Archive for October, 2009

Oktoberfest: Domestics

Friday, October 30th, 2009

2009-10-30-lhThe month of October is almost over, and Munich’s Theresienwiese has been empty for weeks. Perhaps it’s about time for me to move on from my festbier stint. But before I do I must try a few domestic Oktoberfests. After all, they say the highest-selling festbier is not Bavarian, but American (Sam Adams). I won’t be trying that one tonight, but I do have a few good selections from Left Hand of Longmont, Colorado, Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, Michigan, and August Schell out of New Ulm, Minnesota.

The Left Hand Oktoberfest pours an orange-amber with a little creamy straw head. The nose is very thin.2009-10-30-bells A bit of herbal hops and the faintest hint of malt are overpowered by a strange vegetal character and cider aroma. A smooth malty flavor makes up for this. Rich toast character is backed up by a residual sweetness that is perhaps a little too strong, leaving a bit of a cloying sensation.

Bell’s Octoberfest is a yellower goldenrod with the same amount of white head. It also has a light aroma, with a good noble hop character and some toast. This same balance is reflected in the flavor, featuring a rich herbal and notably bitter hop profile accompanied by a clean malt taste. Just a bit of mouthcoating despite active carbonation.

The Schell Octoberfest is a gamboge color with a bit of bone-white head. A sweet, mildly malty nose almost escapes taint from the cider aroma.2009-10-30-schell A sweet, mildly malty flavor almost escapes taint from the DMS corn taste. The high level of residual sweetness and lack of bitterness throw the balance all out of whack.

+/-Bell’s Octoberfest

3.4 (3-7-6-4-14)

+/-Left Hand Oktoberfest

3.0 (3-5-7-3-12)

+/-Schell Octoberfest

2.6 (3-6-5-2-10)

Oktoberfest: Erdinger

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Yet another greater Munich area brewery, Erdinger Weissbrau is in the hamlet Erding at the end of the S2 northeast of Munich. Their festbier is also made with wheat, producing an Oktoberfest Weizen.

2009-10-14-erdingerThis Weizen is a somewhat hazy copper color with a visibly active carbonation. Its big and creamy off white head lasts forever. The nose is delicate but complex. A light banana character greets first, with rich caramel malt notes quick on the heels. Slowly it opens up into a big malty aroma accentuated by phenols and alcohols: cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and a bit of a warming tingling.

A creamy but not overpowering body and clean mild flavor make this a very drinkable beer. Rich dry maltiness comes through as toast. Pepper and a bit of herbal hops accompany, and there is the slightest hop bitterness.

If the goal of a festbier is to be drinkable for ten hours a day, the Erdinger undoubtedly passes. If the goal is an interesting beer highlighting the best Bavarian grains and hops, Erdinger has produced a triumph.

++Erdinger Oktoberfest Weizen

4.3 (5-8-8-5-17)

Oktoberfest: Weihenstephan

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

2009-10-07-weihenstephanBrauerei Weihenstephan is another Bavarian brewery that makes a non-Oktoberfest festbier. The oldest brewery in the world calls theirs Weihenstephaner Festbier.

The Festbier pours a crystal clear golden blonde. The head is bone white and lusciously creamy. The light nose is all dry pale malt, though it opens up a bit with time. There’s a growing alcohol tingle and just a bit of apples and and straw. There might be some DMS corn character, it’s hard to tell. Mostly the aroma is just malt.

Clean malt continues to dominate through the flavor. Some residual sweetness is balanced by hop bitterness and an earthy noble hop flavor. Some peppery character from combination of the alcohol and the hops. Lively body keeps the sweetness fresh, but it’s still a little thick.

Clean and drinkable, but not particularly interesting. This beer seems simply like their premium lager turned up a bit. Where is the generous Munich malt, with its toasty flavors? Where is the heavy hopping with the last of last season’s crop?

+Weihenstephaner Festbier

3.5 (4-7-7-3-14)

Oktoberfest: Ayinger

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Brauerei Aying is located almost at the east end of Munich’s S-Bahn 6 in the village of the same name.2009-10-06-ayinger-fest They are one of a few breweries around Munich just too far out to be allowed participation in the official Oktoberfest. They still make a festbier, called Oktober Fest-Märzen, an “Authentic Bavarian Festival Lager.”

The Fest-Märzen has a good tan head and clear dark goldenrod color. The nose is very malty, from good European 2-row barley. This warm, slightly sweet biscuit and toast aroma is accompanied by some earthy hops. Hints of alcohol add a spice but a bit of corny sulfur distracts.

The flavor is quite assertive. Rich malt flavor and sweetness are balanced by a significant hop bitterness. Light alcohol warming and herbal noble hop character create a wonderful complexity. Just the slightest sulfuric cooked corn flavor. Some sweetness, but not at all cloying. Rather drinkable, if somewhat heavy.

+Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen

3.6 (4-6-8-4-14)

Oktoberfest: Spaten

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Munich’s Oktoberfest is held at the Theresienwiese (often shortened to “the Wiese”), literally “Therese’s Field”. It refers to the Princess Therese whose matrimony is celebrated annually with the beer festival. In September fourteen “tents” are built in the Theresienwiese to house the beer halls and gardens of Oktoberfest. These quasi-temporary structures have a rich history and lore and each pours a single brewery’s beers (a few serve wine, too).

Three of the most iconic Oktoberfest tents serve beer from Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu.2009-10-04-spaten The first keg of Oktoberfest is always tapped by the Bürgermeister (mayor) of Munich in the Schottenhamel tent. The trendy Hippodrom is the first tent inside the festival. And the Ochsenbraterei is the place to go for oxen at Oktoberfest.

The Spaten Oktoberfest pours a brilliantly clear tawny amber. A little bit of tan head is long-lasting. The meager nose is mostly malt and light-struck (*thank you green bottle*). The good toast and biscuits are overshadowed by the skunk, corn, and metallic notes.

A thin flavor is dominated by skunk character. Some good malt taste comes through, fighting all the way with the metallic. Well it’s not all disappointing – the balancing sweetness and active carbonation make for a smooth full palate.

+/-Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen

2.9 (3-6-5-4-11)

GABF 2009

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

I came very close to going to the Great American Beer Festival this year. Well, as a lifelong Cubs fan I’ve become very practiced in saying, “there’s always next year.”

Anyway, I just got around to reading the list of winners (PDF). Some things that stood out:

  • Category: 29 American-Style Lager or Premium Lager
    Bronze: Totally Naked, New Glarus Brewing Co, New Glarus, WI
  • Chuckanut Brewery (Bellingham, Washington), the well-deserved small brewpub of the year, brought home plenty of hardware. Two gold medals were for their Dunkel and Vienna lagers. They also took silvers for their Pilsner and Schwarzbier. Brewing world-class lagers in a brewpub is no easy task, but experienced brewer Will Kemper has proven up to the task.
  • My friend Nate keeps raving about Troegs Brewing Company (Harrisburg, PA). The justified his love by taking the bock gold, American stout silver, and German pilsner bronze. Though apparently the Nugget Nectar that Nate loves so much was nowhere to be found.

Announcing Session #33: Framing Beer

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

My sister once told me a story she had heard about a sculpture exhibit: on the winter day it opened, the artist placed a coat rack next to the door. Predictably, the patrons hung their coats on it. Each day the artist moved the rack a bit closer to the rest of the exhibit, until the day came when the visitors chose not to use the “piece of art” for their coats. That day the artist placed a sign on the coat rack that stated simply, “Art begins here.”

session_logo_no_friday_text_inside_200Imagine persuasively describing craft beer to someone who has until now entirely missed out, maybe in a sales situation. Perhaps it’s a brown ale and you can can describe the caramel and toast flavors, or it’s a pale ale and you have fruit or herbs from the hops. You might start having to defend yourself if it’s an IPA and those hops taste earthy, resiny, or particularly bitter. You’ll definitely meet some resistance if your favorite is an imperial anything, brimming with intensity and a sharp kick, or if you’d like to convince a person of the credibility of a sour beer or anything for which you must use the word ‘funky’. Each of these descriptions is inevitably an attempt to ‘frame’ the beer, putting the consumer in the proper state of mind to drink it.

For better or worse, in everyday situations beer comes with a label. This label very really ‘frames’ the beer inside. The fact that the beer comes commercially-produced signals the presence of investment (if not skill). A style name or tasting notes indicates the general characteristics to expect. If you know the brewery the beer is framed with your past experiences. Even the label art will affect your expectations for the beer.

What role does this framing play in beer tasting, especially for ‘professional evaluators’? Relate an amusing or optimistic anecdote about introducing someone to strange beer. Comment on the role a label plays in framing a beer or share a label-approval related story. I have not done much blind tasting, and I would be intrigued to hear about this ‘frameless’ evaluation of beer.

And drink a beer. Ideally drink something that you don’t think you will like. Try to pick out what it is about that brew that other people enjoy (make sure to properly frame the beer!). The Session #33 will take place here 6 November 2009. Leave a link to your post as a comment here or else e-mail it to me at couchand at gmail dot com on or before that day.

Extra credit will be given for specific mention of the Post article prompting this topic, or for use of the phrase “priming the pump”.

For more information about The Session inquire here.

The Session #32: Eastern Beers

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

session_logoThe Session is a beer-themed blog-off occurring the first Friday of every month, featuring articles on many different beer styles as well as numerous tangential topics. Look here for more history or information on participating. This month’s session, Eastern Beers, is being hosted over at Girl Likes Beer. The prompt is located here and the roundup is here. After pondering the western sources of many of the beers she has tried, Girl Likes Beer directs us to have a beer from a country EAST of our own. She asks simply, “why do you like this beer?”

I spent a while pondering what to drink. It seems the prompt would allow me to drink any European (or African or Asian…) beer, but in keeping with the spirit I’ll have Grieskirchner Weisse, an Austrian wheat beer from Brauerei Grieskirchen. At just over five percent alcohol this is pretty heavy for a weissbier. It is interesting to note that wheat malt is listed before barley malt in the ingredients, indicating to me that the grist is over 50% wheat, a ratio uncommon but not unheard of.

The Weisse pours a moderately hazy old gold. A bone white head is never particularly big but it does linger.2009-10-02grieskirchenweisse The mild nose is fruity – bananas mostly, some apples and lemon. There is just a bit of alcohol tingle.

The taste is mild as well, with biscuit flavors from the wheat malt and the same fruit as the nose. As it warms a flat metallic taste comes out. Quite sweet, but doesn’t leave too much of a mouth coating. The very low carbonation (for a weisse) probably makes this beer more nondescript than it could be.

Girl Likes Beer requested we include the flag of the country of origin of the beer we drink. Sorry, I don’t have an Austrian flag. She also asked that we share the “coolest stereotype associated with the country”… I guess maybe some people think they’re Australian?

+/-Grieskirchner Weisse

2.8 (3-6-5-3-11)