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
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.
Labels: Beer, Capital Brewery, Lakefront Brewery, Märzen, Oktoberfest, Pearl Street Brewery, Stillmank Brewing Company