Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. That’s exactly what I did this past week as the little lady and I headed out to California for a wedding of 2 of our friends who live half a block from us. One of the highlights of the trip (besides all that lovey dovey stuff) was a large group of friends traveling to both Russian River and Lagunitas Brewing and sampling some/all of their beer. But while the Pliny and Pils were flowing, something missing from that afternoon. A marzen. I mean we are on the doorstep of the biggest beer party in the world and neither had even a seasonal release? It wasn’t until the wedding rehearsal before I found some Paulaner (which was amazing, even for a US release). And after that cold sip of German goodness went down, I knew I was ready for fall.
And that’s where we start today is with a Marzen. The official Oktoberfest kicked of this past weekend so for the next few weeks, were are going to give the spotlight to these styles of beer. First some ground rules:
Beer 101: Oktoberfests and Marzens are not ‘Pumpkin’ Beers. If that is the first thing that comes to mind, stop reading. Put on your Uggs and Juicy Sunglasses and get back into your Lincoln Navigator and drive through a Starbucks. I don’t have time for you.
Beer 201: You are not drinking the stuff you find in Germany during Oktoberfest. They keep that stuff under lock and key and the suds that hits US soil are slightly different than zee German ones (preservatives and all that). Shoot, it’s even more regulated than the whole Champagne/Sparkling White Wine debate. They make it in Munich, for the Munich festival, and that’s it. The name Oktoberfestbier is proprietary and you will not see it on any beer you can buy in the states. It’s all still pretty darn tasty, but you are not on the cutting edge because your beer has the longest name on it.
Beer 301: You are probably not drinking the stuff you find during Oktoberfest, even if you think you are. What we see imported and produced in the US around this time of year are usually labeled ‘Marzen/Oktoberfest’ is a BJCP 6A classification. Malty, dark hues. But pull up a picture of those waitresses carrying around those giant glasses of beer. I’ll wait. SEE?!? It’s a golden-yellow beer. That is a ‘Festbier’ (BJCP 4B). Still a lager, still malty, but the balance of hops and malts are different and is the traditional beer during Oktoberfest. Again, nothing wrong with either, but it would be like a German confusing polenta and grits. You’re in the ballpark, but there is a difference.
Now you can walk around a party and say you are enjoying a great Marzen for the Oktoberfest season and not come off as an uninformed American. And while you do that, may I suggest the first Virginia Marzen I ever had, that you can now be found in your local convenience mart.
Oktoberfest, Legend Brewing Company (Richmond, VA)
Marzen/Oktoberfest, ABV: 5.4%
Presentation: Tap pour into pint glass. You don’t have to have any special glasses with this style. Remember, those big German glasses from before? Were you even looking at the glasses? You weren’t looking at the glasses were you?
Appearance: Amber with a dark orangish hue, off-white head with a cap if poured into a cold glass. I’ll save that soapbox for later.
Smell: Variety of malt tones from caramel to bready, slightly sharper than German varieties.
Taste: On point with the aroma. Malty up front with a little toastiness and sweetness in there but balances out at the end with a slight hop.
ABV/IBU Feel: Very decent balance and almost a complete mouthfeel ‘reset’, which is what you are looking for. Hop and sweetness note are very, very faint afterwards, but clean nevertheless. 5.4% is on the lower end of the ABV styles (generally you find 5.8-6.3%), but it does not taste watery at all. And the malt takes care of most of the hops so IBU is not noticeable.
Overall: If you are diving into the fall German style beer for the first time and looking for (1) quality and (2) availability, this beer is perfect. You want the most flavor you can get up front that just stops and resets so you can have another sip. This beer might not stop on a dime, but it a’int that far off. And while it is not the same as a true German brewed beer, you don’t have to go hunting for it, and you don’t have to worry consistency wherever you get it. Easy, easy add to your shopping list with bratwurst.