Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Märzen/Festbier Review

So far this year I have drunk at least 53 examples of lager made wiith Oktoberfest in mind. I say "at least" because there are a couple that I didn't subject to my rigorous scoring system, rather just got merrily blattered with friends and I didn't want to be rude.

I still have 13 examples of märzen and festbier in my various beer fridges, including a slew of Texans sent up by Ruvani, aka Amethyst Heels, so I hope to get round to drinking those and probably posting about them at some point later this month.

Rather than present a massive list of breweries, beers, and scores, I figured I'd use the general format of my annual "review" posts, where I highlight the top three beers in the following categories:

  • Virginia
  • Rest of USA
  • Rest of the World (let's be honest it's just Germany in this case)
Out of those beers I will then select a winner in each category and eventually an overall "Fuggled Oktoberfest of the Year" award that has no monetary value, and probably a miniscule amount of shock value.

Let's get started here in Virginia then:
  • Devils Backbone Brewing - 1872 Steinlifter
  • Ballad Brewing - Oktoberfest
  • Port City - Oktoberfest
It's probably not wildly surprising that Devils Backbone and Port City make it into this three given that I think they are two of the best lager brewers in Virginia, Ballad though was something of a surprise. I have enjoyed a few of Ballad's beers in recent year, most notably their Fast Mail mild ale - one of the few milds in Virginia that is a core beer, but I couldn't recall having a lager from them, it was a very pleasant surprise. Although I wasn't shocked by Devils Backbone making the finalists, the fact that it was their 1872 Steinlifter rather than O'Fest was interesting. Steinlifter is an old school 19th century style märzen where O'Fest is a modern, paler, festbier, and you won't find Steinlifter in any stores as it was a brewpub only beer. Port City's Oktoberfest is, in common with most of their beers, an excellent example of style and technique. It is not as heavily malty as some märzens that get made over here, but it is delightfully complex and moreish at the same time. However, the beer going forward to represent Virginia in the final three is Devils Backbone 1872 Steinlifter.

On then to the rest of the US, here we have:
  • Von Trapp Brewing (VT) - Oktoberfest
  • Bierstadt (CO) - Oktoberfest
  • Jack's Abby (MA) - Copper Legend
The most  telling thing with these three is actually the names of some of the breweries that missed the cut, the likes of Olde Mecklenburg, Harpoon, Bell's, and TRVE Brewing were all up there in the running. Both Von Trapp and Jack's Abby are readily available in this part of Virginia, and when it comes to Vermont's finest I am always happy when I see the flash of blue that denotes their märzen. In the absence of Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest Amber Märzen, Von Trapp picked up the slack and became my go to beer for the season. I had the Bierstadt Oktoberfest when I was over in Denver last month, and in common with the other lagers I tried from them, whilst geeking out on the glorious brewing system, it was excellent, and thankfully not overwhelmingly malty. Jack's Abby have only recent bee available in Virginia, and so I am slowly making my way through their range, and again it was an excellent example of the older märzezn style, and eminently drinkable. However, Von Trapp takes the plaudits as the Best of the USA. mving on to the final three.

Germany...
  • Rothaus - Eiszäpfle
  • Ayinger - Oktober Fest Märzen
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier
Yeah, yeah, I know, there is not a single official Oktoberfest beer in my list, but there is a reason for that, they are all too syrupy for my taste. Even though Eiszäpfle is a year round beer in Germany, it only makes its way to the US in the autumn, which you could argue is just plain cynical marketing, but when a beer is this tasty, who really cares? Ayinger, which is the current Fuggled Oktoberfest champion, is the single most hunted out beer at this time of year for me. Last year I managed to only get a single 4 pack, so I took no chances this year, buying and stashing a couple of 4 packs a week while it lasted. Decidedly old school in its thick, chewy maltiness, it is wonder beer regardless of which autumnal or winter month it is. Weihenstephaner Festbier is unrepentantly modern, pale, noticeably hoppy - got to love those noble hop grassy, lemony, and subtle spice notes - and it looks grand in a maß. For fear of being labelled boring, the Ayinger takes the plaudits here, and was actually the highest scoring beer of the 53 examples I had.

The three finalists all scored over 34 out of 40 in my ranking system, with Ayinger scoring 35, Devils Backbone 34, and Von Trapp also 34. Rather than just declare Ayinger the winner though, I wanted to think a little about the drinking experience a bit more. In terms of volume drunk, Von Trapp has been the most regular visitor to my fridge, followed by Ayinger, and then Devils Backbone - don't forget though that Steinlifter was a brewpub special, and thus I had that on draft there and a couple of crowlers that I brought home. Ultimately I think is comes down to which beer did I enjoy the most, and the winner therefore is Devils Backbone 1872 Steinlifter. It has all the malt complexity of the Ayinger, but was more drinkable, perhaps by virtue of being fresh from the serving tanks at the brewpub, but either way it was an absolute delight.



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