Fearful Symmetries

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06 October, 2015

"O'zapft is" In a Can: Oktoberfest by Bull Falls Brewery



Another Oktoberfest review and today’s victim, er, exemplar comes from Bull Falls Brewery in Wausau. A newcomer to the Madison market, the brewery was established in 2007 by brewmaster Mike Zamzow and his father Don who named the brewery after the city's original appellation, "Big Bull Falls". This name referred to a stretch of rapids on the Wisconsin River which flows through town. 2013 proved an auspicious year for Bull Falls as the brewery completed a $1.5 million expansion and gained wider distribution. Cans of their brews finally hit store shelves here in Madison this past summer.

Bull Falls has a fairly traditional line-up of English and German styles. There's nothing extreme nor very much that would send Reinheitsgebot purists ducking for cover. Five Star Ale, an amber ale is the biggest seller while Hop Worthy IPA and a bourbon barrel stout seem to be concessions to current trends. Yet Zamzow's first beer for the brewery was Oktoberfest and the first beer brewed in the new expanded brewhouse a couple of years ago was Oktoberfest. According to Robin Shepard Zamzow brews his Oktoberfest using a German (continental?) brewing technique called decoction mashing which involves taking some of the mash (i.e. – the admixture of grains and water) and boiling it in a separate vessel for a time before returning it from the kettle from which it came. Shepard maintains that the process "accentuates the smooth malty flavors in the finished beer".

I'd heard that decoction mashing is what gives German beers that melanoidin/Maillard reaction flavor which I think of as being a bit like bread crust or lightly toasted bread. It's grainy but not sweet; it's rich yet not cloying. Having spoken with some brewers and read more accounts on the Interwebs it seems that American brewers are split. Some think decoction is what gives that flavor while others think it's the malt varieties. One of the great mysteries of our time.

Bull Falls' Oktoberfest pours a lovely deep gold color. It is as clear as the day is long. My pour produced about one inch of foamy off-white head. There were a few bubbles making their way upwards from the bottom of the glass. The beer looked so pretty and I just couldn't wait to breathe in its aromatic goodness. I found that there were the expected and most welcome bread and yeast aromas but there was also the smell of metal. It wasn't ferric to my nose and it also wasn't overpowering. I held out hope that this off smell didn't make it into the taste.

Thankfully it did not and my tongue was instead greeted by some fine, clean malt flavor, delightfully decocted. There was the bread as on the nose but also an earthy sweetness like fig or date. A touch of carbonation on the tip of my tongue and a pleasant bit of herbal & spicy hop bitterness did their level best to balance the malt but it was not to be. Still, they provided some nice contrast. It had a smooth medium body instead of leaning onto the thin side as had Lazy Monk's Oktoberfest earlier that day.

It finished with a bit of that stonefruity sweetness lingering along with a mild herbal bitterness. I have to admit that I have really enjoyed all the herbal hop flavors in these Oktoberfests the past several days. My glass had a nice ring of Schaumhaftvermoegen towards the top where the head had given way to the beer but nothing beneath it. Harumph.

Bull Falls' Oktoberfest is a solid brew. It looks gorgeous with its golden hue and ample foamy head. Any dirndl-clad maiden would be proud to be seen serving it. It tastes great too. I loved the decocted bready malt flavors. The beer also had a moderate malt sweetness which was fine but I prefer less. I will also admit to thoroughly enjoying the herbal hop flavor here after the more spicy flavors in the pilsners I'd been drinking previous to the Oktoberfest binge.

Junk food pairing: As has been noted here previously, deep fried cheese curds are the sine non qua of any Oktoberfest drinking session. Well, after the beer itself, that is. The salt accentuates the smooth malty flavors of the beer perfectly. And there's cheese involved too.

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|| Palmer, 1:58 PM

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