"What are you drinking here today," he asked, saying hi. "I'm checking out the Oktoberfest lagers," I replied.
"Why," he asked, somewhat bemused. "Why aren't you drinking the IPAs?" "Well, I can get IPAs anyday," I explained. "I appreciate the skill needed in lager-brewing; I like the the interplay of sweet malt and dry finish in märzen/Oktoberfests. Brewers brought different interpretations of the style here, today."
He shook his head. "No, I'll stick to the IPAs."
It was a sunny, early autumn, afternoon, outside Mad Fox Brewing Company, in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Saturday, 27 September 2014, the brewpub had invited local breweries (mostly) to submit Oktoberfest-style lagers and India Pale Ales (IPAs) for its beer festival, Hoppy Oktoberfest. That was a smart move on its part, understanding that a majority of 'craft' beer drinkers prefer hops, no matter what; that a minority prefer malt; but that a plurality enjoy both.
Here's a description of the märzen/Oktoberfest beer style, culled from the The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press, 2012):
Much of the base malt is called Munich malt, a highly aromatic malt with a color rating of 3 to 10 degrees Lovibond. As a result märzen and Oktoberfest beers tend to be primarily (golden) amber in color, showing sweet, almost toffee-like maltiness, combined with biscuit and bread flavors, as well as plenty of mouthfeel.
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) adds this:
- Aroma: Rich German malt aroma (of Vienna and/or Munich malt). A light to moderate toasted malt aroma is often present. Clean lager aroma with no fruity esters or diacetyl. No hop aroma. Caramel aroma is inappropriate.
- Appearance: Dark gold to deep orange-red color. Bright clarity, with solid, off-white, foam stand.
- Flavor: Initial malty sweetness, but finish is moderately dry. Distinctive and complex maltiness often includes a toasted aspect. Hop bitterness is moderate, and noble hop flavor is low to none. Balance is toward malt, though the finish is not sweet. Noticeable caramel or roasted flavors are inappropriate. Clean lager character with no diacetyl or fruity esters.
- Mouthfeel: Medium body, with a creamy texture and medium carbonation. Smooth. Fully fermented, without a cloying finish. ABV [alcohol by volume]: 4.8 – 5.7%
Among several tasty specimens at Hoppy Oktoberfest, I found one märzen that I was particularly impressed with ... that is, that I drank a couple samples of.
The Oktoberfest from the Washington, D.C.-based brewery, DC Brau.
Brewer Mike McCarthy told me the beer was 5% alcohol-by-volume, lightly hopped with the German noble hop Hallertau Mittlefrüh, and brewed with German Pilsner and 'Munich' malts from Wyermann Maltings. That was evident. The malt imparted a depth of toasted bread, melanoidal flavor, characteristic of the style, but avoiding the caramel flavors of caramel malts, often used by American craft brewers in their Oktoberfests. Untraditionally (but successfully), DC Brau added Belgian 'Abbey' malt to the grist. 'Abbey' malt is also called 'brumalt' or 'honey malt.'
Malt sweetness and honey like flavour and aroma make it perfect for any specialty beer. The closest comparison is a light caramel, but Honey Malt has a flavour of its own: sweet and a little bit nutty. Made by restricting the oxygen flow during the sprouting process, Honey Malt is essentially self-stewed. When the oxygen is cut off, the grain bed heats up, developing sugars and rich malt flavours. The malt is lightly kilned for a color color profile of 25 SRM and is devoid of astringent roast flavors.
So: DC Brau's Oktoberfest.
Dark orange in hue. An aroma of sweet malt, with herbal notes in the background. Toasted biscuity malt body and dry finish. Less sweet than others: deep in malt character, but not cloying. What wasn't to like? I didn't miss the hops.
P.S. I did also enjoy a very hoppy 'wet-hopped' India Pale Ale that afternoon.
- More images from Hoppy Oktoberfest: here.
- DC Brau offers their Oktoberfest in draft only, but does 'can' several of its other beers. I was delighted to later find it on tap at Nationals Park..
- The original Oktoberfest, in Munich, Germany concludes this year on Sunday, 5 October 2014.
- Drinking, Again is a series of occasional reviews of beer (and wine and spirits). No scores; only descriptions.
- Graphic created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.