Friday, September 20, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - The Final

The final four.

Originally my intention had been to have a pair of semi finals followed by a final and third place play off, kind of like the World Cup, but I changed my mind.

On Sunday morning, Mrs V and I, with the twins in tow decided to go to the Somerset Pasture Party being held just up the road from us. Basically the "party" is an exhibition of vintage steam and gas powered contraptions, and with sons that get all excited at trains we figured they'd enjoy it too. We had also arranged to meet up with my good friend Dave and his wife Ali, along with their son, who is slightly older than our boys.


Once done with choking on wood and coal smoke, thank god for what remains of the EPA and the Clean Air Act frankly speaking, we all decamped to our place for lunch and drinkies. With the ladies in the kitchen preparing lunch, the kids watching cartoons and/or playing with toys, I decided to split the bottles I had for the four remaining beers with Dave and choose a final ranking for them. The final four, as a reminder, were:
We decided to rank them purely on the basis of personal preference rather than comparing to any particular style definition, especially as from the picture you can see that they cover a range of colours and interpretations of "Oktoberfest" lager.


Our initial rankings were:

Dave
  1. Goose Island
  2. Ayinger
  3. Sierra Nevada
  4. Samuel Adams
Al
  1. Sierra Nevada
  2. Ayinger
  3. Samuel Adams
  4. Goose Island
Other than both having Ayinger as our second favourite, everything else was up in the air. Dave had Goose Island ahead on the basis that it was not as interesting a beer as Ayinger and Sierra Nevada and therefore something he was likely to down plenty of in a sitting, I had it last because I thought it was not as interesting as the others and I would get bored after a couple, same justification, different outcomes.

We both agreed that Ayinger was a really complex, interesting beer, very different from the American beers, but excellent drinking. The question was whether we would want to drink it by the litre? Both of us said that a couple of pints would be fine, but eventually we would end up with palette fatigue.

Between us I think we have probably drunk well in excess of 120 bottles of this year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, and we both love it. I put it first because it would be something I could drink plenty of, and have done so far this year, without getting bored. Dave put it just behind Ayinger because Ayinger was more interesting and if he was just having a couple then he would go for the Ayinger.

It sounds terrible to say, but both of us thought Samuel Adams was just "meh". It's ok, not terrible interesting, not terrible, but also not something either of us would happily down a 12 pack of together on the deck, the sweetness we agreed was one dimensional.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, we asked our respective wives to try our first choices and let us know their thoughts, but Ali preferred the Goose Island, and Mrs V the Sierra Nevada. Birds of a feather and all that jazz.

So we decided to have a policy of horses for courses. If you are having a session and don't want to think too much about the beer you are drinking, go for the Goose Island. If you are having a session and want a beer that doesn't just fade into the background, go for the Sierra Nevada.

While Sam Adams will not likely make another appearance in my fridge this year, the Ayinger most certainly will as I found that I really enjoyed it, even though it was much more "old school" märzen than the moodern, paler, Oktoberfest lager styles. I can imagine using it in many late autumn and winter recipes, especially for soaking fruit for a cake, or in my roasted garlic and onion jam recipe that I plan to make again soon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - To The Final Four

And so the 16 became 8...

Time for the quarter finals of the Fuggled Oktoberfest taste off. Once again I did this blind, with Mrs V choosing at random numbers for the draw and them bringing me the quarter finals in whatever order suited her whimsy. The quarter finals were:
  • Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier vs Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
  • Port City Oktoberfest vs Goose Island Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest vs Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Samuel Adams Octoberfest vs Paulaner Märzen
Unlike the first round, which if you are interested you can read about here, I am going to include my tasting notes for the quarter finals, as ever using the Cyclops beer tasting template designed by a friend of mine, and these are in the order Mrs V gave them to me, winners in italics.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest vs Paulaner Märzen


Samuel Adams Octoberfest
  • Sight - light red, large ivory head, good clarity and head retention
  • Smell - unsweetened cocoa, toffee, light lemony hops, bread crusts
  • Taste - bready malt, light toffee, subtle spicy hops, just a touch thing
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Paulaner Märzen
  • Sight - copper, small white head, decent retention, very clear
  • Smell - grainy malt, cotton candy, herbal hops
  • Taste - Smooth, doughy bread, grassy hops, balanced but lacking bite, touch lemony
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Although the Sam Adams was a bit thinner than the Paulaner, the lack of a clean snappy bite really counted against the German beer.

Port City Oktoberfest vs Goose Island Oktoberfest


Port City Oktoberfest
  • Sight - rich golden, thin white head, lingered
  • Smell - light citrus, cereal, slightly toasty
  • Taste - toasted crusty bread, some grassy hops, subtle citrus, slightly dull finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Goose Island Oktoberfest
  • Sight - rich golden, thin white head
  • Smell - orange citrus, bready, toffee, floral hops
  • Taste - toasted muffin, flower meadow hops, some subtle spice, very nicely balanced
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
A surprise here in Goose Island winning over Port City, but it had more going on, especially in the aroma department, and the balance in the finish was very good.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest vs Devils Backbone O'Fest


Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep orange, tight ivory head, excellent retention
  • Smell - toasted cereal, light cinnamon, bready malt
  • Taste - brown sugar, juicy sweet malt, citrus hops, subtle lemon and lime, clean finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Sight - amber, large fluffy head, excellent retention
  • Smell - English toffee, toasted biscuits, light lemon
  • Taste - rich toast, honey, bit thin in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Sierra Nevada takes the tie here as a far more complex and flavourful beer, O'Fest is good, but not up to Sierra Nevada.

Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier vs Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen


Hofbräu
  • Sight - deep gold, solid white head, good retention
  • Smell - weetabix, light citrus
  • Taste - boiled grain, metallic hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen
  • Sight - rich amber, firm white head, superb retention
  • Smell - crusty bread, toast, subtle spice
  • Taste - honeyed malt, sweet bread, toffee, lovely clean finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Ayinger was in a league of its own here, like a proper homemade fruitcake compared to the sweet confection that masquerades as fruit cake come Christmas time.

And so we have our final four, and I have to admit a couple of surprises here, I really didn't think Goose Island and Samuel Adams would make it this far. How did they fair? Come back Friday...

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - Round 1

I am not entirely sure I thought this one through.

Sitting watching the idiot box with a glass of Von Trapp Oktoberfest in my hand, I decided it would be a fun idea to get my grubby mitts on every Oktoberfest I could in the Charlottesville area and try to decide which was the best one.

I ended up with 18 beers, it would have been 19 but Beer Run have been out of Von Trapp Oktoberfest ever since the notion popped into my head. The 18 were:
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Port City Oktoberfest
  • Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest
  • Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest
  • Goose Island Oktoberfest
  • Schlafly Oktoberfest
  • Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen
  • Paulander Oktoberfest Wiesn
  • Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier
  • Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier
  • Benediktiner Festbier
  • Brothers Craft Festbier
  • Samuel Adams Octoberfest
  • Brooklyn Oktoberfest
  • Legend Oktoberfest
To whittle this down to 16 beers for a knock out style first round, I gave the beers each a number and had Mrs V give me 4 numbers at random for a pair of qualifying ties, which ended up being:
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest vs Schlafly Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest vs Brothers Craft Festbier
Rather than taking notes for the qualifying round, I drank each beer blind and made my decision as a pure beauty contest, figuring that I would pay more attention to the beers themselves in the competition proper. Thus Sierra Nevada and Schlafly made it through. Despite Great Lakes and Brothers Craft being sent home early, both were perfectly decent beers, though Great Lakes was sweetener than I like for a lager beer. With capricious whimsy completing the first round, we made the draw:
  • Ayinger vs Blue Mountain Brewery
  • Benediktiner vs Port City Brewing
  • Hacker-Pschorr vs Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Hofbräu vs Brooklyn Brewery
  • Paulaner Märzen vs Legend Brewing
  • Paulaner Wiesn vs Goose Island
  • Weihenstephan vs Samuel Adams
  • Sierra Nevada vs Schlafly
To keep this as blind as possible, the inestimable Mrs V randomly picked the ties to pour and didn't tell me which beer was which for each pair. I did take some notes for round 1 but outcomes were heavily influenced by which beer I preferred, so rather than bore you to death with my tasting notes (and honestly how many times do you want to read "malty"?), here are the pictures, with the victorious beer in bold.

Hofbräu vs Brooklyn Brewery


Weihenstephaner vs Samuel Adams


Paulaner Wiesn vs Goose Island


Paulaner Märzen vs Legend


Benediktiner vs Port City


Hacker-Pschorr vs Devils Backbone


Ayinger vs Blue Mountain


Schlafly vs Sierra Nevada


A couple of takeaways from these results. I was really surprised that Samuel Adams made it past the first round as normally I find it way too sweet for my tastes. There were some seriously difficult decisions here, had I been doing this with friends fisticuffs may have ensued, it was that close, in particular the Ayinger vs Blue Mountain and Schlafly vs Sierra Nevada ties.

This weekend I will do the quarter and semi finals, having bought extra bottles of any of the beers that I need. Tempted to run a poll on what people think will win...