It may only be mid-September, but we're definitely in the midst Oktoberfest season. While I'm one that feels a beer with October in its name should be enjoyed during that month, there's no reason one can't stock up a few varieties of the seasonal brew so it's in the fridge for whenever that autumn mood strikes. What's more, the annual two-week bash of the same name in Munich, Germany starts this weekend. Given that, I've decided to say "Prost" with the Oktoberfest from Hinterland, also known as Green Bay Brewing Company.
What is it? Oktoberfest by Hinterland (Green Bay Brewing Company) of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Style: The Oktoberfest, or Märzen, is a medium-bodied golden to light copper lager. The emphasis of the flavor is on a firm but medium-sweet maltiness with a light bready or biscuity nose. Overall, these beers are nicely balanced, with a tough hoppy bitterness that adds cleanness to the flavor. The finish can be dry, but not be overly bitter. 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 4.8%-5.7% ABV.
Background The Green Bay brewery has offered this seasonal on tap for over ten years. It hasn't previously been available much in Madison, though. However, the brewery returned to bottling in the fall of 2010 and started shipping beer to Madison.
The Oktoberfest beers made famous by festivals in Munich and elsewhere around Germany are very similar, although usually lighter in body and color. The tradition of celebrating Oktoberfest started in Germany to mark the marriage of King Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria in 1810. This year's celebrations open Saturday, September 17 with the ceremonial tapping of the first keg by the Lord Mayor of Munich, which occurs around noontime in Munich or 5 a.m. CDT. This year's festival continues through Monday, October 3.
In Madison, there's the annual Oktoberfest party at the Essen House at noon-8 p.m. on Saturday September 17. One of the larger events outside Germany is the annual Oktoberfest U.S.A. in La Crosse, which runs from Friday, September 23 through Saturday, October 1.
The first bottles of this season's Hinterland Oktoberfest started appearing in mid August and should remain on store shelves into early October. Hinterland makes it with all German (Weyermann) malts, so there's a smooth semi-sweet caramel dominance to the beer. The beer finishes around 5.8% ABV. It sells in four-packs of 16-ounce bottles for around $10.
- Aroma: Firm, yet light, caramel and malty-biscuity nose.
- Appearance: Golden copper with a slight hazy appearance. A medium soft tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, round and bubbly.
- Taste: Solid caramel maltiness with a light hoppiness in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The maltiness wins, but a light hoppy-dryness in the end.
Glassware: To get into the seasonal mood, there's nothing like hoisting a brilliant copper colored Oktoberfest in a big marbled glass mug.
Pairs well with: A good Oktoberfest should have enough maltiness to match well with most German dishes of sausage, wienerschnitzel as well as typical Wisconsin tailgating fare. Hinterland's version is especially a nice beer for firm mildly sweet and lightly nutty cheeses like Gruyere or Carr Valley's Cocoa Cardona.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Hinterland Oktoberfest is malt-focused with a modest alcohol content, brilliant golden-copper color, and a biscuity flavor alongside firm, yet mild, caramel tones. It's a commendable interpretation of the more traditional Märzen style. I enjoy its malty character, but it wasn't as smooth, nor did it have the round body that one finds in a couple of Oktoberfests made in the Madison area. But Hinterland brews a very nice version of its own. Those who enjoy searching for the best of the seasonal Wisconsin Märzens during this time of year should put it on their list.