Wednesday, November 17, 2021

All Consuming Darkness

Back in 2010 I wrote a post on the old RateBeer forums advocating for Czech tmavé to be recognised as a distinct beer "style" rather than simply lumped together with schwarzbier or dunkel. While I no longer bother with RateBeer or BeerAdvocate, and have never bothered with Untappd, it was interesting this morning to look at those sites and see how tmavé is being categorised in each instance. Ratebeer, seemingly in keeping with the consensus on the thread from 2010, has a broad "Dark lager" category, with dunkle and tmavé bracketed together. Over at BeerAdvocate, most versions of tmavé are seemingly put in one of the "Schwarzbier", "Munich dunkel", or "Lager - European Dark" categories. Untappd would seem to be the most simplistic option, going for just "Lager - Dark".

I don't want to rehash the arguments about whether Czech dark lagers are a unique beast when compared to their German counterparts, though I will continue to maintain that they are. The history of dark beer in Bohemia is fascinating, with it seeming that unlike their Bavarian neighbours, the Bohemians were top fermenting their dark beers until the very cusp of the 20th century. If you have ever had U Fleků's wonderful 13° lager you will know just how similar it is to a modern day stout. In the early years of the First Republic, the oldest brewery in České Budějovice (hint, it isn't Budvar) was advertising a dark beer with the name "Původní Českobudějovický Porter", or "Original Budweiser Porter". If I remember rightly, said beer was brewed to about 13° as well.

Sitting by our new firepit on Sunday afternoon, watching the twins charge around like maniacs, it occurred to me that I had examples of all three dark lager styles in my fridge. Do a tasting I thought, do a tasting I did! My three dark lagers were:

Starting at the beginning, to one of my favourite things...


Ah Von Trapp, goodness me how I love their on point lagers. Dunkel is, as if the name itself is not a hint, dark brown, with glints of garnet when held up to the light. The foam is firm, light tan, and doesn't disappear entirely as you drink. In one of my half litre krugs, it is a mighty damned fine sight. Ok, aroma, crusty toast, not burnt but definitely well toasted, with a light hop spiciness floating around in there too, think a märzen style Oktoberfest lager with more Munich malt oomph and you're not far off. The complexity of the malt really becomes evident when you finally stop looking and sniffing. Rich with toffee, toast, and subtle cocoa hints, there is a nice clean hop bitterness that cuts through it all, leaving the finish dry and moreish. Of the many dunkels I have enjoyed over the years this is one of the best, and one day I will get to Vermont to drink it at the Von Trapp Bierhall.


If Utepils beers were ever distributed to Virginia I would likely be a very happy man. As it is, I am grateful to my colleague Jerry for shipping this nectar to me, which likewise makes me a very happy man. Loonar Eclipse is their Czech style tmavé, which at 5.1% abv is likely to be a 13° Plato beer, and thus right in line with the U Fleků urtyp. It felt appropriate to pour this into my Purkmistr půllitr mug, and pour a very, very dark brown it did. The highlights were deeper than in the dunkel, gleaming like polished mahogany, topped with a healthy inch or so of dark ivory foam. Making their way gamely through the head were aromas of light coffee, a little unsweetened cocoa, and herbal hops, the nose was on the nose. One mouthful and I was transported to days drinking tmavé in Prague, in particular the autumn special from Klášterní Pivovar Strahov. Those coffee and cocoa notes were present in the flavour department too, joined by a bit of cola, and rich crusty, and slightly nutty, bread, almost like mazanec. Just plain lovely is what it is, beautifully rich and smooth, with a clean finish from the hops and fermentation character. My best friend is coming to visit this weekend, so we'll share the remaining pair of cans by the firepit.


Changing up the glassware for the third time, I poured the Port City Schwarzbier into my Chodovar Salzburg High mug, and living up to its name, this was black, black, black, with dark brown edges. The foam was again nice and healthy, but a touch darker than the previous beers, still it clung around for a while. The dominant aroma here was a combination of dark toast and espresso, backed up by a hint of cola. Again, the flavours paired up nicely with the aromas to be deeply rich layers of coffee, dark toast, a general roastiness, and a slightly herbal hop bite to keep everything in balance. Damn if this ain't a fine execution of the style. When I get back from South Carolina for Thanksgiving, I will be doing a comparative tasting of schwarzbiers, and with this teaser I am very much looking forward to it.

So, coming back to the original theme, this little experiment has me satisfied that dunkel, tmavé, and schwarzbier are distinct "styles", for want of a better word. Yes they are clearly similar, but I think that the differences in ingredients as well as flavour and aroma profiles show that the differences are sufficient to celebrate each in their own right. Of course, the challenge here with tmavé is that under Czech brewing law it can be 8° as much as it can 18° - though not above that, then it becomes a "Porter", such are the joys of trying to shoehorn Czech brewing traditions into an Anglo-American taxonomy, which applies just as much to světlé and polotmavé as to tmavé.

To thoroughly bastardise the maxim of Karl Barth..."let pivo be pivo"

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Young and the Old - IPA Edition

12 days earlier than the norm and central Virginia has had its first frost. Samhain has barely come and gone, and already the Yule beers are starting to appear on the shelves. We are at the cusp of that most cultural warfare of times....the Holidays. 

It is around this time that I also perform an annual ritual, that of buying a 6 pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale to drink a couple of and blithely forget about until this time next year.

I have a personal heresy when it comes to Celebration Ale, I think it is better with a year in the cellar to allow the fresh/wet/green/choose a descriptor hops to tone down a bit. I realise that kind of defeats the purpose of it being a "fresh hop ale" or in this year's case a "fresh hop IPA". At 6.8% abv, Celebration Ale does actually fit quite nicely within the definition of an Old Ale, even the 65 IBUs aren't wildly out of keeping with the style guidelines as promulgated by the BJCP. Sure a year sitting in a cellar is not long enough to really get some of the old ale characteristics associated with the style, you know all that oxidation, lactic, Brett, kind of stuff, but what about a decade?

As I was pottering around in the cellar the other day, mainly wondering why on earth I have so many growlers, and how to dispose of the vast majority of them, I discovered a bottle of Celebration Ale from 2011. A bottle so old that it's original cellar was the outside storage room of Mrs V and I's first abode in Virginia. A bottle so aged that it is now on its third US president, and was in the cellar before I last went to France to stay with my parents, when they lived there, for Christmas, and when I did a comparative tasting of fresh and aged Orval. I also noticed that I still have bottles from 2019 and 2020 floating about, but there was something more appealing about the direct 10 year comparison than doing fresh, 1 year, 2 year, and then 10 year old versions. I started with the fresh...


The autumnal sunlight streaming through the door to our deck made the copper liquid glow, flashing amber highlights at the edges of the glass, all topped off with a steady, persistent half inch of just off white foam, god it's a lovely looking beer. From experience of preferring it with a little age on it, I didn't bother to top up my pint dimpled mug with another can. Without even having to get the glass close to my nose, the hops are evident, all those classic American "C" hop aromas just bursting all over the place. Masses of grapefruit, pine resin, lots of pine resin, and spicy undertones, quite the heady brew. Ok, let's drink this...bracingly bitter, bracing, like jumping into a cold pool after a banya in the Belarusian countryside. Next time you have a grapefruit, eat the peel and the pith and you'll get what I mean, this is ripping citrus, and somewhere underneath it all is a toffee malt sweetness, not enough to give even the merest semblance of balance, but it's there. This is a brute of a beer, big, bruising, and powerful...I hope being in cans now means it won't stay the same after a year in the cellar.

With such a walloping mass of flavours to process, and the fact dinner needed to be made, twins put to bed, and all that jazz, it was a few hours later, and darker, that I got to the 2011 bottle.

Straight off the bat, the size of the head surprised me a little, I expected it to be more of a schmeer than the half inch it was, well at least there was still life there. Lacking sunlight, the amber highlights were only really noticeable when held up to the kitchen lights, but the deep copper was very similar to the young version. Ten years of sitting around had obviously impacted the massive hop aroma, though pine resin and grapefruit were still heavily involved. In the mix now was a stone fruit character that I really didn't expect, as well as a subtle sherry thing, which I kind of did. The years though have been kind to the malt, a fuller, richer malt flavour is present now, like dulce de leche spread on fresh from the oven scones. There is still a pithy bitterness, but it too has calmed down, though I expected it to have calmed further, even so this is a remarkably hop present beer for its age.

I still have most of the 6 pack of 2021 Celebration Ale in the cellar, will any of it make it to 2031? Who knows? If somehow I manage to ignore a beer for another decade, then at least if this experiment is any indicator, it'll still be a good, bitter, old ale when the time comes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

In Praise of Extract Beer

It is a cliché for sure, but there are times when I look at my kids and wonder to myself "where the hell did the time go?". This weekend was the twins 4th birthday and with time speeding by at a fair old clip, it feels difficult to justify taking 8 hours, give or take, to brew an all grain batch of homebrew. While there is no shortage of decent beer to be had in the central Virginia region, either locally produced or from further afield, there are still times when I just want to drink something I have brewed myself. Enter pre-prepared malt extract.

Now, I know that many homebrewing purists get a bit haughty about using malt extract, but cutting that 8 hours down to about 3 just makes life a whole lot easier. Thankfully if you still want to use specialty grains you can just steep some in your brewing water as it warms up, I find it much easier to add extract to warmer water so that helps as well. When you get your hands on some fresh extract though, there is nothing to stop you from just doing an all extract beer, which I what I did about 2 months ago, to brew this...

The beer in the picture was something of a mashup, a top fermented 10° pale beer vaguely in the style of a Czech desítka. I used 6lbs of Briess Pilsen malt extract in this recipe, which is according to their spec sheet 99% pilsner malt and 1% carapils, and gave me a 5 gallon starting gravity of exactly the 10° Plato I was looking for. Being something of a lazy git at times, it is nice to work with a product that gives you exactly what you expect when you do things right. My complete recipe was as follows:

  • 6lbs Briess Pilsen liquid malt extract
  • 11 IBU of Saaz for 60 minutes
  • 8.5 IBU of Saaz for 30 minutes
  • 5.5 IBU of Saaz for 15 minutes
  • Wyeast 1007 German Ale
A very simple recipe really, and I used a top fermenting yeast as I don't have a temperature controlled fermentation chamber or any of that jazz. I find that 1007, which is Zum Uerige's yeast I believe, ferments really clean at my cellar's fairly constant 65°F and is well suited to the 5 weeks lagering the beer got at about 35°F. With the boys' birthday soirée about to start, I poured myself a half litre...


Sure it was a wee bit hazy, but not too bad for an unfined, unfiltered beer. You could call it a nefiltovaný if you so pleased, but to my mind it was a lovely looking půllitr, simply redolent with that lovely soft spiciness blended with a hay character that makes me think of Saaz. I have no evidence for this, but I do wonder if boiling up an already reduced wort actually mimics some of the maillard reactions you would get from a decoction mash. Easy drinking it was.

Given the ease of using liquid malt extract, I think I will be retiring the mash tun for a while, at least until the boys are able to listen enough to be handy assistant brewers. Next up, an ESB...

Friday, October 8, 2021

After the Fest

In 2018 I had this notion to try all the Virginian Oktoberfest lagers I could lay my hands on at the time, a grand total of 6 beers, 4 of which have featured in every iteration of the project. In 2019 there were 18, 2020 had 24, and this year, I may have mentioned already, a staggering 46 beers.

I have written posts about Minnesotan, Virginian, and German representatives, but to break it down a bit further I had:

  • 13 from Germany
  • 11 from Virginia
  • 7 from Minnesota
  • 3 each from New York and Pennsylvania
  • 2 from North Carolina
  • 1 each from Texas, Vermont, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Massachusetts, and California (or maybe a third from North Carolina depending on how you list Sierra Nevada).

From the beers that I haven't already posted about there were a few standouts, and if you've been following Fuggled for much more than a nanosecond they are names you will recognise.


August 1st is one of the most anticipated dates in my beer calendar, as it is on this most august of days that Sierra Nevada release their annual Oktoberfest. I guess the pandemic has put the annual collaboration on hiatus for the time being as both last year and this have been just SN beers, and both have been absolute delights. This year's version was marketed as an "amber märzen" and it hit all the right notes. It did however break with Fuggled tradition by not being a beer I drank a 12 pack of each weekend, unlike in years passim.

For the first time ever I have managed to get my hands of all of Olde Mecklenburg's seasonal beers, and I was really keen to include Mecktoberfest in the tasting to see how it stacked up. The answer that question really shouldn't be a massive surprise, it stacks up very well. A delicate balance of malt and hop, with the clean, crisp lager fermentation finish you expect from such masters of the bottom fermented arts. I also learnt this week that they also do CO2 capture at the brewery, which just makes me love them even more.


It is an incontrovertible truth that the brewery whose products most regularly show up in my fridge is Vermont's Von Trapp. In common with my favourite breweries they are masters of lager, and their commitment to quality, authenticity, and just making great beer shone through in their Oktoberfest this year. Von Trapp's Oktoberfest has probably been my single most regularly drunk märzen this year, again getting a lovely richness to dance gracefully with slightly spicy hops, and a moreishness that could seriously jeopardise plans to try other beers in a session.

With those special honorable mentions out of the way, here is the final ranking of all 46 Oktoberfest beers I have tried this year. Where beers have the same overall score, I have made no attempt to disambiguate them.

1. Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - 36/40
2. Beltway Fest - 34/40
3. Port City Oktoberfest - 33/40
3. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest - 33/40
4. Rothaus Eiszäpfle - 32/40
4. Von Trapp Oktoberfest - 32/40
4. Utepils Receptional Festbier - 32/40
4. Summit Oktoberfest - 32/40
4. Interboro Festbier - 32/40
4. Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest - 32/40
5. Olde Mecklenburg Mecktoberfest - 31/40
5. Great Lakes Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Indeed Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Fair State Coop Festbier - 31/40
5. Erdinger Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Spaten Ur-Märzen - 31/40
5. Beale's Fest - 31/40
6. Warsteiner Oktoberfest - 30/40
6. Shiner Okotberfest - 30/40
6. Devils Backbone O'Fest - 30/40
6. Starr Hill Festie - 30/40
6. Bell's Oktoberfest - 30/40
6. Schell's Oktoberfest - 30/40
6. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen - 30/40
7. Tucher Festbier - 29/40
7. Benediktiner Festbier - 29/40
7. Schlafly Oktoberfest - 29/40
7. Reason Märzen - 29/40
8. Bitburger Festbier - 28/40
8. Sam Adams Oktoberfest - 28/40
8. Brooklyn Brewing Oktoberfest - 28/40
8. Beaver Island Oktoberfest - 28/40
8. Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier - 28/40
9. Weihenstephaner Festbier - 27/40
9. Smartmouth The Princess - 27/40
10. Bauhaus Schwandtoberfest - 26/40
10. Barrier Märs Zen - 26/40
10. Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier - 26/40
11. New Realm Bavarian Prince - 24/40
12. Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen - 23/40
12. Yeungling Oktoberfest - 23/40
13. Hi-Wire Zirktoberfest - 22/40
13. Victory Festbier - 22/40
14. Brothers Festbier - 21/40
14. Genesee Oktoberfest - 21/40
15. Solace Gute Nacht - 19/40

Ayinger then take not just the title of best German Festbier/Märzen of 2021 but also the overall title of the Fuggled Oktoberfest Beer of the Year!

So now the time has come to move on to something different...schwarzbier for example

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Festbierzeit

Now, if you are an Oktoberfest purist, then I suggest you look away as I write about the 13 German märzens and festbiers that I tried as part of my mass tasting. While 11 of the beers were from Bavaria, only 5 on those were from official Oktoberfest breweries, the remainder were from Rhineland-Pfalz, Nordrhein-Westfalen, and Baden-Württemburg.

In terms of "style", 8 were pale "festbiers", 4 were darker "märzens", and one was a weizen festbier. The spread of scores ranged from 23 to a frankly awesome 36/40, with the average being 29/40. A reminder that the overall average from the 46 beers I tried was 28/40, so generally the German beers were at or above average, with only 3 brews failing to reach the magic 28. As ever, here is a reminder of my scoring criteria:

  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of bitter to sweet - 2 points
  • Personal preference - 10 point

Just as with yesterday's list of Virginia Oktoberfest lagers, I am not going to produce a massive great list of tasting notes with key phrases repeated ad nauseum, you know "bready" for the märzens, "grainy pils malt character" for the festbiers, but I will hit some highlights.

Firstly, I didn't even know that Baden-Württemburg's Rothaus made a märzen, though it is pale rather than amber it is called a märzen given its starting gravity, as the law requires in Baden-Württemburg, which makes something of a mockery of the Anglophone world's attempts to define styles. I mentioned earlier that one of the beers I tried was Erdinger Oktoberfest, a weizen festbier that weighing in at 5.7% makes it just a touch stronger than their regular weißbier, and it was a lovely, refreshing change from the other beers in the tasting, if a little difficult to decide how to judge.

Anyway, on to the final rankings for Germany's representatives...

1. Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - 36/40
2. Rothaus Eiszäpfle - 32/40
3. Spaten Ur-Märzen - 31/40
3. Erdinger Oktoberfest - 31/40
4. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen - 30/40
4. Warsteiner Oktoberfest - 30/40
5. Benediktiner Festbier- 29/40
5. Tucher Festbier - 29/40
6. Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier - 28/40
6. Bitburger Festbier - 28/40
7. Weihenstephaner Festbier - 27/40
8. Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier - 26/40
9. Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen - 23/40

At one point it looked as though it was going to be a fairly close run thing for the Germans in this tasting, but then along came Ayinger like a bull in a china shop to blow everyone else out of the water. Such an immense beast of a complex lager, it is one of the seasonal lagers that I look forward to each autumn, regardless of the whole Oktoberfest thing, it is just the perfect beer for dreich days watching the leaves turn.

Update: thanks to Rob for pointing out that Rothaus Eiszäpfle is in fact a year round beer rather than specially made for this time of the year. The shop I bought my 6 pack in (yes, I trust Rothaus so will splunk way north of $15 for 6 bottles) told me it was shipped to the US specifically for Oktoberfest time, so it is staying in the tasting.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Oktoberfests of Virginia

Okotberfest would have finished on Sunday, so it seemed like an apt cut off point to my own endeavour to try as many festbiers and märzens as I could lay my hands on. The final total was 46 individual beers, and while I won't be taking any more notes and assigned scores, I may have another few if I see any from breweries that I trust to make great lagers, looking mostly at you Schilling.

Of those 46 beers, 11 were from Virginia. I know for a fact there are more than 11 breweries in Virginia making lagers broadly in the realm of Oktoberfest, but I had criteria for picking, the main one being did my local bottles shops sell them as singles? Sorry brewing companies, but I am not going to splunk north of $10 on a 4-pack or 6-pack of beer when I am not confident in the quality of the product. Even those breweries that I know and trust rarely had me buying more than a single as I didn't want my fridge to overflow, at which I failed utterly anyway.

Of those 11 beers, only one was a festbier, Devils Backbone O'Fest, while the spread of scores ranged from 19/40 to 34/40, with an average of 28/40, which is also the overall average score of the 46 beers. Just a reminder that my scoring criteria are as follows:

  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of bitter to sweet - 2 points
  • Personal preference - 10 points

I am not going to bore you with endless tasting notes, especially as 10 märzens would mean excessive repetition of "bready", so here are the final rankings and scores for the Virginia Oktoberfests

1. Beltway Fest! - 34/40
2. Port City Oktoberfest - 33/40
3. Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest - 32/40
4. Beale's Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Devils Backbone O'Fest - 30/40
5. Starr Hill Festie - 30/40
6. Reason Märzen - 29/40
7. Smartmouth The Princess - 27/40
8. New Realm Bavarian Prince - 24/40
9. Brothers Festbier - 21/40
10. Solace Gute Nacht - 19/40

I have to admit to being slightly surprised by the results here, in particular with the New Realm Bavarian Prince score given that last year it was the overall winner of my tasting with 34/40. I am not sure if I got a bum can, but I felt that it wouldn't be fair to give them a redo on the basis of last year's results. Perhaps more dramatic is the score for Solace's Gute Nacht, which last year scored a paltry 10/40 and was one of only 2 drain pours, but at least this year was much better and I finished the pint.

I have to confess to being slightly torn on the overall winner though. I had Beltway's lovely Fest! at Kardinal Hall last Friday, and it was a really excellent märzen, rich, complex, and yes bready in all the right places, with a lingering dry finish that was crisp, clean, and never left me feeling overwhelmed with sweetness. My very next beer was Port City's Oktoberfest, again a superb example of the märzen style, though lighter than the Beltway being 5.2% to 5.8% and not quite as rich. When I had finished that pint of Port City, I had another, then another. That extra richness being a hallmark of the style is why Beltway wins overall though, especially as both beers scored 8/10 for personal preference.

So congratulations to Beltway Brewing of Sterling for being the Virginia Oktoberfest Lager of 2021! If you are stilling drinking märzens and festbiers and see it available, I highly recommend it, as I do with anything that scored 30/40 and above, especially with Devils Backbone O'Fest if you are more of a modern festbier drinker.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Of Minnesota Oktoberfests

 At the beginning of this month, Minneapolis based writer Jerard Fagerberg started work at the same organisation as myself. The subject of beer pretty quickly came up and lo and behold we have another person on the team that writes about the world's favourite barley based beverage. Having suitably followed each other on Twitter, I got a message from Jerry offering to send some Minnesota festbiers and märzens to add to my ongoing mass Oktoberfest tasting. A few days later and my fridge had 7 beers from the far north chilling down. Come Sunday they were ready to drink...and so I did.


The beers were, as you can see in the picture:

I decided to subject them to the same approach as I have been doing with all the beers in this year's tasting, which is exactly the same as last year:
  • Sight - 3 points
  • Smell - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of sweet to bitter - 2 points
  • Personal opinion - 10 points
So without further ado, let's jump into my Cyclopsesque tasting notes, I didn't take pictures for each beer as I was too busy drinking the beer, you understand that right?

Summit Oktoberfest - 6.5%
  • Sight - recently polished copper, inch of ivory head, excellent clarity
  • Smell - fresh crusty bread, rich malt complexity, no hops
  • Taste - beautiful Munich malt sweetness, rich bready notes, herbal hop bite in the finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
What a lovely start to the tasting, a beautifully complex lager that has everything you need to make it dangerously drinkable. The hops were evident without intruding, and the clean lager fermentation gave it the right amount of snap to keep me coming back for more. There was also an intriguing slight coconut note in the mix.

Schell's Oktoberfest - 5.8%
  • Sight - orange, almost Irn-Bru orange in the light, persistent off white head, beautiful clarity
  • Smell - toasted crusty bread, a touch of toffee, no hops
  • Taste - toasted bread, and also classic pilsner malt cereal character noticeable, clean herbal hops
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I have to admit that I was really please to see this one on the box. My last beer from Schell's was a decade ago when they brewed a tmavé that I very much enjoyed, and here was another that, were Schell's available in Virginia, I would be buying regularly. Medium bodied, with a fantastic balance, and eminently drinkable.

Bauhaus Schwandtoberfest - 5.7%
  • Sight - deep amber, quarter inch white foam, good clarity
  • Smell - fresh bread from the oven, little if any hop aroma, clean
  • Taste - bready malts again, toasty with a slight caramel note, clean hop bitterness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The head sank into a schmeer of bubbles pretty quickly. This was a decent, malt forward, clean lager, with just enough hop bite to stop that hefty body from being cloying.

Beaver Island Oktoberfest - 6%
  • Sight - deep copper, red highlights, thin white head, excellent clarity
  • Smell - Honey on toast, no hops
  • Taste - slightly doughy, underbaked bread, maybe a touch of burnt sugar
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
In lots of ways this had things right. It was medium bodied, quite complex, and the bitterness from the hops was enough to just stop it being too sickly, but there was something of an odd after taste which was a distraction trying to nail down.

Indeed Oktoberfest - 5.8%
  • Sight - amber, quarter inch of white head, good clarity
  • Smell - pilsner malt cereal, sweetness of Maillard reactions
  • Taste - toasted malt, rich malt sweetness, floral hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Oh I liked this one. Lots of malt complexity, toasted Vienna, toffee like Munich, yum, yum, yum, to top it all there was the crisp (still fuck off with your crispy shite people) lager characteristic that brings everything in to sharp relief for another mouthful.

Fair State Cooperative Festbier - 5.7%
  • Sight - golden, half inch of persistent white foam, good clarity
  • Smell - rich pilsner malt grain character (decoction mash?), nice bready character, subtle herbal hop note
  • Taste - solid cereal grain character, lots of Pilsner malt, traces of honey, spicy hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This was bloody marvellous, absolutely bloody marvellous. Like a stronger Czech style lager, packing a wallop bit still with a firm bitterness and clean finish. Could happily drink this all day long.

Utepils Receptional Festbier - 5.9%
  • Sight - deep gold, quarter inch white head, superb clarity
  • Smell - dollops of lightly honeyed pilsner malt, light bready note, some subtle lemongrass
  • Taste - more honeyed pilsner malt, floral hops with a slight spicy edge
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Another lovely festbier, perfectly balanced, refreshingly clean in the finish. Reminded me of the Primátor Exklusiv 16° strong pale lager from Czechia which was once declared the world's best lager. Again a beer I could imagine drinking maß after maß of in an autumnal biergarten.


So there we have it, 5 märzens and 2 festbiers that do Minnesota proud. In terms of a mini-league on my point system they ended up as:
  1. Utepils Receptional (32/40, wins on personal preference)
  2. Summit Oktoberfest (32/40)
  3. Fair State Festbier (31/40, third on personal preference)
  4. Indeed Oktoberfest (31/40)
  5. Schell's Oktoberfest (30/40)
  6. Beaver Island Oktoberfest (28/40)
  7. Bauhaus Schwandtoberfest (26/40)
Utepils for the win it is then, and clear evidence based on these numbers that the pale festbier style is still my preferred version of the annual autumnal lagerfest...


Thanks again to Jerry for sending the beers down, and I am in the process of curating a selection of fine Virginia beers to send back north for his drinking pleasure.

All Consuming Darkness

Back in 2010 I wrote a post on the old RateBeer forums advocating for Czech tmavé to be recognised as a distinct beer "style" rat...