CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It seems rather odd to be writing about Oktoberfest season just after mowing the lawn in 80-degree weather, but the calendar can tell no lie. Prost! It's Oktoberfest!
Autumn is my favorite season. I am usually put in the spirit by a few telltale signs -- the turning of the leaves, the smell of an evening fireplace taking off the chill -- but the only thing I am able to count on is the arrival of Oktoberfest beer at my favorite beer store.
Oktoberfest means different things to different people. In America, it too often means a boring little fall festival held by an elementary school or civic organization. Little gatherings like these usually feature hay bales, pumpkins and all the usual fall fare except for the most important of Oktoberfest elements: beer and song. I have often said I want to acquire the trademark for the name Oktoberfest and would freely allow its usage by any festival organizer as long as beer was served.
In Bavaria, Oktoberfest and Herbstfests (fall festivals) are celebrations that date back hundreds of years to celebrate harvest time and, in the case of the Munich Oktoberfest, a royal wedding reception that went on a little too long. One hallmark of the festivals in Bavaria are the large beer tents (Festzelt), where thousands of happy town folk enjoy beer, food and song collectively referred to as "Gemütlichkeit" -- good cheer.
There's only one option for the West Virginian seeking Oktoberfest Gemütlichkeit. On Oct. 10, the historic town of Bramwell will hold its 15th annual edition of the Bramwell Oktoberfest. There will be beer, food and song, just maybe not the big tent holding thousands. Visit www.bramwelloktoberfest.com.
If you want to roll your own Oktoberfest, the Beers to You beer panel recently conducted a tasting of this year's Oktoberfest beers that are available locally. The key to a good "Festbier" is balancing the bigger, maltier profile with drinkability. Remember, in Bavaria, Festbiers are served by the liter so the last sip needs to be as anticipated as much as the first one. Here are our results in brief:
Warsteiner Oktoberfest: Malty aroma with a winelike character. Warming alcohol a little strong and astringent. Misses on drinkability.
Spaten Oktoberfest: Maltier than the Spatenfestbier that is served in Munich. Beware of the green bottles (skunky aromas). A very smooth malt character with some noble hops in the flavor. Easily drinkable but big malty flavors would make for a tired palate before the 10th playing of "Ein Prosit!"
Ayinger Oktoberfest-Marzen: Beautiful deep golden amber with a very clean malt aroma. Biscuity malt flavors (almost bready). This beer sits squarely between the Spaten and Warsteiner as far as richness. This beer was the panel favorite for festival drinkability.
The panel also tasted two non-German Oktoberfests.
Great Lakes Oktoberfest: Orange-hued with a very Munich-malt, caramel aroma. Very crisp and big (6.5 percent abv). Not as sophisticated a malt profile as the German brews. Festival drinkability is compromised by the "bigness" of this beer.
Sam Adams Oktoberfest: Another orange brew with grainlike malt profile. Very fresh tasting with lots of toffee flavor, making this beer delicious but tough to consume through an entire evening of Gemütlichkeit. Definite noble hop bitterness that balances nicely.
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.