This year we’re even later to get to the Oktoberfest beers, but here we go – we’ve the Kobushi-hana Marzen, Baird Fest Lager, and from overseas the Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest 2016 collaboration.
Kobushi-hana Marzen (こぶし花ビール・メルツェン)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 20
Pour – Red amber, initially foamy but dissipates quickly
Aroma – Sweet bread, some earthy hops
Flavor – Very malty initially, finish quite bready but also with a bit of the earthy hops coming through
Last year in our Oktoberfest review we mentioned that the Marzen is basically the same beer as the Oktoberfest, with the history of the Oktoberfest basically being that they were the leftover cellared Marzen beers that were brewed in March (since at that time they didn’t have refrigeration and couldn’t brew beer in the warmer summer months) and had not been consumed yet, but needed to be gotten rid of so they could use the casks for the new beers. We haven’t actually tried a Marzen as such yet, but as they are essentially the same style we’ll try the Kobushi-hana Marzen today.
We’ve reviewed a couple of Kobushi-hana beers before, with our favorite being their Grand Cru Belgian triple. They are a little inconsistent though, and given that their other German strong lager Maibock was rather poor we should probably temper our expectations. As for this particular Marzen, there isn’t much out there in terms of brewing notes, so the only thing I’ll mention here is that they brew it as a year-round beer despite it seasonal origin. They do also note the style origins and the Marzen/Oktoberfest relationship, for what it’s worth.
The Kobushi-hana Marzen is quite bready all the way through. It has a very full texture with the bread and malts, and as it warms up you get a bit more of the earthy hops and bitterness on the finish. Overall I’d say it’s a solid effort – it may not be the most complex beer out there, what with the malt/bread dominance, but I found it enjoyable, and it wasn’t entirely without hop contribution.
If you’re interested in checking it out, you may be able find it at Tanakaya (where I bought mine for only 432 yen) or at Liquors Hasegawa, which carries their beers frequently. In fact, they’ve just received a new shipment of Kobushi-hana beers right now (May 2017) as the Grand Cru was just released, so you may be able to find it there. They are somewhat rare though, especially on tap, so happy hunting!
Baird Fest Lager (ベアードビール・フェストラガー)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 24; hops – GR Magnum & Tradition, Hersbrucker
Pour – Deep orange amber, cloudy, not much foam but it stays
Aroma – A bit of caramel, good amount of bread
Flavor – Initially caramel, a tiny bit of spice, a sort of unpleasant sharp and past-date bitterness lingers, also very sweet
Instead of the usual damning with faint praise about Baird’s consistent decency and lack of pizzazz let’s just get straight to the beer.
The Baird Fest Lager has a fair amount of things happening in there, although by no means is this a great beer. First, the positives – it’s got a nice combination of caramel and cinnamon, so it starts out with some good flavors. However, the bitterness here is quite sharp and acerbic, and the sugary sweetness also becomes overwhelming pretty quickly. It lacks any kind of subtlety and sweetness and sharp bitterness are just too much. Unfortunately, we’ll have to classify this one as another one from Baird that’s better left on the shelf.
If you do want to be bold and give it a try, I bought mine at Liquors Hasegawa for 500 yen. While Liquors Hasegawa are often significantly more expensive for a lot of Japanese craft brewers, I find that their Baird prices are basically the same as other retailers. You’ll also see their seasonals at Tanakaya, Deguchiya, and sometimes Shinanoya so it’s worth checking those places as well.
Sierra Nevada x Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest
Package: 12 fl oz bottle
Misc: IBU – 30
Pour – Straw gold, lots of carbonation, relatively clear
Aroma – Very grassy, some sweetness
Flavor – As with aroma flavor is very grassy, dirty, a bit of sweet malts start to appear in the middle, finish is combination of sugar and some hop bitterness, bitterness lingers on finish
In 2015 Sierra Nevada began to try give the Oktoberfest a bit of a kickstart in the American craft beer world by collaborating with the very old German brewery Riegele, which traces its roots back to 1386. The resulting Oktoberfest 2015 was a hit a by all means, but the idea from the start was to actually collaborate with a different German brewer every year so that Sierra Nevada could keep exploring and experimenting with the style.
This year’s 2016 version is a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu, which compared to Riegele is a bit of a young upstart in the German brewing world, although Mahrs Bräu itself was founded in 1670. The Michel family has owned and operated the brewery since 1895, so even though that’s only about half of their history that’s still a couple of centuries of family ownership there. They are based in Bamberg in Bavaria, and make a big point of only using raw ingredients sourced from Bavaria. As for their beer, as a traditional German brewer they serve up the usual classics, such as a pilsner, weisse, helles, etc.
In terms of this particular Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest collaboration, the ingredient of note is probably the Record hop varietal. It isn’t actually an ancient German hop brought back to life, but rather a hop that originates from Belgium “sometime prior to 1970”. It was actually developed by breeding the Saaz hop (classic pilsner earthy hop) with the Northern Brewer hop, which is a hop that originates from England and is often described as woody. Northern Brewer apparently was one of the first hops used for hop breeding in the early 1900s, which led to it being the parent hop of quite a few hop varieties.
Anyway, back to the beer! The Sierra Nevada Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest is a fairly complex beer, with a lot of things going on. The overall impression is very grassy and sweet, but it also has pretty good bitterness compared to the other examples we tried today. It is definitely less bready and malty, although it does get sweeter as it warms up and is perhaps too much there on sweetness. The combination of floral plus bitter works very well, and the malts aren’t forgotten about either. The only improvement I would make on it would be to tone down the sweetness a bit, but overall this was pretty impressive.
So today’s winner? The Sierra Nevada is better balanced and ends up on top due with an enjoyably complex Oktoberfest, with just a minor deduction for the sweetness. The Kobushi-hana was definitely not as well-rounded, but I did enjoy it as well. Bringing up the rear is the Baird Fest Lager, which was really too harsh to recommend.
That wraps up this year’s Oktoberfest review, although Fujizakura Heights just released their Marzen recently, so perhaps we’ll see if we can get a hold of that one. Stay tuned!