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Spaten Octoberfest vs. Surly Fest – 2016 

October 29, 2016

In my youth I got turned on to German beer. A friend of mine figured out that if he confidently walked into a liquor store and bought a six-pack of imported beer he would not get carded. Pretty brilliant and it corrupted my pallet in anticipation of the craft beer craze we now enjoy.

Over the last few years I have imbibed in higher and higher IBU beers. Occasionally distracted by sours and barrel finished stouts. The richer the flavor the better.

But every once in a awhile I am reminded of the virtues of a “regular” beer. Nothing tastes better than a PBR at a nut-to-butt show at First Avenue. The Summit West London Ale I had at the recent Wilco show tasted amazing. And then there are Oktoberfest beers.

Oktoberfest beers are generally Märzen beers (which are Bavarian malty lagers). After all the hops it is a delight to have a malty beer for a change. Malty beers trigger good memories from my youth when I was malt vs. shake guy. That must have some impact on why a malty beer tastes so good to me.

October is almost over and I have tried a few Oktoberfest beers this season. Two stuck out: Spaten and Surly.

This year I picked up a case of Spaten Octoberfest and was reminded of how much I like a good malty German beer. Spaten brewery claims a brewing heritage that goes back to 1397 and claims this is the first Oktoberfest beer first served at the Munich festival in the mid 1860s. Beer experts advocate it is a benchmark for the Ockoberfest style. It has a gorgeous amber-caramel color. Malt flavor dominates with only a slight taste of hops in the aftertaste.  It is a great beer  for this time of the year. It tastes like fall. My grade is this good beer (my scale is simple: shitty, OK, good, great and the highest grade – crave).

Craft brewers are naturally drawn to try their hand at Oktoberfest style beers. In general I take a pass – why bother when you can easily have the real thing. As a Minnesotan I can’t help but support the king of the local craft beer scene (Surly) and I am always willing to try their seasonal offerings. So when I saw Surly Fest at Costco I could not help but give it a whirl.

This is not a simple Märzen. There is a lot going on here. The Märzen is just a foundation. Surly has made it a bit of a rye. And just enough hops to accent the Märzen and not overwhelm it.  My test of a better beer is how does it taste as it warms. A shitty beer will taste worse. A better beer will taste not necessarily better but different in a good way. A great beer has several flavors as it warms each step revealing new delights. You don’t want to drink it warm, you want to drink it while it warms.  Fest positively transforms itself as it warms. The grade for fest is that it is a crave beer.

See you next year Oktoberfest.

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