Almost all the beer drinkers I know, from the casual fans to the brewers themselves, look forward to Sierra Nevada’s annual Oktoberfest release. For the past five years, the California- and North Carolina-based brewery has teamed up with a different German brewery each year to produce a collaboration Oktoberfest beer. The exact recipe changes annually, but the results have been reliably tasty with enough variation to keep lager nerds interested. This year is another enjoyable entry in the cannon, brewed in conjunction with Bitburger, one of Germany’s largest breweries.
Beers labeled Oktoberfest in the States can actually be one of a few traditional styles of beer: festbiers, märzens, even Vienna lagers. (More on that coming next week!) This year’s Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest is in the märzen style, a toasty, bready, smooth amber-colored beer that’s slightly stronger than a festbier, at 6% ABV.
But here’s the good news for the average beer drinker: You don’t have to pay attention to any of that backstory! This beer is enjoyable on its own merits, no brewing degree or Cicerone status required. It tastes like a quintessential fall beer, with substantial malts for chilly days but still a crisp finish that makes it refreshing. I may be partial to amber- and brown-hued beers, but I think it’s also just a gorgeous beer to look at.
The aroma teases the malt-focused flavors to come, weaving toast and brown bread crust alongside an almost rye-like spiciness. Maybe it’s the vaunted Bitburger house yeast strain used to brew this beer, but I also detect a faint green note akin to pear skin or green acorns. But I don’t dawdle too much on smelling this beer because I very much want to drink it.
On the tongue, malt dominates from the start. Honey-dipped white bread leads the charge, with darker pumpernickel toast and brioche bun flavors emerging as the sip continues. Some floral, lightly herbal hops flit into the picture just at the swallow, but the overall finish is on the cozy side of sweet. The texture is medium-bodied and smooth, not too chewy or too thin.
If you’ve never tried one of these collaboration Oktoberfests, this year’s is a crowd-pleasing way to start. And if you’ve been tracking these for a few years now, I definitely want to know how you think this year’s stacks up.
Where to get it
Sierra Nevada/Bitburger’s Oktoberfest is available on draft and in 12-ounce bottles through fall in all 50 states. Find it using SN’s beer locator tool.
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