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.

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 w...