OK, let’s parse this out. Oktoberfest beers are named for the big celebration first thrown in Munich in 1810 for the wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Despite the name, the festival that has become the world’s largest beer party takes place the last two weeks of September and the first week of October.
But here in America, the beers that have adopted this widely recognized name (amber lagers, usually märzen, festbiers or Vienna lagers) usually come out in August or earlier. That owes to modern brewery schedules, typically broken up into quarters. And good luck selling a beer with a name or packaging referencing a season or holiday – spring, summer, Christmas, you name it – after that period has passed. While drinkers think of the appearance of a certain beer, brewers think of “seasons” from the endpoint and work backward.
Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery released its Oktoberfest and two popular pumpkin beers locally on Aug. 1 so they sell through by November. “If you put a jack o’ lantern on a label and try to sell that beer Nov. 1, people are like, ‘Oh, that’s old,’” says brand manager Michael Stodola. “It just dies.”
Malty but balanced, Oktoberfests are the best-selling seasonal for most U.S. breweries that make one, including Lakefront. Stodola has heard calls for June or even year-round Oktoberfests, but he says the here-and-gone nature of all seasonals is a powerful motivating factor for buyers.
Good news for fans of the style: Lake- front’s planning a märzen as part of its rotating My Turn series with a release date of Oct. 1. That should keep you in märzen – March in German – through December.
Rich caramel and toasted white bread; sweet up front, but it cleans up nicely until a little lingering caramel note on the finish.
A nuanced take on the lighter (in color and body) festbier style; a gentle kiss of caramel, spicy hop aroma, softly sweet finish.
A little on the sweet side at first, but spicy noble hops rise on the palate after a few sips. Great with pizza.
It’s a classic and crushable take on American märzen: malt-forward with a gently bready, lightly caramel character.
Is this the king of Wisconsin Oktoberfests? It might be, and the secret might be its use of decoction mashing to impart exceptional malt character without getting heavy.
Banishing the Booze
LAKEFRONT HAS A HIT on its hands with a nonalcoholic version of its revered Riverwest Stein amber lager. The beer, made at the high-tech Octopi Brewing in Waunakee, is an exact clone of regular Stein, run through a device that removes the alcohol. The beer is a darn close approximation of the fully charged version, though alcohol does have a taste and weight that’s missing here. Lakefront is planning to dial in future batches of Riverwest Stein NA to get as close as possible to the original – minus, of course, the alcohol.