Monday, October 3, 2011

Farewell to Oktoberfest

Today sees the end of Oktoberfest, that most famous of cultural festivals and quite possibly the most famous thing about Munich, though I am sure Bayern Munich would be right up there as well. Meanwhile, over here in the US we are in the middle of the annual slew of autumnal beers, mostly variants on the Oktoberfest lager or pumpkin beer theme.

This has been the first autumn that I have really bothered with Oktoberfest lagers, mainly because when the temperatures finally cool off I have this urge for porters and stouts, and I generally don't bother with pumpkin beers because they all taste like soggy cardboard to me. My delving into American made Oktoberfest lager started at the monthly meeting of the homebrew club I belong to, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale. We have our meetings at the excellent Timberwood Grill, and usually they have a decent pale lager on tap, but last month that had been replaced with Bell's Octoberfest and so I polished off a pint or two of that. Thoroughly enjoying the Bell's stab at the style sufficiently piqued my interest to try other Oktoberfest lagers, and I think I have found my favourite.

Charlottesville has a nice, new shiny Whole Foods. More than that, we have a nice, new shiny Whole Foods with a bar. Yes, a bar. They have 8 beers on tap, do growler fills and most importantly have happy hour from 4 until 6. Now, tell me, can you think of a better way to finish off the work week than sitting in a bar, drinking quality craft beer at happy hour prices and having the bar strategically placed next to the cheese counter? No? Me neither. It has become one of my favourite places to go for a pint. I think it helps that Whole Foods reminds me so much of the French supermarkets round my parents' neck of the woods. You know the kind of place, where they actually like food rather than simply sell lowest common denominator shite. Any way, back to the beer.

The Highland Brewing Company from Asheville, North Carolina, make some of the best beers in the US, their Black Mocha Stout is divine, Gaelic Ale gorgeous and the Oatmeal Porter puts other oatmeal beers to shame. Clearly I like Highland Brewing's ales, but how would their lagers fare? Well, Clawhammer Oktoberfest is magnificent. Burnished orange, topped with a tight white head, the nose is bready, grainy and with a nice light spiciness from the Mittlefruh hops. The taste is that sweet malt character that is so much a key element of German style lagers, toasty, grainy but without tasting like caramel. A nice crisp, lingering finish which only gives way when the second put is placed in front of you and you get to start the process again.

I am not sure how long they will have it in our local Whole Foods, but you can bet I'll be in there on Friday for a couple of post work pints. Now a confession, I have never been to Oktoberfest, and really have very little interest in going, Starkbierzeit though is a different proposition.

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