Posts Tagged ‘oktoberfest’

A Few Madison Brews

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Tonight I’m trying a couple beers I picked up last time I was in Madison. The first two are from Capital Brewery out in Middleton, and the third was brewed by Ale Asylum on the northeast side. Capital is renowned for their lagers, so I’m trying their märzen as well as a new beer that just might wholly embody badger nation. Ale Asylum, on the other hand, is known for beers overflowing with hops, so I’ve got a double India pale ale to round out the night.

The golden age of the supper club may have come and gone in most places, even in Wisconsin. But these eateries still grace the occasional roadside of the cheese state and remain on the mind of badgers young and old. There is no better testament to that than the newly released Supper Club, a “true American Lager.”

The Supper Club looks about what you would expect, crystal clear, a golden straw color, with some bone white head. More head retention than your average American-style lager. The nose is very subtle. Some bready malt and the faintest herbal hops are balanced by the right amount of sulfur. Right for the style, that is, but still too much for my taste.

The flavor, too, is remarkably average. A decent malt character, but nothing to write home about. Again, the noble hops work themselves in, but almost imperceptibly. The taste of sulfur adds some background noise that could come from the yeast, but perhaps it’s a veritable corn adjunct. The body is on the weaker end, even for this type of beer.

Overall, this beer would fit in nicely with many made in this country in times past, but I’m not sure it’s enough to warrant production by an otherwise respected brewery. Since it’s not as hoppy as PBR nor as malty as Bud, I just don’t see myself ordering it. I suppose it fits the bill, though.

Next up I will be trying Capital’s Oktoberfest lager. This märzen has a thick and pillowy off-white head above a mildly hazy, gamboge-colored beer (hardly the “fiery amber” they claim). The nose has that restrained maltiness that many Oktoberfest beers do, the sensation of bread and barley just under the surface, trying vainly to break free. The hops add a hint of herbal character to the aroma. As it opens up, the toast becomes more noticeable, but it is still much too restrained.

The flavor is richly malty. Bread, biscuits, and toast combine with the taste of my sister’s homemade pizza crust. This strong and supple malt flavor is backed with a reasonable herbal hop flavor, though for a style originally intended to exhaust all the hops for the season, it could use more. A light residual sweetness and mild bitterness tease the palate. Both disappear relatively quickly, leaving a sessionable beer, as any Oktoberfest should be.

Tonight I will be rounding out these relatively mild lagers with an aggressively hoppy double IPA from Ale Asylum. The Satisfaction Jacksin pours a very hazy mahogany. The pale golden ochre head is full and creamy. The nose is hoppy. Quite pleasantly hoppy. This beer exudes the citrusy character for which Pacific Northwest-grown so-called C-hops earned their place in the hop pantheon. No wonder it is so hoppy, as it has “over 3 pounds of Centennial per barrel.” I could sit here just smelling this all day.

But I have to try it. The taste is hoppy. Quite pleasantly hoppy. Rich floral and citrus flavors burst forth, backed up by a solid malt foundation. The caramel and toast flavors of the malt meld harmoniously with the grapefruit character of the hops. Amazingly, there is almost no perceptible bitterness, despite the significant hopping rate. A full and creamy palate certainly works to that end, balancing what bitterness was to be had, while remaining fresh and lively. This beer is like Cookie Monster: big, fuzzy, and sweet.

And one more note: if you search for this beer, do not click on the link for “Satisfaction Jackson,” that’s not what your looking for.

++Ale Asylum Satisfaction Jacksin

4.3 (4-9-8-4-18)

+Capital Oktoberfest

3.8 (3-7-8-4-16)

+/-Capital Supper Club

3.0 (3-6-6-3-12)

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)

Oktoberfest: Paulaner

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Oktoberfest is underway in Munich. The largest beer festival in the world dates back to 1810 with the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Six Munich breweries produce almost seven million liters of festbier, a style similar to the standard German lager and accented by generous additions of noble hops and specialty malts. It is also the strongest beer Germans drink outside of bock beer season.

This fall the Iowa City beer bar The Sanctuary is having a rotating series of Oktoberfest kegs. At the moment they have on the Paulaner Oktoberfest from the eastside brewery Paulaner. This beer is brilliantly clear, an aged copper color that borders on ruby. Some of the tan head lingers a while.

A sweet nose is pungent but not sharp, full of toast, caramel, and plum. The flavor is very sweet. Burnt caramel and some earthy hops dominate, with an accompanying sweetness. Alcohol tickles the back of the throat, but the cloying sweetness lingers.

+/-Paulaner Oktoberfest

3.1 (3-7-6-2-13)

My Homebrew Strategy: Serendipity

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Style. Possibly the most contentious issue in beer. It could be argued that beer styles didn’t even exist until 1977 when the late Michael Jackson (The Beer Hunter, not a particular recording artist) published his comprehensive World Guide to Beer. In one stroke he redefined what it means to appreciate beer, comparing local varieties from all across the globe. From Wikipedia:

However, despite an awareness by commentators, law-makers, and brewers that there were different styles of beer, it wasn’t until Michael Jackson’s World Guide To Beer was published in 1977 that there was an attempt to group together and compare beers from around the world. Jackson’s book had a particular influence in North America where the writer Fred Eckhardt was also starting to explore the nature of beer styles. The wine importing company Merchant du Vin switched to importing beers mentioned in Jackson’s book. Small brewers started up, producing copies and interpretations of the beer styles Jackson described.

Many brewers outside the U.S. microbrewing scene, Belgians especially, continue to brew without regard to style definitions such as those supported by the Beer Judge Certification Program. Many refuse even to acknowledge the existence of such a rigid framework. There are many good reasons for this repudiation. The history of categorization of beer is byzantine at best: spend a few moments reading Shut up about Barclay Perkins and you will get an idea of how convoluted nomenclature can be.

Further discussion on this topic will have to wait for another time. I am using this simply to illustrate the rationale for my strategy when homebrewing; that is, serendipity. To put it simply (as a certain homebrewer said): Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew. Beer has been brewed for millenia. In this modern age of scientific inquiry and quality malt, hops, and yeast, you can’t possibly make a beer any worse than somebody before you made. In fact, it is quite likely that it will turn out at least decent, and probably pretty good. It certainly won’t kill you. That’s the beauty of beer!

So when I sit down to hammer out a recipe, I am rarely thinking in terms of style, and never in terms of a single beer. Many go to great lengths attempting to recreate a particular commercial beer. This is entirely unproductive, as the adaptation considerations are uncountable. You will end up with a product somewhat similar but in truth not at all like the beer you were aiming for. It is much better to brew a beer and afterwards categorize it. Not only will you be more satisfied with the end product, you will learn more. You will get to know the tendencies of your yeast, the hardness of your water, and the flavor and aroma of your malt and hops. Following a recipe does not make a brewer. Enough didacticism.

My friend Jen recently gave birth to an adorable girl. Back in April she sent me this message:

You’re going to be an uncle! Well, you would be if you were my brother. Try to find the perfect beer for that!

So I started thinking about making her a fest beer to celebrate when she could drink again. It’s supposed to be a secret so don’t tell anyone, ok? Sure I had five months to plan, but I still didn’t get it done in time. Fortunately now she’s not getting any more not pregnant – as far as I know! Though I had decided on a recipe by August, I still didn’t get around to brewing it till September. Anyway, I went all out for this one: a ton of munich malt, real Hallertauer hops, and a double decoction mash. I lagered it for two and a half months in the cellar at Millstream and force carbonated (my first time!). It is obvious I am inexperienced, as the carbonation came out a little low, but not unpleasantly so.

The beer is named in honor of Skeletor, Jen’s daughter. Don’t worry, that’s not her given name, just what we called her in the ultrasound. It pours clearer than any homebrew I have made, just the faintest hint of haze. It is a shade of burnt orange and the head (what there is) is off-white. The aroma is supremely malty. Bread and caramel notes dominate, but some fruitiness comes through.

This beer is quite quaffable, but I must say the flavor is somewhat strange. Strong malt and bready character is most apparent. There is also a serious fruitiness that reminds me of raspberries or black caps. I notice a saltiness that I attribute to yeast autolysis (PDF warning). This beer is as dry as you can get. The light hop bitterness comes through the clean flavor. Even though the carbonation is much too low, the palate is quite lively.

So this beer is not too bad. But back to my point about serendipity. I had originally planned on brewing something like an oktoberfest for the celebration. Despite using lager yeast it ended up very fruity, and the remaining yeast gives a strange character. Fortunately in Germany they make a style of beer much like oktoberfest in strength and color, but with yeast in the bottle. They call it kellerbier (or cellar beer for germanophobes). That’s what I mean when I say don’t worry about style. Beer is beer is beer, and like that stupid quote goes, “shoot for the moon cause even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”

By the way, that Alt I referenced earlier is pretty good, I’ll post about it sometime. Now if only my Young’s glass didn’t have a chip.

+Skeletor Oktoberfest Kellerbier

RateBeer: 3.3 (3-7-6-3-14)

7 lbs. Munich malt
2 lbs. 2-Row malt
2 lbs. Victory malt

1/2 oz Hallertauer Tradition, 75 minutes
1/2 oz American (PNW) Mt. Hood, 75 minutes
1/8 oz Hallertauer Tradition, 30 minutes
1/8 oz American (PNW) Mt. Hood, 30 minutes

– Mashed in with 3 gallons 140F water to stabilize at 122F for 10 min protein rest
– Pulled first decoction (thickest 1/3), boiled, added back to stabilize at 150F
– Pulled second decoction, rest 20 min at 160F, boiled, added back to stabilize at 170F