I was really glad when I heard that Spencer Brewing, the only Trappist brewery in the US, ditched their plan to brew only one beer style and started branching out. I really enjoyed their Holiday Ale and looked forward to trying some of their new releases. I was a hoping that they would focus on traditional abbey styles, there aren’t enough quality dubbels, tripels and quads brewed locally and I would like to see our local trappist brewery’s take on these beers. Unfortunately they went in a different direction, you can now find Spencer Imperial Stout, IPA and new this fall Festive Lager, their take on an Oktoberfest. I understand that any brewery has to make beers that will sell and that these styles are all popular, but I also believe that good beer will make it’s own market and well done versions of abbey ales would have a solid niche. Still, I feel the need to give these new beers a shot, and I’ve been on a marzen kick, so I grabbed some of the Festive Lager. Spencer Festive Lager is available on draft and in 12 oz bottles this fall.
Spencer Festive Lager pours a deep amber with a minimal white head. The scent is mild, mostly caramel malts. The flavor is malt forward, notes of toffee, roasted nuts and bread dough. This is balanced by noticeable hops, hints of herbs, grass and spice along with a little bitter bite. Festive Lager has a medium body and drinks smooth, but packs some punch at 7.5% ABV. It has the clean finish you expect from a lager with a touch of lingering malt sweetness. While I still wish that the brewery had taken a slightly different direction, this is a solid beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Spencer Reviews:
Spencer Holiday Ale, Spencer Trappist Ale
Now that we are fully into the fall I’ve finally turned over my beer fridge, the lighter summer beers are mostly gone and the fridge is stocked with darker, heavier and maltier offerings. Marzen/Oktoberfest beers aren’t the kind of beers I want to drink year round, but it’s nice to go on a run of malt forward offerings every fall and give my palate a break from hop-bombs I tend towards. Traditional marzens are lager beers, fermented for longer times at lower temperatures resulting in a smooth and clean flavor. This can be a limitation for small breweries, many don’t have the proper equipment to lager their beer or can’t afford to tie up a fermenter for the required amount of time. Castle Island found a creative way around this limitation, designing an malt forward ale that closely resembles the Oktoberfest lagers many older breweries are releasing this fall. Castle Island Festbier is available not on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.
Castle Island Festbier pours deep orange with a small white head. The scent is mild, just a little malt and a hint of old world hops. The first thing you notice when you taste the beer is that it’s on the light side for an Oktoberfest, I usually expect my fest biers to have a pretty full body. At 4.6% ABV it’s also lower in alcohol than most, a session beer by many definitions. Festbier still packs full malt flavor, notes of caramel, biscuits and honey. This is complemented by noticeable hop flavor, earthy and grassy with a crisp finish. The beer is brewed with ale yeast but you wouldn’t know it, it has the crisp and clean flavor you’d expect from a lager. Castle Island Festbier is different from any other Oktoberfest I’ve tried, but that isn’t a bad thing, it’s a well made and flavorful beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Previous Castle Island Reviews:
Castle Island Keeper IPA
We are into October and I am finally (almost) finished with the backlog of beer reviews that had piled up over some late summer travels. This means I can focus some of my effort on fall beers. As many long-time readers know I am not a fan of pumpkin beers, not an attack on the style just not my preference, but I love a number of other more malt-forward offerings that are perfect for the crisp fall weather. One of the beers that I was excited to finally review was Berkshire Brewing’s Oktoberfest, a traditional take on the German marzen style of lager. I have seen a number of fellow beer geeks rave about this beer on social media, which is usually one of the best places to get suggestions for beers I need to review on Hoppy Boston. As always, if there is a beer you think I need to review feel free to send a message on Twitter or Facebook, and now you can tag @HoppyBoston on Instagram! Berkshire Brewing Oktoberfest is available on draft and in 22 oz. bombers in the late summer and early fall after months of aging.
Berkshire Brewing Oktoberfest pours a clear bright copper with a small white head. The scent is richly malty. The taste is also malt forward, notes of caramel, bread dough, roasted nuts and honey along with enough sweetness to notice without becoming cloying. This is balanced by a little hop flavor, touches of grass and herbs, along with a hint of bitter bite at the finish. BBC Oktoberfest is medium bodied and very smooth, but packs some serious punch at 7.5% ABV. It has the clean finish you expect from a lager with just a touch of lingering malty flavor. This is a really good beer, tons of flavor and super drinkable, one of the best marzens I’ve tasted. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous BBC Reviews:
BBC Slue’s Maibock, BBC Steel Rail, BBC Brewer’s Choice Blonde IPA, BBC Coffeehouse Porter
I can’t believe October is almost over. I really can’t believe it is late October and I’ve yet to review an Oktoberfest beer. One of the most popular fall seasonal beers is the marzen, the malty lager that is one of the traditional beers of the German Oktoberfest celebration. Marzen beers used to be a fall staple for small brewers, I was introduced to the concept of seasonal releases by Sam Adams take on the style. The combined popularity of hop bombs and pumpkin beers has slowed the growth of the marzen style. Another issue that American brewers have run into is authenticity, too many American marzens are overly sweet. Sierra Nevada clearly wanted to make their Oktoberfest as authentic as possible, so they decided to brew a marzen as a collaboration with a different brewery in Germany each fall. The first beer in this series was brewed with Brauhaus Riegele in Augsburg and released this fall. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest 2015 is available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles this fall, the beer will be a completely new recipe with a different German brewery next year!
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest 2015 pours a clear deep orange with a minimal white head. The scent features a solid hit of caramelized malted barley. The beer is clearly malt forward, but not overkill, notes of caramel, fresh baked bread and honey. This is balanced by some mild noble hops, grassy and earthy with some crisp bite in the finish. The beer is medium bodied with a clean lager profile, but packs a little punch at 6% ABV. While many American takes of the marzen/Oktoberfest style are so malt forward that they approach cloying, Sierra Nevada manages to achieve full malt flavor while maintaining balance and drinkability. This is one of the best versions of the marzen style I’ve tried, definitely worth checking out. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Sierra Nevada Reviews:
Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter, Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Hoppy Lager, Sierra Nevada Snow Pack, Sierra Nevada Celebration
Outside of the now ever-present pumpkin beers, there are a couple other trends that seem to predominate craft beer fall releases. An always popular fall style is the malty German marzen/Octoberfest style lagers. A newer trend is wet hopped beers, brewing with the freshest possible hops right after the fall harvest. I guess it should come as no surprise that at least one brewer is adding these two trends into the same beer. Peak Organic Brewing Company’s fall seasonal release is Hop Harvest, an Octoberfest style lager with generous additions of freshly harvested hops. Normally the marzen style is very malt-forward, but some American brewers have complemented the clean drinking malty lager with large doses of hops. While it isn’t the most traditional way to brew the style, it helps fit US craft beer drinkers love of big hop flavors in their beers. Hop Harvest is available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles during the fall season.
Peak Organic Hop Harvest pours a hazy copper orange with a solid off-white head. The smell is mostly hops, bright floral and grassy scents. The hops lead off the flavor too with notes of pine, grapefruit, orange and lemon. This fresh hop flavor is balanced by a solid malt body, touches of whole grain bread and caramel with just a hint of malty sweetness. I was actually pretty surprised that this was a lager, but I think it is the extensive hop additions and kick of bitterness that mask some of the easy drinkability that you expect from lagered beer. At 4.9% ABV it falls towards the light side, great if you want more than one or two. The finish is pretty clean along with a solid, but not tongue numbing, bitter kick. Overall this is a very worthwhile selection if you want a fall seasonal beer that leans towards hoppy. The malt backbone gives it enough body to stand up to hearty food and cold weather, but the fresh hops really shine through here. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Peak Organic Reviews:
Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner, Peak Organic Simcoe Spring, Peak Organic Hop Noir
I started reading beer blogs as a way to pick up suggestions of tasty new beers to try. When I decided to write this blog I hoped it would be a great way to get more recommendations, and my readers have complied! I love it when I get a tweet, comment or facebook message either endorsing a beer or asking if I’ve tried a new release and hoping for my thoughts. This fall I asked my readers for help identifying some good malty lagers, and I got some impassioned responses. One was from Deadspin beer writer Will Gordon, who heaped praise on Firestone Walker’s fall seasonal, Oaktoberfest. Will later called this the best beer of fall, his full review can be found HERE. Deadspin now has a regular feature called Drunkspin with beer/booze reviews, it is definitely worth following. Oaktoberfest is Firestone Walker’s take on the German marzen style. Despite the name the beer isn’t aged with oak, instead it is a tribute to the brewery’s hometown of Paso Robles, Spanish for “Pass of the Oaks”. Oaktoberfest is available in the fall on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest pours a clear copper with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of earthy hops and some semi-sweet malt. I was surprised by the flavor of the first sip, I expected the full bodied malt flavor typical to the marzen style and instead got a solid kick of hops. For an American craft beer drinker with an IPA-every-day palate this isn’t a hoppy beer, but you get some solid notes of grass, pine and lemon. The malts are also present, crackers, grain and a little toffee, but subdued for the style. The beer is crisp and drinkable at 5.0% ABV, followed by a clean finish . Overall I enjoyed Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest, although it was very different from what I expected from a traditional marzen. When I drink a beer in the Octoberfest style I am usually looking for a drinkable malt-forward lager. That being said, this is a good beer for hop heads looking to start to branch out from IPAs. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Firestone Walker Reviews:
Firestone Walker Opal Saison, Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
I went into Fall hoping to focus my blog posts on reviews of malt-forward lagers. I felt that the combination of full bodied malt flavor with the clean drinkability imparted by the lager yeast was a perfect complement for the crisp seasonal weather (especially for those who prefer their Fall beers gourd and pie-spice free). I started to research beers to try and reached out to the Hoppy Boston community for suggestions. All this work led me to the realization that very few local craft brewers make lagers. I understand why. Lagers take more time to ferment and condition and need lower temperatures, so there is a longer turnaround between when you brew and when you can sell the beer. You also need a lot of space to store multiple batches as they condition. Many breweries aren’t set up for lager production, and it’s a big investment to start producing lager beers. All of these factors help reinforce how impressive Jack’s Abby’s mission to brew only lager is. Since most local breweries eschew lagers all together, Jack’s Abby has a huge market-share for these styles. It isn’t surprising that one of Jack’s Abby’s Fall seasonal releases is a traditional German style Octoberfest lager, called Copper Legend. Copper Legend was named for the plumber who helped set up the Jack’s Abby Brewery. They apparently had some very specific ideas on piping and drainage and he was able to make their dreams a reality, earning legendary status and a beer in his honor. Copper Legend is sold on draft and in 12 oz. bottles during the Fall season.
Jack’s Abby Copper Legend pours a clear copper-orange with a minimal off-white head. The smell is very mild with some roasted malt and a little sweetness. The flavor is what you expect from a marzen, lots of malty goodness with notes of toffee, whole grain toast and a little sweetness without being cloying. There is minimal hop flavor and just enough bitterness to keep the beer from swinging too sweet. Copper Legend is medium bodied and very easy to drink. At 5.7% ABV it is pretty typical for the style. The finish has the clean profile you expect from a well made lager, it doesn’t display any of the estery aftertastes you get from some ale yeasts. It is no surprise that Jack’s Abby makes one of the better Octoberfest beers that I have tried as they are truly the masters of lager beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5
Previous Jack’s Abby reviews:
Jack’s Abby Session Rye IPL, Jack’s Abby Mass Rising, Jack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil Brew, Jack’s Abby Wet Hop Lager, Jack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner