No season is more enjoyable to me than fall, if for no other reason than the annual release of the Oktoberfest beers, with their deep, rich, copper hues and smooth, firm maltiness. A style with origins that date to the 16th Century, and associated with the turning of the leaves, these beers were historically brewed in the spring, stored in caves over the warmer months of summer, and then consumed during fall celebrations.
2010 marks the 200th anniversary of the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, which gave birth to the famed Oktoberfest festival in Munich. Based on my own personal quest to find the best Wisconsin version of the style, I'm willing to bet that if Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese were around today, they would be calling Capital Brewery in Middleton for a special delivery of its Oktoberfest.
What is it? Oktoberfest by Capital Brewery of Middleton, Wis.
Style: The Oktoberfest, or Märzen, is medium-bodied with rich golden to light copper color. It is a clean and well-balanced lager, with firm yet medium-sweet maltiness, complemented by a light background of hoppy bitterness. The aroma features a light maltiness, while the finish can be dry, but not overly bitter. While some hoppiness is expected, it should contribute to the beer's overall balance of flavors. The Oktoberfest style will range from 5% to 6% ABV.
Background: Capital Oktoberfest always starts to appear just before Labor Day and stays around though late October. It's the best-selling seasonal beer for the Middleton brewery. Kirby Nelson, who has been with Capital since the its beginning, says this was the first beer that he remembers brewing on his own after taking over brewmaster duties from Fred Scheer in 1986. It's also the first seasonal beer that Capital added to its lineup. Nelson says that after some early tweaking of the beer's recipe, it has been unchanged since the mid-1990s.
The beer's smooth malty character comes from Munich, Caramel and Aromatic Malts, along with rather judicious amounts of Liberty hops. But make no mistake, the malt and its smooth caramel flavor distinguish this beer. Capital Oktoberfest's following continues to grow. Nelson says he made about 10% more this year than last.
The Oktoberfest beers made famous by festivals in Munich and elsewhere around Germany are very similar, although usually lighter in body and color. This year's Oktoberfest celebrations began on Saturday, September 18 with the ceremonial tapping of the first keg by the Lord Mayor of Munich. The annual event continues through Sunday, October 3.
Capital Oktoberfest beer has won more than 10 awards and medals, among the most recent a "gold" rating by the Beverage Testing Institute's World Beer Championships in 2009. The brew sells for about $9/six-pack and finishes at 5.5% ABV.
- Aroma: Light, yet firm, malty nose.
- Appearance: Clear copper color with a medium soft, tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied and round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Firm, solid and smooth malty flavor.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Malty with just a hint of bitter dryness, yet overall clean finish.
Glassware: The large German Oktoberfest stein is the glass of choice to show off the deep copper color of this fall seasonal.
Pairs well with: Oktoberfest is a wonderful meal beer, and well suited for meats such as pork and sausage. Its malty sweetness is also a great companion for lamb and venison. Vegetarians might try this Oktoberfest with a hearty vegetable stew.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: I've enjoyed Capital Oktoberfest for a long time as a seasonal treat, and I look forward to its annual release. It never disappoints; every year it's as good as I remember the last year's being. This beer has a rich caramel malty flavor that is firm before giving way to a very clean finish. It offers great body and mouthfeel. Capital's rendition of this traditional Märzen is also great with food, offering versatility for grilling steaks, tailgating with brats, and even as a companion to a light lunch sandwich.
This is a beer for both the front and back of the fridge -- the front so it's handy now and the back because you'll want to try to hide a few bottles away for a special treat long after the season is gone. Capital Oktoberfest sets a standard most can only aspire to.