For those who appreciate Oktoberfest beers, it's really never too early to start enjoying them. There's already quite a few to choose from this year, and by September the number will only increase.
Oktoberfest is the fastest-growing German beer style in today's craft beer market, gaining more attention than hefeweizens and bocks, says Lakefront Brewery owner Russ Klisch. "It seems like they come out earlier and earlier, but it's market-driven," he adds. "It's what everybody wants."
What is it? Oktoberfest Lager from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Style: The Oktoberfest, or Märzen, is a medium-bodied golden- to light-copper lager. The flavor emphasis is on a firm but medium-sweet maltiness with a light bready or biscuity nose. There should be just enough hoppiness to add some balance and cleanness to the flavor, but at 18-25 International Bitterness Units, Oktoberfests are not considered bitter beers (in contrast, American pale ales commonly range from 30 to 42 IBUs). Oktoberfest beer was traditionally brewed in the springtime and stored (lagered) during warmer summer months before it was consumed during autumn celebrations. Oktoberfests usually range from 5.3% to 5.9% ABV.
Background: Lakefront Oktoberfest is hitting Madison stores this week. Russ Klisch says interest in the style continues to grow, and while he has tweaked the recipe slightly over the years, the focus remains on the flavors associated with authentic German specialty malts. Klisch considers his Oktoberfest more in the historic tradition with its use of malt for color, texture and flavor. Oktoberfests served in the bier gardens of Munich today during the annual fall festival are lighter in color and in body.
Lakefront's is not a newcomer to the local list of Oktoberfest beers. It has been offered by the brewery since 1996. Lakefront Brewery and Sprecher Brewing of Glendale are the two commercial microbreweries best known for bottling Oktoberfest in Milwaukee, a city revered for its German brewmasters long before Prohibition. Klisch himself takes a lot of pride in Lakefront Oktoberfest because of his own family's German heritage. His grandfather lived in the area around Posen (formerly in Prussia, and now part of Poland and named Pozna?).
Lakefront Oktoberfest should be available in local stores through October. It finishes at 5.8% ABV and 10-14 IBUs. It sells for $8-$9/six-pack.
- Aroma: A firm but mild nose with floral sweetness and tones of caramel maltiness.
- Appearance: Clear deep amber-copper color with a medium bubbly tan head.
- Texture: Medium-to-light-bodied, bubbly, with a round and soft texture.
- Taste: Smooth caramel maltiness from beginning to end.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The maltiness lingers but doesn't stain the palate. Some hints of earthy-biscuit tones also come in lightly at the end. But overall a clean finish.
Glassware: Like any respectable Oktoberfest, this is a beer for a heavy glass stein. There's no better way to enjoy the style and to pay tribute to the festivities than by hoisting a heavy mug while shouting "Prost!"
Pairs well with: Oktoberfests are about the malt. The firm caramel tones should go well with German dishes of sausages, pork, lamb and venison. Vegetarians might enjoy it with a hearty soup or stew. It's also well suited for tailgating.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Lakefront Oktoberfest fits well with what one looks for in a Märzen. There's a rich malty flavor throughout, but it's not overly thick or too sweet. There is also just enough bitterness from the Mt. Hood hops to offer some balance up front in the flavor, but the malts remain the showcase of this beer. For those who like the style, this is a solid choice. Lakefront Oktoberfest is not quite as malty or as thick on the palate as versions from Capital or Tyranena. However, its medium to light body and solid caramel flavor make it a seasonal lager that shouldn't be overlooked.
Russ Klisch and Lakefront have done well with their Oktoberfest in giving it a modest amount of maltiness without the beer being too heavy, or exceptionally strong. At 5.8% ABV this isn't really a session beer, but its smooth caramel character and light-soft body make you think it could be -- and that's why this is a very worthy Oktoberfest.