Whether we are ready or not, it is officially Oktoberfest season. Dust off your steins, and – if you are really feeling spunky – your lederhosen, and get ready to pay homage to a tradition that traces its roots back to the early 1800s in Munich.
Maybe the most iconic (or at least most widely available) representation of the style is Boston Beer Co.’s Samuel Adams Octoberfest. Chairman and co-founder of Boston Beer Co. Jim Koch told October in July that he has the best job in beer in the world, and beers like Sam Adams Octoberfest are part of what vaulted him to the top.
Sam Adams' take on the German style uses the expected Munich and caramel malts combined with their own proprietary two-row and Octoberfest malts. The brewery pairs the hefty malt backbone with classic German Noble hops Tettnang and Hallertau, each contributing to a muted bitterness. At 5.4% alcohol by volume, the beer can easily be enjoyed by the liter without ruining the rest of October.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest is the first beer of the style I ever tasted. Though I remember the experience fondly, it is not a beer I often reach for this time of year – I simply have found other Oktoberfests or Marzens I enjoy more. But I was feeling a little nostalgic when I saw it on the aisle end cap, so I picked it up.
In the glass, Sam Adams' Octoberfest is crystal clear with a deep reddish amber color that looks like fall. Even after the head dissipates, the beer is still very active, full of tiny bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass. It looks like a crisp malty drinkable ale.
The floral aspect of the aroma presents more as a honeysuckle-like floral sweetness with accompanying sugary citrus.”
The aroma isn’t strong but follows the appearance. There is certainly a light malt smell with notes of bread and caramel, but it is the crispness that dominates the nose – likely from the Munich malt – and gives away that this beer will have German qualities. Spend time over the glass, and you'll also enjoy the floral and citrus aromas from the Noble hop additions.
The taste doesn’t really progress with any sort of beginning, middle, and end, though. It is more just one semi-complex flavor that peaks shortly after each sip and fades slowly with little lingering on the tongue. While the flavor is never extremely strong, it is a little too sweet – basically a heavy caramel taste backed by some roasty bread notes.
The hop profile somehow steers into this sweetness. The floral aspect of the aroma presents more as a honeysuckle-like floral sweetness with accompanying sugary citrus. The amount of flavor is never so overwhelming as to keep you from coming back for more immediately, but the sweetness does stay with you.
The crispness on the nose that's hinted at with the active bubbles does not fully present in the feel. It’s a medium to light bodied beer, but the carbonation gets lost in the malt more than I remember. If the beer didn’t look and smell so crisp, I may not miss the drying effect bitterness could bring quite so much. Or maybe if the sweetness wasn’t so prevalent, I would find the beer more crisp and dry.
Regardless, the balance is ever so slightly off. It is off in a way that prevents this beer from being the one I’d grab if I only wanted one Oktoberfest. The flavor just isn't big enough. Simultaneously, I’d find it hard to drink more than one or two because of the sweetness.
Maybe I liked sweeter beer back when Sam Adams was my idea of craft, but in my opinion, the beer could be better if it committed to being one or the other: more flavorful or more dry and crisp.