It’s September and in the beer world that means Oktoberfest beers start to appear in stores and bars. While it may seem strange that October beer would come out in September, bear in mind that the Munich Oktoberfest ends on the first Sunday of October. Most of it happens in September.
Any beer fan knows what Oktoberfest beers are. Amber-colored lagers with rich caramel/melanoidin malt, moderate bitterness to balance, and spicy European hop character. But was Oktoberfest beer always like this? Is the beer poured every year in the tents on the Theresienwiese the same amber lager that we in the US enjoy at this time of year?
Look at photos from the real Oktoberfest and the beer being served in liter mugs has a distinctly golden color, not amber. The “fest” beer served up by the millions of gallons during the sixteen day celebration is in fact a blond lager, not the amber märzen style beer that we all know. Beer writer Lew Bryson has written a nice article about this here.
This blond Oktoberfest beer is brewed to legal specifications regarding alcohol content and body. Some have said that the fest beers have always been blond. I find this difficult to believe, as the first Oktoberfest took place in 1810, but the brewers in Bohemia didn’t invent Pilsner, arguably the first golden-colored lager, until 1842. A better explanation is that sometime in the late 20th century the beer served at the annual festival was lightened to appeal to changing tastes.
Whatever the case, the authentic blond lager of Oktoberfest has never been available in this country. That is changing this year. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the fest, Paulaner is releasing a limited amount of Wiesn Blonde to the US. The “Wiesn” in this case refers to the Theresienwiese or “Theresa Medow” that has been the site of the Oktoberfest since the beginning. Wiesn Blonde will be available in certain markets in one-liter cans. I don’t know if Minnesota is one of those markets. But you will have the opportunity to try this unique beer on draft at all Old Chicago locations. The chain has secured exclusive rights to draft service for this beer (at least for a time) and will be launching it today (September 8th).
I was invited to the Roseville store for a tasting yesterday afternoon. This is a very nice beer. Think of it as a big version of a Munich Helles style lager. Not a huge imperialized helles, just a helles that is a couple of percentage points ABV bigger than normal with an accompanying boost in richness and body: not quite a maibock but bigger than a helles. It pours a light golden color with a moderate white head. The flavor showcases big, sweet, grainy malt with overtones of fresh bread. There are even some raisiny fruit notes in there. As befits a helles, it is moderately hopped, with spicy European hop flavors allowing the malt to shine. Alcohol makes its presence know, but in a subtle, sweet way. The whole thing ends with a bone-dry finish. Wiesn Blonde is a clean, smooth, easy-to-drink lager with a bit of a kick.
If you want to be among the first to try this beer, head to Old Chicago this evening. Celebration kick-off times may vary from location to location, so be sure to check before you go. At the Roseville location festivities start at 6:00. Along with the beer, World Beer Tour members can partake in a German buffet featuring brats, potato salad, and other typical fest-foods.
Wiesn Blonde is also included in an eight-beer Oktoberfest Mini-tour. Sample all eight beers and you walk away with a T-shirt for your trouble. The mini-tour selection is a grab-bag mix of some great beers and some not-so-great ones. The best of the bunch are Wiesn Blonde, Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen, Spaten Lager, and Franziskaner Hefeweizen. Be sure to do a side by side tasting of the three Oktoberfest beers included (Ayinger, Sam Adams, and Becks).