Oktoberfest is an annual folk festival, held during the last two weeks of September into the first weekend of October in Munich, Germany.
Oktoberfest, the beer, can be many things. In Munich, the beer served at the festival comes only from the six major breweries — Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu — operating inside city limits. The style served in the tents has changed many times since the first festival in 1810, from Bavarian dunkel to a strong Vienna-style lager to the current golden-colored, lightly hopped malty lagers that take on the name today.
According to European regulations, no one except those six Munich breweries is allowed to call their beers “Oktoberfest,’’ but plenty of American brewers have capitalized on the popularity of the tradition over the years. (You’ve almost definitely seen the Samuel Adams version, a Marzen-style lager).
Now that we know “Oktoberfest’’ doesn’t denote a particular style and can mean many things, which one should you drink? These are the two Oktoberfest beers I’m drinking in 2019.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
One of America’s great breweries is collaborating with Germany’s Bitburger Brewery on a Festbier brewed to 6 percent ABV and featuring the Germans’ custom yeast and “secret’’ blend of hops. (I asked what they were, they didn’t tell me).
Sierra’s Oktoberfest pours a pale amber in the glass and gives off aromas of caramel and Earl Gray tea. The beer is indeed malty in a flavor sense: What I taste most are brown bread and either walnuts or chestnuts. The mouthfeel, though, is crisp. There’s an herbal, grassy finish here that belies the malt and zaps away some heft. This is a beer that reminds you why you like beer.
Jack’s Abby Copper Legend
Framingham’s Jack’s Abby makes only lagers, so they should be well-equipped to attack this style. Co-founder Jack Hendler says Copper Legend (5.7 percent ABV) is brewed to be somewhere between the golden-colored beers found in the festival tents and a traditional Marzen, whose cloying caramel notes have fallen out of favor among today’s beer drinkers. The Vienna and Munich malts, as well as all the hops in Copper Legend, are sourced in Germany.
My experience with Copper Legend goes very well. It’s less sweet than the Sierra (that’s good) but in a way less complex, lacking that finishing jolt of bitterness. Instead it’s a mostly smooth ride of bread crust, honey, and a touch of toffee.
Both beers are widely available throughout New England.