Beer of the Week: Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
Beer of the Week: Sierra Nevada-Brauhaus Riegele Oktoberfest
If there's one beer style that brings purists out of the woodwork, it's Märzen, the traditional Munich beer identified with Oktoberfest.
American brewers are allowed to have their merry way with IPAs, saisons, winter warmers, even lagers: Witness the relatively recent interest in hop-forward India pale lagers, or IPLs. But if they try to sell an "Oktoberfest beer" that strays too far from the malt-forward style, beer drinkers who care about German lager for only one month of the year will be up in arms about bringing der hammer down on an unauthentic Märzen.
Many American breweries go out of their way to create as German a beer as possible: Barrett Lauer of District Chophouse, whose Oktoberfest has long been a local favorite, imports German malts, hops and yeast for his annual lager. This year, Sierra Nevada Brewing went a step further and imported brewers for its Oktoberfest beer. The results are superb, or, as Bavarians would say, "Ja, da legst di nieder."
Sierra Nevada's 2015 Oktoberfest is a collaboration with Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg, which has been brewing in Bavaria since the 14th century. (The company's excellent beers hit Washington only this spring, though.) This is a one-off beer, as Sierra will be working with a different German brewer each year. Given Riegele's multiple craft beer award wins inside and outside Germany, it's a very good place to start.
Poured from a bottle, the Oktoberfest has a gorgeous honey-orange color. The nose is a mix of biscuit malts and sweet caramel with a whiff of grassy hops. A sip brings more of the same: tastes of fresh bread, caramel and honey. There's also a noticeable amount of spicy and floral hops. They play second fiddle to the malt - this is an impressively well-balanced beer - but are more prominent than in other, more traditional and more bland festbiers. There's just enough punch to keep things interesting.
Some prominent Oktoberfests are drenched in overly sweet caramel flavors, making finishing a whole stein something to power through. Not the Sierra-Riegele, where a creamy mouth feel and crisp finish make it easy to take another sip. Oktoberfest may technically end Oct. 4, but with this beer's autumnal flavors, I could see myself enjoying it into November.
Sierra Nevada Brauhaus Riegele Oktoberfest. www.sierranevada.com. Expect to pay about $8 to $8.50 per six-pack at area liquor stores.
- Fritz Hahn