As the hoard approached, the bearded man was steadfast. Fastening the two-inch steel chains to the double doors, he knew the brewery wouldn’t stay secure for long. Pickaxe in hand now, he paced towards the brite tank. The groans and sighs and high pitched screams from outside grew louder and more ferocious. It was the fury that was needed.
Despite his pot-belly, flat-brimmed cap, and generally poor physique, the brewer struck the vessel with unusual force –– his hate for its contents superhuman. A wave of Pumpkin ale crashed to the floor. The aroma of unnecessary spice was pervasive. The crowd gasped.
“Drink this, you idiots.” exclaimed the brewer. With that he unleashed a stream of beautifully bready, slightly malty, amber lager that filled the glasses of all. The people –– at first appalled –– now accepted their fate. They embraced the season, the foliage, and the rightful heir to the autumn beer throne –– Märzenbiers.
Oktoberfest beer rules. Technically there are three types of Oktoberfest beer. The first tier designates the six official Oktoberfest beers brewed within the city limits of Munich. Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu, Staatliches, and Hofbräu-München are the famous breweries representing here. Second, there are the Festbiers. This is the style of beer that is served at the Munich Festival today. Breadier and lighter in both body and color, they exist in the netherworld between traditional lagers and Marzens. Lastly, there are the Märzens themselves. When you buy an Oktoberfest beer in America, more likely than not you are purchasing an interpretation of a Märzen. Think of the raw elements of a Spaten Oktoberfest here –– the most popular import and spirit animal of the movement. Ramped up malt and a weightier body, while *not* sacrificing anything in clean and crisp attributes of a lager are what American Märzen beers are all about. Follow this and you have you’re guide to the greatest seasonal beer in the world.
Below is a list of Connecticut Oktoberfest beers that are widely distributed throughout the state. I live in Old Saybrook and scoured five local liquor stores, across four towns, for this tasting. Not every brewery that might distribute to your local packy will distribute to mine, but the hope is that there is enough overlap for this post to be useful. NEBCO just won a Great American Beer Festival Award for their Märzen. Sadly, there ain’t any NEBCO Märzens distributed in my area. Hoaxtoberfest out of Beeracks also has a touted Oktoberfest too, but again I didn’t find any where I live.
Here is a list of the CT Oktoberfest beers I found –– Thimble Island, East Rock, Two Roads, Back East, Counterweight, Thomas Hooker, and Alvarium.
Below are the descriptions of each brew and below that I ranked each and placed them into tiers.
Thimble Island Oktoberfest –– At 7% ABV this was the booziest Märzen on the list. The beer poured light copper, with below average lace, and minimal head. There is a bite to this beer and you can taste the alcohol, especially at the heights of each sip. That said, the front of the taste is sweet caramel and a pleasant introduction. The finish is overly bitter for both my liking and for the style. At the end of the day though, this Märzen isn’t a total miss. The body is thin, especially for it’s ABV, and this lends to easy drinking. There are components I didn’t love here, but ultimately the base caramel, body, and hue make it a decent rendition.
East Rock Oktoberfest –– The New Haven brewery specializes in German beer and if you are a German inspired American brewery, you better fucking nail your Oktoberfest. For me East Rock has done this. The beer pours bright amber, but maintains clarity too –– identical to what you envision a Märzen to look like. A huge head accompanies this beer and is retained throughout the drink, as is abundant lace. Freshly baked bread explodes at the front, before malty bursts take over the back end. It has a slightly bitter finish, is super crisp, and has a light body too. This toes the line between traditional German interpretations and the malt forward American versions. Extremely well done.
Two Roads Ok2berfest –– Two Roads is the most distributed Oktoberfest in Connecticut and it is a solid rendition of a Märzen Lager. A light copper hue, with tinges of oranges, it’s body screams drinkability and the 5.8% ABV is a pleasant marker for that. This Märzen is dominated by bread. There are slight caramel notes, so it isn’t completely devoid of malt, but it is bread forward lager. Each sip is pretty uniform and singular too –– you aren’t getting waves of flavor in this one. The finish has limited bitterness and a sweetness that lingers. It’s unabrasive beer for session drinking. Nothing really stands out, but in a setting where you aren’t focusing on the nuances of the beer, it works just fine.
Back East Brewing Octoberfest –– Back East’s Octoberfest pours a medium brown. With sunlight, it was slightly translucent, without sunlight you could barely see through the glass. Hefty foam and lace held throughout the tasting. The beer was pretty straight-forward. I got more malt than bread, but neither of those flavors stood out. The Märzen’s appearance doesn’t necessarily look like a lager, but it’s best tasting components are of that style. Pretty clean throughout each sip and with a crisp ending, what it lacks in flavor it makes up for in the attributes that make lagers pop. Would be happy to drink it, but it left me wanting more comparatively to some of the other beers on this list.
Counterweight Festbier –– This is the only Connecticut Festbier on the list. In fact, it was the only festbier I could find in any of the liquor stores on the Shoreline. The lager poured a medium gold color, with average head, and minimal lace. Bread heavy and minimal malt, it just profiled much closer to a pale lager, save the alcohol which was 5.9%. Add in a thinner body and a crisp, yet bitter finish and it really was a hybrid of American Märzens and Lagerbiers. Loved the bread, could use a softer finish.
Thomas Hooker Oktoberfest –– The appearance of this beer screams brown ale, not Märzen. It looks appealing, but not necessarily a bang-on clone of what one would expect. Both the head retention and lace were average at best and the taste of the beer even less so. In many ways it’s all the extremes of an American Oktoberfest –– ramped up malt and viscosity –– but those excesses don’t really work in this one. The sweet of the malt hits in the middle of each sip –– maybe the best moment of the beer –– but the finish is overly bitter and it leaves an unpleasant tin taste in the aftermath. Further, the thick body makes this a suboptimal beer to guzzle. It’s a prerequisite in the style that is sacrilegious to break.
Alvarium Hedwig–– Easily the best name of the lot and probably my favorite interpretation too. The beer emitted a deep golden hue and maintained lovely lace and head throughout. The center of the lager walloped you with white bread, while subtle waves of malt sugar followed. The beer was absolutely spot-on to the sexy parts of the style. Slightly bitter and overly crisp, Alvarium nailed just about every component in this one.
Tier One –– 1. Alvarium Hedwig, 2. East Rock Oktoberfest
Tier Two –– 3. Counterweight Festbier
Tier Three –– 4. Two Roads Ok2berfest, 5. Back East Octoberfest
Tier Four –– 6. Thimble Island Oktoberfest
Tier Five –– 7. Thomas Hooker Oktoberfest
Shout out to Little House, East Rock, and Tox Brewing for their Oktoberfest Celebration this weekend 10/12/19. Prost!