Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

18 October, 2016

A Final Wisconsin Oktoberfest With Addendum

Today will be my terminal tasting of Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. By and large this year's crop has been disappointing. Words like "full" and "rich" were sadly inapplicable to most of these biers. At least one was laden with diacetyl – a big disappointment. But most were simply one dimensional, thin and watery with a touch of caramel sweetness and perhaps some hops.

There were, of course, many more homegrown Oktoberfests that I haven't tried than those that have crossed my lips. Amongst bottled brews are New Glarus, Ale Asylum, and Sprecher. Add to that those from brewpubs and I'm sure you've got quite a total.

I'm no statistician so I am not sure if 12-14 samples is representative enough of Wisconsin Okto-output to render a valid verdict for 2016. But as far as my tongue is concerned this year was simply disheartening. I'd like to be able to just put this episode behind me and wait for Wisconsin to shine with its Weihnachtsbiers but we don't really brew many of those. What is my state's preferred winter seasonal?

First up is the venerable Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company. I wrote about the special place in my heart for Leine's not too long ago. Having said this, their output is uneven. They brew some fine beers but they also brew liquids that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the style listed on the bottle. It's like they're starter beers. They get you into the ballpark of what the style is about without ever going all in.

Will the same fate befall Oktoberfest?

It poured a deep gold which was something of a relief as I figured it wouldn't be overly sweet. Clear as day, I could see a fair number of bubbles rushing upwards to a big, frothy, white head that decided to stick around for a while.

As expected, my nose caught a bready smell first. It was joined by some tasty grassy hops. Sure, there was some caramel sweetness but, as the color foretold, it was rather mild. And really, overall, the aroma was pretty tame. Not bad, but certainly not an olfactory fanfare.

The taste was mostly more of the same. A restrained bread/biscuit maltiness bolstered by a touch of caramel sweetness. While the hops were grassy on my nose, they pulled a Jekyll and Hyde routine and took on a sharp herbal/spiciness on my tongue. Add in just the right amount of carbonation and you've got a nice little bit of zing going.

The malt fades at the end leaving that zesty hop flavor to come forward for a rather dry and bitter finish. My glass was left with some scattered patches of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Leine's Oktoberfest was just about what I expected it to be – a Virginia Slims beer. It's got all of the Oktoberfest components but not enough of most of them. More malt flavor was needed in place of the hints of bread and biscuit here. I will admit, however, that I really like the hoppiness. Grassy to the nose but spicier on the tongue with a little bite. Really nice.

Junk food pairing: Pair Leine's Oktoberfest with something simple like potato chips and a bacon & horseradish dip.

This is really more of an addendum as the Old Style brand is, to the best of my knowledge, still owned by Pabst which is, in turn, owned by a "beer entrepreneur named Eugene Kashper and a private equity firm based in San Francisco. According to Wikipedia, anyway. And so, while Old Style is not a Wisconsin company, it is being brewed in La Crosse again at City Brewery, the former of of G. Heileman.

Old Style was very popular in Chicago when I was growing up there and when my friends and I would steal beer from our fathers' stashes, it was usually Old Style. (And sometimes Special Export or Hamms.) I don't have an affinity for the beer or the brand because of this but Old Style has a long history in Wisconsin and I think it fits the theme here, if only tangentially. Having said this, I see that the Old Style website plays up its (former?) popularity in Chicago heavily. "Chicago's beer" is everywhere. Oh well. Alia iacta est.

I haven't found any indication that Old Style used to brew an Oktoberfest while it was still brewed in La Crosse back in the day although G. Heileman may have under a different label.

As with the Leine's Oktoberfest, I didn't go into this with great expectations.

Old Style's Oktoberfest was amber in color which augured a sweeter bier. It was clear and, against all odds, I managed to pour a bier with a nice head. This was was firm and off-white and, happily, it lasted a while. There was a modicum of bubbles inside.

As was forewarned by the color, Oktoberfest had a not insignificant caramel sweetness to it that managed to somehow not lapse into being cloying. There was a little biscuit flavor as well as a healthy dose of peppery hops. The carbonation fell into the optimal range. And there was also this nebulous earthy/spicy flavor. The best way I can describe it is that it was as if they were going for that peppery flavor you find in some amber lagers such as Eliot Ness but couldn't quite get there. It wasn't unpleasant, really, it just malformed or perhaps undercooked.

For the finish the malt bid farewell leaving some peppery hops to do their thing. Here that meant a fairly firm dryness and attendant bitterness. Along the lines of a German pils, I'd say. Schaumhaftvermoegen was everywhere with streaks all around my glass.

With a medium body Old Style's Oktoberfest had a bit more heft than Leine's but this is purely because of the additional sweetness. What both biers had in common was a real lack of maltiness – especially the kind that doesn't taste like caramel. They were both thin and in need of more of a grainy foundation. The peppery hops in the Old Style were a pleasant surprise but they required more malt to play against.

Sadly, these Oktoberfests by larger, maybe less crafty, brewers are very much in line with those brewed by smaller, craftier ones.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Old Style Oktoberfest with some Doritos dipped in a vat of warm, gooey Velveeta cheese food product.

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14 October, 2016

I Looked and Behold, a Dark Horse Beer: Fore Smoked Stout by Dark Horse Brewing Company

Oooh! My first rauchbier of the autumn. I believe that it is also my first Dark Horse review. I've had a collaboration brew with which they were involved and have sampled their wares at the Great Taste but I can't find any evidence that I've blessed them with a solo inspection of one of their beers.

Dark Horse hails from Marshall, Michigan – a town about the size of Portage that lies in the south central part of the lower bit of the state. I don't really know why but I always think that the brewery is in California or Colorado when I see their six packs in the cooler. And they're almost always seated next to Short's, Bell's, Founders, and whole lot of other establishments that lie east of the Mississippi so you'd think I'd get the hint. But no.

Honestly, I don't know much about Dark Horse. I presume they brew lots of IPAs because that's what breweries do to placate all those tongues wagging in Citra-fueled paroxysm. Fore Smoked Stout is the fourth entry in their Stout Series so apparently they also have a thing for stouts in addition to hoppier beers.

Fore can rightly be described as Stygian in appearance. Pouring it, the beer looked to have the color and viscosity of motor oil. Sure, it's deep brown but looking at the glass like any normal person does, it is black. It may have been clear but I couldn't say for sure. I can tell you, however, that I didn't see any flakes or chunks. As per normal, I managed only a small head here. The foam was moved beyond the realm of tan into brown, albeit one of a lighter hue. Sadly it went away rather quickly. The effervescence you ask? Stygian, I say, Stygian!

As a lover of smoke beers, I find trying a new one to be exciting because I get to find out how far a brewer is willing to go/keen on going. Are they going to throw in a just a little smoked malt simply to add to the gustatory milieu and appease a wide audience or will they use a more generous helping to emphasize the smoky taste to appeal to the hearty few?

I can usually tell by waving my beer around to look at the color and whatnot because a fairly smoky beer is discernible even when it is a foot or more away from your nose. If there's a Schlekerla even 30 cm away, you'll know it. Fore is not one of those beers. Bitter chocolate was most pronounced to my proboscis with the smoke having a definite supporting role. And no, it didn't smell like bacon. Nor of apple wood. Perhaps it was oak smoked. There was also a firm sweetness which reminded me of the Chinese haw flakes I ate as a kid.

While I am sure the history of the stout is quite lengthy and convoluted, I simply think of them as, well strong porters. Fore certainly fits that description with a lot of dark/bitter chocolate taste that was bedecked with a hint of coffee and, of course, some (non-porcine tasting) smoke. Some spicy hops added a touch of bitterness but it was really the black malts that gave that acerbic taste.

A bitter chocolate aftertaste lingered long after the last drop had descended into my gullet and was joined by the hops which became a little grassy here. This was by no means a very hoppy beer but they let your tongue know they were there. And, when the carbonation joined, it was more than a little dry. I also noticed a slight alcohol burn. Fore is only 7% but you can taste it. There wasn't much lacing here – just some small spots here and there.

Dark Horse definitely took the smoke-as-an-accent route. It doesn't jump out at you and instead has a good ol' time blending with the coffee and bitter chocolate maltiness. Fore has a definite ashen black malt taste and it is bitter. But in a good way. While I wish there was more smoke flavor – I always wish there was more smoke flavor – Fore is a really tasty combination of dark and smoked malts. It's also on the big side with a heavy-medium body and some alcohol burn. Still, I found that it went down quite smoothly.

Junk food pairing: Pair Fore Smoked Stout with some Smoked Gouda Triscuits smothered in American Flavor Easy Cheese.

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13 October, 2016

The Trouble With the Maples: Maple Dunkel by Leinenkugel Brewing Company

I am taking a break from the Oktoberfest madness before I polish off the remaining ones in my cellar. It's like a 7th inning stretch. Besides, there is a cornucopia of non-Märzen beers out there to enjoy.

One that tried recently was Leinenkukgel's Maple Dunkel. The bier is available only as part of their Autumn Explorer Pack. Well, unless the liquor store you frequent busts the packs open to sell as singles. I was ambivalent about it going in. On the one hand, another of their newish seasonals, Snowdrift Vanilla Porter was simply disgusting to my palate and exemplifies how flavorings bring out the worst in the brewery. On the other, this year's Spring Explorer Pack brought Heart of Oak, an oak aged Vienna lager which was excellent.

But I like dunkels, I like maple syrup. Either this bier would be a cloying train wreck or another justification for my sentimental love of the brewery despite it being a subsidiary of the Omni Corp of brewing.

Having lived up by Eau Claire for a stretch, Leine's has a special place in my heart. It was something of a hometown brewery during the interregnum between the closing of Hibernia and the opening of the Northwoods Brewpub, circa 1997, which was the next brewery to set up shop in Eau Claire, during which many old duffs bemoaned the loss of Walters at taverns across the area. During my college days when money was tight, Leinekugel's (Original) was a welcome respite from countless half-barrels of Old Milwaukee. After college, when money was tight, I couldn't afford to drink Sprecher all day at Summerfest and so I quaffed many a Leine's Honey Weiss.

And so despite having sold out to Miller in 1988 and having run the shandy into the ground, I still indulge in a Leine's every once in a while. Besides, they have a nice tour.

Maple Dunkel pours a lovely deep copper color and is quite clear. I think I need to start pouring every beer like you're supposed to pour bottled nitro brews – turn the bottle upside down into the glass and shake like a maraca. For whatever reason, I was only able to produce a small head. The light tan foam didn't stick around very long. There were some bubbles inside. Aside from my poor pouring, it was a very beautiful bier.

As I was inspecting the appearance, I could smell maple. It was somewhere between maple syrup and maple-flavored syrup although it leaned towards the latter. The aroma was sweet and overpowered the basic bier with just a tiny hit of dark malt roast coming though. At this point I was basically resigned to my fate which was going to be drinking a flavored mess. Another Snowdrift – cloying and awful.

It was no surprise to taste maple. Lots and lots of maple – flavoring. It was cloyingly sweet with an overabundance of vanilla-caramel taste but lacking the woody-earthy flavors and the slight tartness that real maple syrup has. A rather muted dose of roasted grain could not penetrate the treacle while some spicy hops struggled to be tasted.

That maple flavoring lingered a bit at the end until spicy/grassy hops come and add some welcome bitterness and dryness. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen in sight.

Maple Dunkel is a dreadful bier to my taste. I've had beers brewed with maple syrup and maple sap and some were good and some weren't. I can imagine a tasty dunkel that has been laced with maple flavoring – if the flavoring has been used judiciously. That's not the case here because there's no dunkel here. It's just maple flavoring. Although I will say that I liked the hops quite a bit as they were the only thing that I could taste besides maple.

Junk food pairing: I kept my snacking simple with Maple Dunkel and indulged in plain old Cheez Its.

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11 October, 2016

Brewing and Nothingness: Festbier by Victory Brewing Company

I am taking a break from native Oktoberfests because it was getting to be dolorous and drinking beer shouldn't be that way. Quaffing a Märzen should be a mirthful experience, one that highlights the brief periods of joy that punctuate our time on this earth before we return to the soil. And so I look to suburban Philadelphia wherein lies Victory Brewing to address my existential ennui.

My previous encounters with Victory beers were all positive and mostly very fine indeed. But I've been afflicted with a case of microbrew angst this past month or so as various other breweries with good reputations offered Oktoberfests of a less than tasteful nature. Perhaps now that our state Department of Natural Resources is run like a business, there truly is something in the air or in the water which afflicts our brewmasters, rendering them maladroit and consigning them to produce Oktoberfests which would have made Gabriel Sedlmayr cry.

It is my hope that by looking to the east, to the city where John Wagner brewed the first lager on these shores (well, a suburb of that city) that I may find some hope that all is not lost.

Victory Festbier pours a lovely amber and was suitably clear. While I only managed to produce only a meager head of light tan foam which went away quite quickly, the bier was rather effervescent with a fair number of bubbles inside.

The aroma smelled strongly of bread, which as a good sign. But there was also a little caramel and some roasted malt scent too. It was surprised at how restrained the sweetness was here considering the bier's color. So far, so good.

Things got even better upon tasting the brew. A shiver went down my spine as luscious Maillard reacted malt taste swirled and eddied on my tongue. It was a wonderful toasty flavor that had a deep vein of nuttiness as well. The malt also tasted of fresh bread along with just a hint of toffee sweetness. Peppery hops hovered in the background and paired with a healthy dose of carbonation to add crispness.

For the final act, the malt faded allowing the hops to step into the limelight. They became spicier – almost minty – and gave a nice cleansing bitterness. Dry but not overly so. Schaumhaftvermoegen was limited to a few shorts streaks and the odd speck of foam.

Eureka! Victory proved, well, victorious. While it may not provide a definitive answer, Festbier certainly comes down on the affirmative side when it comes to decoction mashing. Those toasty Maillard flavors run deep and full here and I just love the nutty taste to it. They are given pride of place but complemented by other malty flavors while some really tasty hops offer contrast and balance. The malt is rich instead of being watery. Sweetness bows before savory. Everything in its place. There is yet hope for Oktoberfests.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Victory Festbier with some Mature Cheddar and Chive crisps, er, potato chips. They have a rich heartiness that other cheddar chips don't and thusly go very well with savory malt taste of the bier.

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10 October, 2016

I Saw the Best Märzens of My Generation Destroyed by Maltiness

I am getting to the point where I cannot drink anymore Oktoberfests. It has nothing to do with them being seasonal biers because they are tasty in a variety of situations throughout the year. They're not particularly big biers nor are they optimized for warmer weather with light bodies. Nor are they brewed with nutmeg, allspice, clove, and cinnamon and thusly given a narrow window of quaffing potential. The style is not tied to a harvest or a holiday and there's nothing really seasonal about them any longer since virtually no one brews them in March and pulls them from the lagering caves in September.

No, I have made the mistake of investing in the Oktoberfests of my fair state and being disappointed most of the time. I have no explanation and the reason why they've been so untasty is probably reasons – they are plural. Poor shipping and storage practices may certainly be an issue. I won't deny that but nor can I prove it. But my cynic soon return and feels that most Wisconsin breweries have abandoned the state's German brewing heritage to varying degrees and so the Oktoberfest is simply a perfunctory exercise in obeisance. When you brew IPAs, sours, and potent barrel-aged potables all year, you're not getting practice at brewing lagers.

Contrariwise, some Wisconsin breweries with a fine lagery track record have produced some most unremarkable, if not awful, Oktoberfest biers this year. So there goes my lagerphobic hypothesis.

Whatever the case may be, I still have lots of Oktoberfest reviews piling up which calls for another omnibus.

From the wilds of La Crosse comes Pearl Street's Lederhosen Lager. Pearl Street brews various and sundry German styles and has an annual pils. This is definitely not a lagerphobic brewery that genuflects to tradition once a year.

So why is Lederhosen Lager so thoroughly mediocre? It was just a little over-carbonated – not a hanging offense - and under malted – a cardinal sin. It leaned to the caramel side but wasn't cloyingly sweet and let some more bready flavors come through. But all the malt tastes were subdued. I liked the spicy hops, though, and it left some of the best Schaumhaftvermoegen of the season.

Lakefront knows lagers. Hell, even their pumpkin beer is a lager and it is actually brewed with pumpkins. They have a great brewery tour to boot.

Sadly their Oktoberfest is par for the course as far as Wisconsin iterations go. Caramel sweetness was the dominant flavor – which I can handle - with very little bready taste – which doesn't cut the senf. I somehow managed to catch a dash of root beer in there too. And it was overly carbonated. I did like the herbal hops, though.

If I may quote T.S. Eliot's typist, well now that's done and I'm glad it's over.

Capital and I go way back. Their maibock was not only my first taste of a helles bock but I also lost my seasonal beer virginity with it. It was the spring of 1991 and I was blissfully unaware that beers were seasonal like Shamrock Shakes and McRibs. Later that year their Oktoberfest became the first Märzen to cross my lips. Capital is also likely responsible for introducing me to the concept of drinking local and was a cornerstone of my microbrew education.

Having said all of this, I was not impressed by their Oktoberfest this year. It has always been a caramel-forward bier and that hasn't changed this year. But, like most of the Wisconsin Oktos I've had this year, this one lacks a bready base upon which to build a house of sweetness. It wasn't over-carbonated and I really liked the hops which were grassy and herbal but those biscuit and bread tastes were just too faint, lost like distant stars in the city streetlights.

I will close with the completion of the trifecta of Oktoberfests from Green Bay featuring Stillmank. Neither Titletown nor Hinterland was able to pull through this year.

Stillmank, however, did.

And I believe it was the first time I'd had one of their beers so I was quite impressed. While there was some malty sweetness to be had, it was kept in check by a nice bready flavor. Stillmank got the proportion of malt tastes just right to my taste with bread/biscuit at the fore with sweeter malt given a supporting role. A good Oktoberfest is about getting the various malt flavors in the right spots for a grainy gestalt. Now I grant you that Stillmank didn't endow their Oktoberfest with much of that toasty/Maillard reacted goodness that I crave, but it was still a fine maltiness. And the hops. They were simply wonderful with a sprightly, fresh grassy flavor that is hard to beat.

Going into this little venture last month I wouldn't have dreamt that Stillmank would not only make a great Oktoberfest but that it would probably be the best domestic (i.e. - from Wisconsin) one of the season. Truth be told, I have a couple more from Wisconsin in my cellar and I'll likely have others on tap so the title is provisional, but this will certainly go down near, if not at, the top.

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06 October, 2016

What Have the Germans Ever Done For Us?: Oktoberfest by Potosi Brewery

Good ol' Potosi. Whenever I hear the name, I think of how a friend of mine still holds it against me that I unwittingly drank his last Potosi Czech Style Pilsner one day in the dim and distant past. He still speaks of the incident in tones of thinly veiled anger. He's like liberals who still piss and moan about Ralph Nader forgetting all the while that it was the Supreme Court who crowned Dubya president. In addition to a very tasty Czech pils – there was a reason I chose it amongst the others on offer - they have a fine brewery and museum out there on the Mighty Mississip.

With the vast majority of Wisconsin Oktoberfests that I've had this season ranging from almost medicore to awful, I had a goodly amount of confidence that Potosi could be different. Their Oktoberfest could be like the Battle of Guadalcanal or the Battle of Stalingrad. Just as those campaigns proved to be turning points in World War II, so too could Potosi's bier be the critical juncture in the search for a good Oktoberfest brewed in the Land of Cheese.

I mean today's Wisconsin microbrewers are ostensibly the successors to generations of German immigrants who settled in our fair state - and their descendants too. The earliest waves of Forty-Eighters brought socialist ideas which most famously shaped Milwaukee along with other things like kindergarten. And immigrants regardless of political orientation gave us their love of sausages, strudel, and of course bier. Germans had a very large impact not only on culture here in Wisconsin but also the United States at large.

Ergo it's been frustrating as a Wisconsonian of some German extraction to witness breweries of my state flounder attempting to brew on Oktoberfest that tastes as good as one that has made the trip all the way from Munich. Hell, we've even let California eat our lunch.

Potosi's Oktoberfest poured a gorgeous clear copper hue. My initial pour managed only a small head that was off-white and left me wishing is Auf wiedersehen all too soon. This was my inability to pour correctly, however, as my second and more vigorous pour gave a much larger and much prettier crown of foam. There wasn't much effervescence on display.

Moderately sweet caramel was first to hit my nose followed by a smidgen of roasted grain while some faint grassy hops lingered in the background. I wasn't surprised by the bouquet since the bier's color lacked the pale complexion of Oktoberfests: The Next Generation.

Considering the lack of bubbles, Oktoberfest was well-carbonated by which I mean it had just the right amount of carbonation. Not particularly acidic, but just enough push back against the malt. And that malt was mostly caramel tasting with attendant sweetness. Not cloying though. It was joined by a little roasted grain and some hops which had taken on a spicy tint. Overall it had a nice medium body and a clean lager taste that was fairly crisp.

The malt faded on the finish allowing the spicy hop taste to really come through. While rather bitter and a fair bit dryer than I'm used to for the style, it was still rather pleasant. My first pour of the small head produced no Schaumhaftvermoegen but my second let loose some really nice, thick streaks of foam.

This was not a bad Oktoberfest but nor was it great. I liked the level of caramel sweetness here but felt it needed more roasted grain flavor to bolster the larger malt taste. This has been a common refrain here this Oktoberfest season. Most of the one's that I've had have had a very one dimensional malt taste – caramel and little else. Potosi, to its credit, adds more non-caramel malt flavor than your average bear but this bier just didn't find that Golden Malty Mean.

Junk food pairing: I paired my Potosi Oktoberfest with Snyder's Zesty Ranch Pretzel Pieces to good effect.

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26 September, 2016

A Surfeit of Festbiers

From Green Bay we now head southwest to Lake Louie Brewing.

Hypothesis: Tom Porter and the gang out in Arena brew a tasty Dortmunder Export and fine, if boozy, helles bock. And so, while they mostly brew ales, they have a proven track record with lagers. Odds were good that the brewery's first Festbier would be a winner.

Experiment: Lake Louie's Oktoberfest went the pale Märzen route with its gold color. The bier was clear revealing a goodly number of bubbles making their way up to a nice bed of white foam. All of that effervescence gave my tongue a firm, yet gentle, carbonic bite. Bread, a mild honeyed sweetness, and a touch of spicy hops came in the initial salvo while a bit of roasted grain and even a tad of toasty, Maillard reacted malt were noticeable upon repeated quaffs.

The lovely malt flavors quietly faded as the spicy hops grew louder as they took on some grassy tones leaving my tongue high'n'dry.

Conclusion: Really good. Easily the best Oktoberfest I've had this year from a Wisconsin brewery. Cheesehead brewers have basically shit the bed this Oktoberfest season sending countless German settlers a-spinning in their graves. Lake Louie's Festbier has a nice bready flavor, which, if it had been fuller, I wouldn't have complained. Plus the hops gave a nice bite on the finish. As a bonus, the Schaumhaftvermoegen was generous and pretty.

Lake Louie's Oktoberfest went well with Late July Bacon & Habenero tortilla chips which have what is likely the best bacon flavor on any chip anywhere, anytime.

Back up north to the Wisconsin interior and Central Waters.

The cicerone cries
Amidst the gadarene rush
To slumgullion

About 90 miles west of Amherst lies Black River Falls and the Sand Creek Brewing Company. They've got a nice little place up there.

Another Wisconsin brewery that specializes in ales. Methinks their Oktoberfest is their only lager. I give them credit for putting a brunette in a dirndl on the label, though, instead of a blonde. Thinking outside the box.

I have to wonder if Sand Creek exists but for the grace of contract brewing. This is not meant as a sleight – simply an observation. Or perhaps Wild Ride Eyepah sells like gangbusters and I am blissfully unaware. It's just that I don't see hordes of Chicagoans crossing the border in search of their beer. Hell, I don't see them around Madison much outside of liquor stores. Oscar's Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, a darn fine beer, used to be seen (by my eyes, anyway) more frequently in taverns and restaurants but is a relative rarity today. I guess not making grapefruit beer has taken its toll.

Onto the Oktoberfest…

Sand Creek apparently took a more traditional route with its Festbier as it was amber. Nice and clear, it was a lovely bier to be sure. The head was a light tan and I got about an inch of the stuff. Inside there were bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles. It looked like it has having an embolism.

The aroma was, overall, on the mild side. What there was was led by caramel which didn't surprise me given the bier's hue. Just a little roasted grain peeked out from behind some grassy hops.

The taste too was, to put it kindly, mild. Again, a bit of caramel sweetness was most evident but that's not to say the bier was sweet. This was joined by some apricot-like fruitiness as well as grassy-peppery hops. If this bier was a palimpsest, then that would be the bit that got erased yet faintly bled through. On top of all this was a harsh, dry acidic bite from all of that carbonation. It was like Oktoberfest champagne. Zoinks!

As what little malt there was faded, my tongue was hit with a one-two combination of carbonic bite and very peppery hops which made things quite dry and equally as bitter. On the plus side, there was some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen in my glass with a few streaks of foam for decoration.

I get that Festbiers are not supposed to be as malty as doppelbocks. And while I'm not a big fan of Bohemian pilsener levels of hops in them but, if that's your thing, go for it. But for Pete's sake, have a good, firm bready, malty base. Sand Creek joins several other Wisconsin brewers who are putting out Oktoberfests that lack a solid grainy foundation. I had a Paulaner Oktoberfest a few weeks ago at a chain restaurant in the middle of mall Hades and it was great. It was shipped from Bavaria in who knows what kind of container an indeterminate amount of time ago yet it was superior to the Oktoberfests from just down the road a piece.

I am getting paranoid that my tongue is simply giving out. Is my brain malfunctioning? That Paulaner was a symphony of malt tastes in harmony. Bread, Maillard toastiness, a little doughy sweetness, and some roasted grains all played in time and accompanied by a chorus of hops. But it's like the brewers of my state are mired down in fourth grade strings class trying to play some twelve-tone Schoenberg while being led by a conductor doing the St. Vitus dance.

Junk food pairing: spray some Easy Cheese on Smoked Gouda Triscuits to accompany your Oktoberfest.

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