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Brew notes: Octoberfest!

Notes from the tasting panel for Modern Brewery Age, by Peter V.K. Reid, editor of Modern Brewery Age; with Gregg Glaser, editor of Yankee Brew News, and Tom Conti and Robert Lachman of the YBN tasting panel. Joining us each week is a rotating cast of tasters, to include Dr. Steve Victor, formerly of Yale University; Connecticut state government economist Ernie Adamo; home brewer Phil Simpson; Northeast Beverage field sales director Greg Zannella; Maltose Express Homebrew Shop co-founder Tess Szamatulski; Former rocket scientist and future craft brewer Mark Szamatulski; Marty Juliano, Northeast rep for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; Renzo Kian-Kubota, artisanal beer buyer for Harry's of Fairfield, CT, and a variety of guest tasters, lately including newly-minted commercial brewer John Watson. Every month we sample 40-50 beers. We write up the the best examples of a given flight of beers; Our rating of "Five mugs" denotes "Excellent" and "Superb" with all panelists in agreement; Four mugs denotes "Very Good."

Sierra Nevada/Brauhaus Riegle Oktoberfest Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Chico, CA

Sierra Nevada is already one of the most Germanic of American breweries, a temple of immaculate stainless steel nestled under 30,000 solar panels, notable for its cult of quality control and dedication to brewery engineering. So it's logical that this brewery would excel at producing German-style lagers. Case in point is this season's Octoberfest collaboration with Brauhaus Riegle, a family-owned brewery in Augsburg, Germany. Sierra promises that it will collaborate with a different German brewery each year on the production of an Octoberfest beer, and after tasting this one, we certainly look forward to that. Sure, pumpkin beers may have surpassed the Octoberfests as the dominant fall seasonal in many markets, but these malty lagers still say autumn to the beer purist. The Sierra/Riegle collaboration is a rich, grainy take on the style, straight out of the old country, where they know malt richness can be achieved without overwhelming the palate with sweetness.

"Very pretty color in the glass," commented Gregg Glaser of Yankee Brew News. "It's a nice orangey rich shade. There is an inviting malt sweetness in the nose, a little toastiness, overall it's a very, very rich lagery aroma."

"This is good, well attenuated, with a lovely mouthfeel," said home brewer Gerry Nicholls. "Gorgeous! brings out the brightness, this tastes really, really fresh and alive."

"Toasty malt nose carries into the flavor," Gregg added. "Subtle roasted malts, sweet but not too sweet, I think it's very Germanic."

"Yes, they did it right," said homebrewer Tom Conti. "This is a good Octoberfest, not too sweet like a lot of the American versions."

"All about the malt," noted beer retailer Renzo Kian-Kubota. "Nice grain profile in this, and there are some hops hiding behind that cape of grain."

"The malts are well married to the hops, very smooth, this is a class act," commented homebrewer and engineer Andy Tipler.

"A great session Octoberfest, smooth and easy-drinking, and the alcohol is well hidden," said Renzo.

Upslope Octoberfest Beer Upslope Brewing Co. Boulder, CO

The Upslope Brewing Co. of Boulder, CO (founded in 2008) takes its company identity seriously. To get to the newest brewery outlet, you actually have to hike 2.3 miles "up slope" to a backcountry taproom at the High Lonesome Hut near Winter Park, CO.

Since potential drinkers may not be able to find this hut by their iPhones, the company provides a handy trail map on its website.

The beer is worth the hike. This Upslope O'fest beer was one of our favorite Octoberfests of the season.

Packaged in a tall 19.2-ounce can (the brewery packages only in cans for sustainability reasons, and because a can is easier to pack-in/pack-out of the backcountry) this is a delightful malty glassful, a seasonal lager that our tasters likened to a mash-up of the Octoberfest and Vienna styles.

"Gorgeous looking, this pours out so nicely," said homebrewer Gerry Nichols. "I like it, it's nice and grainy. I wouldn't necessarily call it an Octoberfest, but it's certainly a lovely sort of amber lager."

"Noble hop in nose," commented taster Ernie Adamo, "and the body is toasty, grainy and dry, with a finish that is dry and biscuity."

"Good aroma, the nose is toasty and roasty, but not too much," noted Gregg Glaser, editor of Yankee Brew News. "There is a good sweetness to it, and it's very soft on the palate."

"Good stuff," homebrewer Tom Conti agreed. "A pleasing little malt sweetness, and no sweet aftertaste, like a lot of these. It's dry for an Octoberfest, this is a good drinking beer."

"It reminds me of a Vienna, but not as sweet and rich," Gerry Nichols commented. "It's a gorgeous looking beer, with fine-beaded head, and good malty flavor, beautifully attenuated. I want to take this one home!"

"Darker than is typical for the style, I like that nice toasty malt palate," said expat-Briton and homebrewer Andy Tipler. "I think this is rather good."

"Smooth rounded flavor, a pleasing softness to the body, and a delicate sweetness in finish," noted attorney and guest taster Steve DeFrank.

"This is a well made beer," added Gregg Glaser, "this stands right up there with the best of them."

Samuel Adams Octoberfest Boston Beer Co. Boston, MA

You know fall is coming when you start to see Samuel Adams Octoberfest on the shelves, even though it's still mid-summer. This is almost always the first Octoberfest that we sample every year, so we often work it into the tasting rotation twice, once when it comes out in the dog days of summer, and now, when it is meant to be consumed. The panel reviews are almost always better the second time around, when the air is cooler, and our palates are ready to embrace this Bavarian-style malty treat.

"Darker than typical, a beautiful amber orange," said Gregg Glaser, editor of Yankee Brew News. "Good sweetness in nose, quickly moves into the toasty zone."

"Munich malt up front, a toasty grain nose, like toasted bread," said brewer John Watson.

"Sweeter, with a note of baker's chocolate," said Ernie Adamo. "Not as dry as the Germans, but pretty spot-on."

"This is a pretty big Octoberfest, on the heavier side, malty and sweet," commented homebrewer Tom Conti.

"I think it's really good, it has a little more toastiness than some," said Steve DeFrank. "Malty, but not too sweet. I like that Munich malt character."

"Slick and malty," said homebrewer Andy Tipler.

"A bright rich sweetness, more Munich malt than some, this is nice," Gregg added. "A sweetness there, but it dries out at the end. You get a good dryness at the finish, but with a touch of sweetness, there is a real art to that."

Staghorn Octoberfest New Glarus Brewing Co. New Glarus, WI

Even as ever more esoteric beers emerge from the New Glarus Wild Fruit Cave, more conventional styles remain the brewery's bread and butter, and brewmaster Dan Carey & Co. continue to execute these styles with a casual professionalism.

"Toasted malt and sweetness in the nose," observed Gregg Glaser of Yankee Brew News.

"A great malty aroma," commented taster Ernie Adamo. "American brewers usually have a hard time duplicating that great German lagery nose, but these guys do it."

"I like the simplicity and graininess," said Gerry Nichols, "and there is not too much Munich malt, which is nice."

"Biscuity, malty but not cloying, good caramel flavor, and a lovely light sweetness right to the end, although it finishes crisp and dry," said Ernie Adamo. "This is a quality version."

"Very light bodied, this is a summery sort of Octoberfest,' said beer retailer Renzo Kian-Kubota.

"Easy drinking, with a creamy mouthfeel," said Tom Conti. "Good malt, I would drink this."

"Delicious, with all that rich bready malt, and finishes with a crispness and brightness," said attorney and guest taster Steve DeFrank.

"I like it, maybe a bit light for the style, but it's got a nice finish," said homebrewer Andy Tipler.

Dogtoberfest Flying Dog Brewing Co. Frederick, MD

With 100% of its ingredients imported from Germany and 49 days in the fermentation tank, this is a tasty Octoberfest that hits all the right buttons, though brawnier than most.

"Sweetness in the nose, a lot of malt going on," said taster Ernie Adamo.

"Unusual yeast characteristic in the flavor, a fruitiness," noted Tom Conti.

"Sweet toasty nose and palate," said Gregg Glaser, "There is that little rounded fruity note in the middle, but I think it is brewed to style."

"Big!" said Gerry Nichols.

"Maltier than others, more robust," said Ernie Adamo. "This is an American-style example, a notch or two above the style."

"Some yeastiness, and some sweetness," said homebrewer Andy Tipler.

"A tad sweet for me," commented taster Steve DeFrank.

"This is a pretty big Octoberfest, a lot of stuff going on, but I could quaff it," Gregg Glaser said.

Samples for tasting to: Modern Brewery Age LLC, 44 Indian Valley Road, Weston, CT 06883, USA.

Summit Sticke Alt Summit Brewing Co. St. Paul, MN

Summit is a long-established craft brewer that marches to the beat of its own drummer, hewing to balance and tradition in a world gone mad with hops. Their latest limited edition beer, Sticke Alt, is as balanced and malty and traditional as one would hope. It is a beer of the rare Sticke Alt style, sometimes described as the double bock of the alt category. We enjoyed this beer on its merits--it's a beautifully-made Germanic-style brew that provides a perfect alternative to the ubiquitous Octoberfest.

"Munich malt up front, all sorts of Munich," said taster Ernie Adamo.

"A touch of licorice root in the nose, and in the flavor too," commented homebrewer Tom Conti. "It's a nice beer, leaves light dryness behind. A little nutty flavor in there too."

"They used a good roasted malt, there is a sweetness that balances the dryness," said Gregg Glaser. "Leaves a bitterness on the tongue."

"Grainy palate, this is an extremely successful beer," said Gerry Nichols. "Sweet but not cloying, this is slightly unusual, not like anything else."

"Excellent," said Andy Tipler. "I like the mouthfeel, it's chewy. Has just enough sweetness to balance it, it strikes a very subtle balance."

"Hoppy nose, good malt, a nutty sweetness in the flavor, and very clean and balanced," said Ernie.

"Nice rounded mouthfeel, delightful to drink," said Steve DeFrank.

"Very complex malt palate, with a roastiness, and a bitterness from the husk," commented Gregg Glaser.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Oct 30, 2015
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