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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oktoberfest II

(with apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

In the Fall a deeper amber overtakes our cherished ales;
In the Fall we bid adieu to Summer's fruity pales;

In the Fall a hearty harvest brings beer with malty zest;
In the Fall a beer fan's fancy cries "Oktoberfest!"

Sherman on the Mount


I am the mega-brewers worst fear. 

I am one of thousands who are stepping forward out of the shadows and admitting that I am beer-curious. 

For years the big breweries have subtly hinted that real men are brand loyalists when it comes to beer. You could be a Bud man or a Miller man (or, I suppose, a Bud Light man or Miller Lite man as oxymoronic as those terms may sound) and there was something decidedly manly about the fact that you only drank one brand of beer. Much of this has been done through product placement in movies and TV shows (I love "The Sons of Anarchy" but seriously, does that motorcycle gang own stock in Budweiser or what? That's the only beer you ever see, and the show takes place in California! Arguably the birth place of the craft beer movement!) Certainly no one has done this better than Bud over the years; subliminally suggesting that there is something decidedly unmasculine, even unpatriotic, about drinking anything other than Budweiser. Of course, A-B then proceeds to hedge their bet by also producing Bud Light, Bud Select, American Ale, Bud Light Lime, Chelada (Bud plus Clamato!), Bud Light Wheat, Michelob, Michelob Ultra (Amber, Lime Cactus, Pomegranate Raspberry, Dragon Fruit), Michelob Amber, Light, Lager, Stella Artois, Bass Ale, Boddington Ale, Lowenbrau, Becks, Alexander Keith... You get the idea. They cast a wide net (but try to find an IPA, Stout or Porter in that bunch). They would like you to be loyal to Bud, but if you must stray, try to keep it in the family (which sounds decidedly creepy now that I read that line back to myself). 

But I have never been a one-beer man. Even before the advent of craft brews I was always eager to try new brands. In college we would head to Canada and pick up beer at the duty-free shops on the way back, looking for something with a little more flavor. Something different. Unfortunately at around that time the big American breweries strove to diminish the differences even more with the introduction of light beer, making an already light lager even lighter, and effectively diminishing the differences between brands even more. 
Luckily the craft beer revolution (or perhaps evolution is more fitting) has changed all that for those of us who are beer-curious. I may not like every permutation of brewing experimentation out there, but it sure is fun to try them and see. 
- A shout out to Six Point Brewery out of Brooklyn, NY. Recently their brews have been showing up locally and I have yet to have one I didn't like. I've tried their Sweet Action, Bengali Tiger, Righteous Ale and recently their Autumnation, a terrific fall seasonal. These guys are not stingy with the hops and every brew I've tried has been delicious. Check out their website at Their beer comes in 4 packs of pint cans (but at Wegman's make-your-own 6-pack you can put together a six-pack for only about fifty cents more than the 4-pack. How cool is that?) I don't mean to sound like I'm shilling for them, but if you like beers with big flavor, you're going to like their brews.

-Old Bisbee Brewing Company in Bisbee, AZ. If you ever happen to be in Southern Arizona in the old mining town of Bisbee, stop in at the Old Bisbee Brewing Company. It's a small brewery that usually has about seven beers on tap (plus root beer). Very intimate bar and friendly staff. And tasty beers. I particularly like their double IPA and their Stout. They don't bottle. You can buy by the growler though.  Check them out here:

The Main Event

Well, it's fall again, so the BOTB guys decided to take our annual look at those harbingers of fall: Oktoberfest beers. So on a beautiful September 25th afternoon, we took on the task of determining the primo Oktoberfest style beer. By one definition, an Oktoberfest beer is one that is brewed in the city of Munich for the festival that runs from mid-September to early October. However in a broader sense it is an amber lager that tends toward the malty end of the taste spectrum and is brewed for early fall consumption. Because of its seasonal timing, one thinks more of a heavier, maltier brew than the lighter beers of summer, and that is pretty much what we got. We were down a man, as Gerry was out of town on business, so we all had to buck up and go the extra mile, give 110%... and drink more beer. Again we were at the Clark's cottages where a picture-perfect day was made complete by salmon jumping out of the water, leaves turning, a beautiful sky, a comfortable deck overlooking the river - and beer.
Many thanks to our Oktoberfest sponsers:
 - Boston Beer Company who provided us with their Samuel Adams Octoberfest, Harpoon Brewery for their Octoberfest, Leinenkugel for their Oktoberfest and Saranac Brewing for theirs. To round out the competition we also had Victory's FestBier and Flying Dog Brewery's Dogtoberfest.

Our Beer Tasting Evaluation Form had the following categories: Aroma, Color, Flavor, Mouthfeel, and Overall Impression, with room at the bottom of the sheet for comments. For the sake of this evaluation we will use a 1-5 format as follows (the numbers do not imply subjective quality other than on the last: Overall Impressions. Otherwise they merely indicate objective observations.)

          For aroma - 1 is hoppy and 5 is malty
          For color -   1 is pale, 2 is golden, 3 is amber, 4 is brown, 5 is black
          For flavor -   1 is bitter and 5 is sweet (a number in the middle -3- would be balanced.)
          For mouthfeel - 1 is light/thin and 5 is full/thick
          For overall impression - 1 = Can't stand it! 5 = Can't get enough!

For each of the beers we will give the average score of the five tasters (Dan abstained as he was the designated pourer for the day). This was a blind tasted test. The participants did not know which beer they were tasting and the order was completely random.

Sam Adams Octoberfest

Aroma - 4.0
Color -   3.0
Flavor -  3.8
Mouthfeel - 2.4
Overall Impression - 2.8

Comments:  "Rather middle of the road - no strong hints of hops or malt. Not a strong presence. A good session beer. Not objectionalbe - middle of the road. Slight banana undertaste - okay. Not particularly strong flavored. Very mellow, well balanced malt and hops. More malty than hoppy. Not bad, drinkable."

Leinenkugel Oktoberfest

Aroma - 3.0
Color  -  2.5
Flavor -  2.7
Mouthfeel - 2.5
Overall Impression - 2.5

Comments: "Not a very big beer. Slightly more watery than (Sam Adams). A little more carbonated than (Sam Adams) - I like it better than (Sam). A tasty session-style beer. More hoppy than malty, less bitterl Good, well made."

Harpoon Octoberfest

Aroma - 3.0
Color - 3.1
Flavor - 2.1
Mouthfeel - 3.5
Overall Impression - 3.75

Comments: "So far, best of the bunch. More hops presence. Very drinkable. Best representation so far. Nice, smooth beer. A bit more complex than (Sam Adams and Leinenkugel.) More floral hops presence. I could difinitely drink this. More hoppy than malty. The hop is a clean flower hop. I like it. I could drink this."

Saranac Oktoberfest

Aroma - 3.25
Color - 3.0
Flavor - 3.3
Mouthfeel - 3.1
Overall Impression - 3.5

Comments: "Balanced. Very drinkable. Nice. OK. Very balanced. Easy drinking. More of a bitter finish than the others. A great blend of hop and malt. Not sweet and not tart. Good."

Victory Festbier

Aroma - 3.25
Color - 3.1
Flavor - 3.4
Mouthfeel - 3.1
Overall Impression - 3.0

Comments: "Very balanced brew. I like it. Another good one. Very tasty, balanced beer. Nice light flavor of a flower hop with a light malt presence. Good."

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest

Aroma - 3.0
Color - 3.6
Flavor - 3.3
Mouthfeel - 3.3
Overall Impression - 4.0

Comments: "Most complex flavor of all. Nice flavor. I could drink this! Best of the choices. More complex. Most bitter of the group. Good beer. More malty than bitter. Very drinkable."

As an added twist and a bit of an experiment to judge our judgement (sort of) Dan  sneaked in an unannounced second tasting part way through the session. It was another sample of Leinenkugel. From person to person there was a small difference in the ratings, but the overall scores were very similar (all within 0.2 of the original). If anything, the group was a bit harsher after the second tasting. Probably because it followed a bit hoppier beer.

Overall the winner was Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest. It was the hoppiest of the group and that would skew things for us hopheads.

But one of the things that nearly everyone commented on was the fact that overall there was very little difference between the various Oktoberfest (or Octoberfest) beers. They all seemed to follow a very similar formula. They all were the Marzen style beers - that is beers with a medium to full body, a mostly malty flavor and a clean dry finish.

Next up: Porters!

The BOTB Guys

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

 Harpoon at C's


A quick upcoming event note while we compile the info on Oktoberfest beers: C's in Oswego, one of our favorite stops for a huge selection of craft beers, will be having a Harpoon tasting on October 14th from 4-7 PM. Hard to go wrong here, as Harpoon has a terrific bunch of beers and, while you taste, you can browse C's impressive inventory (and perhaps make a few purchases).