One of the most influential breweries in the U.S. isn’t afraid of bending the knee to its forefathers. Sierra Nevada, which made a hoppy pale ale that served as many people’s first dive into American craft beer, went to the source in creating its fall seasonal.
This is the third year the brewery has collaborated with a German company for its Oktberfest fall seasonal. The first was in 2015 with Brauhaus Riegele, followed by 2016’s collaboration with Mahrs Brau. This year, the California brewery hooked up with Brauhaus Faust-Miltenberger. Sierra Nevada owner Ken Grossman has long been influenced by traditional German brewing techniques, said Robin Gregory, a content manager at Sierra Nevada. The brewery’s first proper system was a 100-barrel, copper brewhouse from a defunct brewery in Germany, which they still use today.
Since they've been long combining those German roots and American ingenuity, it’s no surprise Grossman chose to work hand-in-hand with a standard bearer instead of simply creating a tip of the cap to a brewery he’s admired. Gregory said Grossman selects the partner brewery himself and generally tries to find one that’s family owned, has a long brewing history, and is known for quality and innovation.
“When we decided to go all in, our goal was to brew the most authentic Oktoberfest available stateside,” Gregory said. “To do so, we thought it would be fitting to collaborate with German partners and to keep the beer closer to the German style than the American interpretation.”
So, what stands out about this incarnation? Nothing in particular, and that’s not a negative.”
The American interpretive mindset Sierra Nevada is known for shined through in last year’s Oktoberfest anyway. I grabbed a single bottle of last year’s collaboration while in South Carolina at a wedding and was surprised by its yellow pour and hints of citrus. It paired well with the warm, southern air and might have felt out of place in a colder environment compared to the standard, more caramelly Oktoberfest.
This year’s version falls more in line with the sweeter Märzen in appearance and taste. It has a smooth, creamy slightly caramel malt on the back end. It’s mildly sweet, but not bitter, riding that middle road of caramel malt with a slight hoppiness you'd expect from Sierra Nevada, but ultimately leaning toward malty. As it warms, the Steffi, Pilsner and Munich malts really shine; this a great example of a beer improved by optimal temperatures.
So, what stands out about this incarnation? Nothing in particular, and that’s not a negative. Call it a curse of the style, which doesn’t lend itself to a wide variety of interpretations. This is a straightforward example of a standard German Märzen/Oktoberfest, straight from Europe, with an assist from one of a relatiable America brewery.