Hofbräuhaus is one of only six breweries 1 legally allowed, within the European Union, to call its beer "Oktoberfest." All six are located within the Bavarian city of Munich, where the annual Oktoberfest celebration is held. This year, Oktoberfest begins 21 September and concludes 6 October.
Pictured above is a bottle of Hofbräu Oktoberfest, shipped to the United States. Oktoberfest beers are lagers, and this is a fairly hefty Oktoberfest, clocking in at 6.3% alcohol-by-volume. But, look closely at the label, just to the right of the volume designation "330 ML" (330 milliliters or 11.2 ounces). I've enhanced the word that appears there, which is printed yellow on yellow, and thus is difficult to see. It's the word: "ale." As a German might say, "Was ist los?" (We might say, "What's up with that?")
What is a lager?
Generally speaking, a lager is a beer fermented with lager yeast, which is active in the mid 40s to upper 50 degrees Fahrenheit. After primary fermentation, a lager will be cold-stored for several weeks. An ale, on the other hand, is a beer fermented at room temperature, anywhere from low 60s to mid 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and usually not cold stored for any long length of time. Both ales and lagers can be low or high in alcohol, dark or light in color, bitter or sweet in flavor. Ales tend to have fruity esters, while lagers do not.
What is Oktoberfest beer?
Lager! In the decades following World War II, the Munich breweries brewed their Oktoberfest lagers in a range between 5.8 to 6.3% alcohol-by-volume, amber to reddish-brown in color, with
toffee-like maltiness combined with with biscuit and bread flavors, and plenty of mouthfeel.
Since 1990 [however], all Oktoberfest beers brewed in Munich have been of a golden color and a slightly sweetish malty nose, with medium body and a low to moderate bitterness.
—Oxford Companion to Beer.
Now, back to Texas.
In the United States, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution gave each state the right to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages within it borders. As one consequence, there's a patchwork of rules and regulations, differing state to state.
One of the more peculiar regulations belongs to the state of Texas, which declares any beer of more than 4% alcohol-by-weight to be an "ale," regardless of whether it is or not.
Ale/Malt Liquor – malt beverages with MORE than 4% alcohol by weight 2 (a type of liquor)The world-is-flat regulators in Texas deny a simple fact. Those six breweries in Munich —and breweries throughout the world— brew their Oktoberfests as lagers.
Beer – malt beverages with more than a half percent alcohol by volume, but NOT more than 4% alcohol by weight (5% alcohol by volume).
—Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC)
But since Hofbräu's Oktoberfest is well over 4% alcohol-by-weight, and if the brewery wishes to sell the beer in Texas, a not insubstantial beer market, it must put the word "ale" on the label.
Ach, du liebe, Texas. Was ist los?
- 1 The six Munich breweries are: Augustiner Bräu (independently owned), Hacker-Pschorr (owned by Paulaner), Hofbräuhaus (owned by the state of Bavaria), Lowenbräu (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev), Paulaner (owned by Heineken), and Spaten (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev).
- With a 2011 population of 25,674,681, roughly 1/3 that of Germany, the state of Texas is not an insubstantial market in which to sell beer. Hofbräu obviously believes the printed fiction to be worth it.
- 2 Alcohol by volume (abv) is a standard measure of how much alcohol is contained in an alcoholic beverage (expressed as a percentage of total volume). It's used worldwide, except in the United States, where several states regulate alcoholic beverages according to alcohol by weight (abw) —in other words, how much space a beer's alcohol would occupy in your glass if it were removed from the beer. Even though the alcohol content is the same, a measure of alcohol-by-weight will usually appear less than that of alcohol-by-volume. For example, the alcohol in a beer measured at 4% abw is approximately equivalent to that in a beer measured at 5% abv. Hofbräu's Oktoberfest contains 6.3% alcohol-by-volume; that's the equivalent of 5% alcohol-by-weight.
- Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, often posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as a subject. Camera: Olympus Pen E-PL1. Commercial reproduction requires explicit permission, as per Creative Commons.