Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Early ‘fest reviews

It’s only mid-September and I’ve been fortunate enough to have tried several Oktoberfest offerings already. I thought I’d give you my take and hopefully steer your towards some fantastic fall beers. Here we go:

Left Hand Oktoberfest

The reigning champion of my taste buds does it again this year. Last year this one really took me by surprise. It pours a deep copper color with a thin cream colored head. The smell is outright malty and sweet. Taste wise this is on the sweet side from start to finish, but not cloyingly sweet or syrupy. The hops finish with mild bitterness, which really doesn’t change the flavor of the beer, but it does help balance it out.

If you were so inclined you could sit down with a six pack of this and finish it. This stuff is eternally drinkable. The only bad part of this beer is the price, somewhat steep at $12 a six pack, and availability.

Rating: A

Samuel Adams Octoberfest

Sam Adams continues to disrespect the German spelling of this name by dropping the “k” in favor of a “c.” Perhaps this is Sam Adams’ (Boston Beer Company) way of keeping it American, no doubt. I’ve got friends who lose their minds every year when this comes out, this year I understand why. Last year this beer just seemed like a boring, watery ‘fest beer, but this year it’s like they remembered that this malt monster is something special. It pours an orange-amber color. The smell is subtle maltiness. The taste is an explosion of toasty, caramel, and roasted maltiness. The hops are middle of the road, but a bit more aggressive than the Left Hand and similarly they help balance out this brew.

This is a great one for fall tailgating or picnics. Another plus is that this one is a little easier on the wallet at around $8 a sixer.

Rating: A

Lancaster Oktoberfest

This one was a surprise. First to clarify my rating, I thought this was a cool non-traditional ‘fest beer as will be discussed, but I had to knock the overall down to a B, because of its departure from tradition. First, it poured an amber-copper color and slightly hazy. The taste was malty with brown sugar undertones and … wait for it … wait for it … a cider flavor. I don’t think that a cider flavor is desirable generally speaking in any sort of lager, but it kind of works in this one. Actually I think this one was Meg’s favorite Oktoberfest so far. I think that if you’re a lover of ales versus lagers then this might be the Oktoberfest for you. I say this because generally you associate ales with “fruity” type flavors and lagers are generally “cleaner” tasting.

We only bought two singles of this, so I have no idea how much a six pack will run you. Give this a try if you aren’t interested in the traditional Oktoberfest style.

Rating: B

Penn Oktoberfest

This one pours a clear tawny orange with a small foamy white head. Aromas and tastes are pretty straightforward: simple malty backbone with a touch of hops at the end and a clean aftertaste.

Rating: B-

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest

Every year I try a couple German brewed Oktoberfests thinking that this year I’ve finally found the original, the mothership so to speak, but every year I am consistently disappointed. Maybe it’s because these German brewed babies are shipped all the way across the Atlantic and the conditions aren’t always optimal for storage. I suspect German brewed Oktoberfest tastes better in Germany. That being said this one receives pretty high marks on beeradvocate, so maybe I’m just off my rocker. Pours more of a reddish amber color, very clear. A little spicy in the nose, sweet upfront, but then it kind of just fizzles out. Not offensive, but I get kind of bored drinking this one.

Rating: C

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