We’re a bit late to the party as it’s already November now, but this time out we’re looking at some Oktoberfest beers. Today we’ll try the Minamishinshu Oktoberfest, the Baeren Fest Bier, and the Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier.
Minamishinshu Oktoberfest (南信州ビール・オクトーバーフェスト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Nice dark amber, not much carbonation
Aroma – Slightly dirty malts, also a spice and plum aroma
Flavor – Initially caramel, then sugar malts, then a bit of a bland spot, then a slightly spicy finish
As a casual observer of Germany and its traditions, I don’t actually know a whole about Oktoberfest. I do know that it involves lots of beer, and the most vivid image that my mind conjures up is that of Bayern Munich players wearing lederhosen every year posing for photos holding giant steins of beer.
So since we’re going to be tasting some Oktoberfest beers, let’s learn a little bit more about the occasion. First of all, it’s a large folk festival held annually in Munich in the fall beginning in mid-September, and is scheduled so that it basically ends at the beginning of October. It lasts for 16 to 18 days depending on the vagaries of the calendar that year – this year’s festival was from September 19 to October 4.
The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of the Crown Prince Ludwig (who would become King Ludwig I of Bavaria) to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (a quick scan of Ludwig I’s Wikipedia page doesn’t indicate any earth-shattering events during his reign, although interestingly given that he gave birth to Oktoberfest he caused a minor uprising called the Beer Riots in 1844 when he decreed a tax on beer, and then had to back down a lower the price of beer). There wasn’t any beer at the first Oktoberfest, but there were horse races, and they proved popular – the festival stuck when they decided to have the horse races again the next year in 1811. They started adding more and more fun stuff like bowling, swings, an agricultural show, tree climbing (???), and, of course beer. Naturally the beer stuck, and this is what Oktoberfest is mostly known for today.
At the Oktoberfest in Munich, only 6 breweries are allowed to carry the Oktoberfest Beer designation and sell beer there (including Paulaner, which we’ll look at today). Stylistically, they are actually basically Marzen beers that were brewed in spring and then cellared for the summer months. It’s actually a pretty interesting history – in the old days before they really understood the science behind brewing, they didn’t know why beer brewed in the summer was sour and unpleasant, but did know that they could brew beer between October and March that tasted like what they expected it to taste like. So what they did was brew a slightly stronger beer at the end of winter, which is now known as Marzen, and then store that in cool environments so that they could drink it over the summer.
Of course in October they needed to empty out the casks so that they could start using them for the new beer now that they could brew again, so whatever surplus of Marzen they had come October they just drank it all at Oktoberfest. Fun and efficient! These days, naturally, with improvements in brewing there is no need to stop brewing in March and cellar all that beer, so inventory costs being what they are modern brewers brew their Oktoberfest beers much closer to their sale date, and are only generally lagered for six to eight weeks.
So basically being Marzen beers (and RateBeer lumps them in one category as well), they will usually be slightly stronger than a regular lager at 5% to 6% ABV, and also be more amber rather than gold. Flavors will be more malty than hoppy, and you’ll find some sweetness as well. For reference, here is the BJCP style guide.
The first example we’ll be trying today is the Minamishinshu Oktoberfest. This is our first Minamishinshu review, so a quick word about them – based in Nagano, they aren’t necessarily wedded to a particular brewing tradition but do produce a few German-style beers, including this one.
So on to the beer! The Minamishinshu Oktoberfest is an interesting mix of flavors, but I think also a bit bland. The caramel and malt notes are definitely there, but there’s also a bit of spiciness to go with the sweetness. However, there is a wateriness to it that appears right in the middle of the flavor profile and kind of continues after that, which ultimately makes it kind of a less-than-exciting drinking experience. It has the elements of what might be a very good beer (especially the slight plum in the aroma – that’s quite interesting in this context), but definitely room for improvement.
One interesting brewing note here – as mentioned above Oktoberfest beers are normally lagers, but the Minamishinshu is brewed as an ale, which might account for the increased sweet and spicy flavors in this beer. Let’s move on the Baeren and see how it differs.
Baeren Fest Bier (ベアレン・フェストビール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Lots of foam, amber-orange in color
Aroma – Dirt, yeast, malts, earth
Flavor – Caramel at first, some spices in there, quite bready and malty, but a good balance
We’ve done a couple of Baeren reviews before, and they’re one of the better (probably second right behind Fujizakura Heights) German-style brewers here in Japan. The Fest Bier is one of their fall seasonals, along with a bitter and an apple lager. In addition to releasing a beer for Oktoberfest, they also hold an Oktoberfest event every year at the brewery, and with some special Baeren beers that are not normally available, which this year included a cellared version of their Classic Dortmunder and special versions of their Alt and Fest Bier.
Unfortunately they only bottle the regular Fest Bier, so let’s see what it tastes like. The Baeren Fest Bier is a well-balanced one – while the caramel malts are the most noticeable features, it also has a nice breadiness to it. It also has a fair amount of spiciness, especially on the finish. I think the lack of emphasis on any one particular characteristic serves this beer well, and while it could be made a bit better I think with a tad more hops, overall I enjoyed this one.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier
Package: 500mL bottle
Pour – Very gold in color, nice amount of carbonation – not too little, not too much
Aroma – Earthy, malts are there but also earthy hops
Flavor – Fairly mild, slightly sweet touch to it, clean and crisp, grassy hop finish which means slight bitterness
As mentioned above, Paulaner is one of six breweries allowed to provide beer for the Oktoberfest in Munich. As with many of the old European breweries, this one was also started by monks, and their founding in Munich dates back to 1634. However, they’re owned now by a joint venture called Brau Holding International, which is run by a large conglomerate called Schörghuber and Heineken. So as a large corporate giant, it’s fitting that they are a sponsor of Bayern Munich, and even sponsor the Paulaner Cup, which while it doesn’t quite have the same glamour as the Champions League does feature amateurs pitted against perhaps the strongest club in the world.
The Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier is a very crisp beer – the lightness of look and feel to it belies it’s 6% ABV. Although I may use the word light, I don’t mean it in a pejorative sense – it’s very crisp, and while highly drinkable (you can see how this would be an Oktoberfest favorite, where it seems high-volume drinking is not only the norm but demanded of every visitor). While it does have a hint of sweetness, it’s fairly restrained in terms of caramel malt flavor and makes more of an impression with it’s earthy hops. That’s not to say the malts aren’t there, but the grassy and earthy aspects of the beer definitely dominate.
It’s an interesting divide here between the Japanese versions and the Paulaner – the Paulaner focuses on the hops more and reads more like a slightly bitter/hoppy lager, whereas both the Minamishinshu and the Baeren are very malt-forward. The Paulaner also was significantly lighter in color. The verdict? I liked the Baeren overall for its balance and variety of flavors, although I did also enjoy the hoppy aspect of the Paulaner. The Minamishinshu was not a bad effort as well and I would certainly drink it again, but it could also be better.
Oktoberfest season is over so we’ll have to wait until next year to review some more of these!