all very good. We picked the top three unanimously as:
1. Grindstone Brewery's Nut Blonde Ale - Just couldn't beat the combination of in-your-face hops and warm nutty finish.
2. Sierra Nevada's Tumbler - The complexity of flavor won over the judges here.
3. Harpoon's Octoberfest - Great balance and drinkability (and not the way a certain light beer commercial uses the word.)
The remaining four all had their advocates. We of course had to finish off the remainders just to make sure we got it right.
I also brought along Southern Tier's Pumpking Ale just to annoy Ron. There were wildly varying opinions about it. Some said it tasted like pumpkin pie and was far too sweet for their tastes. I kind of liked it. I didn't think it was overpowering and it had a kind of nice, warming finish that surprised me. I, however, was in the minority here! Oh well. That's what makes craft beer so much fun.
1. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
2. Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian style India Pale Ale
3. Great Lakes Nosferatu
4. Mojo India Pale Ale
5. Troegs Java Head Stout
6. Presque Isle Pilsner from Erie Brewery
I can't wait. It's like Christmas.