At the risk of seeming to wish away the remaining days of summer, the beer season is changing. The Oktoberfests have started arriving, and once they begin turning up on shelves, it means that the cooler nights and colors of fall are not too far off either.
Oktoberfest started in Germany as a festival to mark the marriage of King Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria in 1810. Today, major Wisconsin versions of the multi-day celebration are held in several cities; among the largest and most well-known are those in La Crosse and Milwaukee. But you don't need to travel to toast King Ludwig.
A number of Wisconsin breweries show off their German roots with excellent versions of the celebratory lager. The Sprecher Brewing Company makes a seasonal favorite that just started appearing locally, one that makes a great choice for an impromptu Oktoberfest party.
What is it? Oktoberfest from Sprecher Brewing Company of Glendale.
Style: The Oktoberfest, or Märzen, is a medium-bodied golden to light copper lager. The flavor has a firm but medium-sweet maltiness that is clean and in balance with hoppy bitterness. The aroma should have a light maltiness; if there is a hoppy nose, it should be low. The finish can be dry, but not overly bitter. This style was historically brewed in the spring, stored in caves during the warmer months of summer, and then consumed during autumn celebrations. Oktoberfests usually range from 5% to 6% ABV.
Background: Sprecher Brewing first made this beer in 1986 as one of its seasonal brews. Owner Randy Sprecher was stationed in Bavaria while serving in the U.S. Army during the late 1960s. His Oktoberfest is based on what he remembers about the beer from that time. "It was the way Oktoberfest-style beer was intended to be," he says, "before the festival was so large that brewers began having trouble making enough beer."
To achieve the distinctive smooth, clean malty taste of his Oktoberfest, he imports much of the malt used in the recipe from Bamberg, Germany. Sprecher Oktoberfest has won several awards, including a "Best of Show" at the 2005 Los Angeles International Beer Competition and a Gold Medal in 2004 from the Great American Beer Festival. It's made with Caramel, Munich and Pale malts along with Hallertau and Mt. Hood hops. It ages for about six weeks before it's released, finishing at 5.75% ABV. Sprecher sells its Oktoberfest in four-packs of 16-oz. bottles for $7.50.
- Aroma: Light, faint maltiness.
- Appearance: Clear, deep copper with a thick, soft, tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, round and soft.
- Taste: A caramel malty body.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Smooth maltiness, but overall, clean.
Glassware: This beer is ideal in a Willy Becker-style glass. The outward V-shaped taper of the Willy Becker inverts near the top, creating a glass that holds the beer's creamy head and focuses the nose, yet still provides a wide opening for the aroma to hover over the beer so it can be appreciated.
Pairs well with: The Oktoberfest has a sweetness that matches well with slightly sweet meats like lamb, venison, glazed ham, as well as strong cheeses.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: This is a beer with body and smooth flavor. Sprecher Oktoberfest gives attention to the soft, yet firm Caramel and Munich malt sweetness, and it finishes overall with a clean aftertaste. Among the local Oktoberfest beers that released this year, Sprecher's stacks up among the best.