Once again, the sun has come and gone enough times to finally bring back my favorite season of the year. As the orange and yellow leaves began to fill trash bags across the state, the savory scent of roasted green chile grows just a whiff fainter with each visit to the grocer, and the spooky decorations that have adorned store shelves since July now unabashedly festoon bars and businesses everywhere you go, I know that Oktoberfest season is upon us at last.
I love the season in its entirety — Fall, Halloween, Oktober, I mean, October. From the arrival of hoodie weather to the final crescendo of candy-over-indulgence on All Hallows Eve. From digging out the, now, too-tight fitting lederhosen, to rinsing sticky stale beer out of your pewter stein. I love it all. Yes, from around mid-September to mid-to-late October it’s Märzen madness in my head. During this most-wonderful time of the year, most of our taste buds undergo a special transmogrification, and we as beer-folk transition from porch-beer-swilling-day-drinkers to furrier-cave-dwelling-stout-pounders, even though, for some of us, it’s always Stout-season. (I have no idea who you are talking about. *looks in mirror* Oh. — S)
From this natural occurrence, the seasonal of all seasonals (in my opinion) emerges, as necessary as the change in the seasons itself. And, soon a quest is offered up to all adventurers of the craft beer community by many local taverns and purveyors, that is, the quest for the best of the festbiers — to seek out as many locally-lagered, amber-hued beers brewed with traditional German hop bills and complex malt profiles as we can find and drink them down like it’s late September in Munich.
Every year my friends and family know it’s Oktoberfest season because, well, when it comes to the Märzen, I get as pontificate-y as Linus in a pumpkin patch. This year, however, I didn’t again want to give my opinions on what I believe makes the classic Märzen style. So instead, I reached out to several folks in the Santa Fe brewing industry about what, to them, made the classic style, and how they made theirs this time around.
Paul Mallory, head brewer, Blue Corn Brewery
“I like to change my Oktoberfest lager recipe each year,” Mallory said. “There is quite a range in style and that’s what makes it fun. For the last few years, I’ve been brewing mine to be lighter in color and easy drinking. I often use German malts and yeast and brew it as traditionally as possible.
“This year I changed it up. I brewed mine for my friends’ wedding, which I thought was appropriate since the first Oktoberfest was to celebrate a wedding. My friends and I collaborated on the recipe and we thought it’d be great to not be so traditional. We brewed with malt from Southern Colorado. And, since it was for a wedding, I wanted to make it very easy drinking and light in color. I wanted even the non-beer drinkers to be able to enjoy it.
“As for the true Märzen or Oktoberfest style, I look for a beer to be very drinkable. I don’t want too much caramel flavor or sweetness. I want it clean, not too bitter, and not too high in alcohol. When made correctly, it is one of my favorite styles to drink.”
Andy Lane, head brewer, Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery
“To me, a classic Märzen is a lager that is defined by its malt character and its ability to make any occasion festive,” Lane said. “Our Festbier is golden in color, with a hint of orange, and is characterized by the Vienna malt that lends it its rich malty character. At 6-percent ABV, it is easily sessionable, and it pairs wonderfully with pretzels and sausage!”
Allen Withrow, former brewer at Red River Brewing Company, now beer-buyer at Susan’s Fine Wine & Spirits
“What makes a classic Märzen to me is the carmel and the almost french-toast-like quality to the malt, but with the clean crispness of a lager, (and) then with well-balanced hops to make for a perfectly festive beer. It is a perfect way to settle into fall and prepare for more malty beers.”
Rod Tweet, president/brewmaster, Second Street Brewery
I asked Tweet what makes the style special to him. He replied, “Just always a nice part of the season, and so much of most people’s portfolio these days is focused on hop-forward beers, I always enjoy being able to focus on the profile of the (Oktoberfest) style.”
With Tweet being quite a brewing veteran in New Mexico, I also asked him how he has approached the style over the years.
“We used to do them a bit heavier, but this year we did one with an ABV of about 5.4 percent. Really nice malt flavors and a little more drinkable.”
This year Second Street made their festbier called OktoberForest with Proximity Pils, Vienna, and Munich malts out of Colorado. They made 40 barrels this year and packaged half of it as part of an awareness campaign for the Nature Conservancy, which Stoutmeister covered in his story.
“Turned out really nice!” Tweet added.
Brian Shaeffer, brewmaster, Santa Fe Brewing Company
“To me (Oktoberfest) is malt forward, medium body, with a slight crisp finish. Aroma and flavor are caramel and nutty from a healthy amount of Munich malt.”
I asked Brian how they made Santa Fe Brewing’s Oktoberfest (a favorite of mine), what they were going for, and what tweaks, if any, they made to the recipe this year.
“SFBC Oktoberfest is derived from a 50-percent Munich malt grist bill. It gives it a light brown color and a malty-nutty, bread, biscuit, caramel flavor profile. There are enough German Hallertau and Tettnanger hops to give it a slight crisp finish, but not too many to overwhelm the malt. The only change we made to Oktoberfest this year was to make more of it.”
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Even though we’re reaching the mid-end of the season, there’s still plenty of Oktoberfesting to be had up here in Northern New Mexico.
- Red River Oktoberfest, Friday through Sunday: If you do get up to Red River, make sure to try brewer Chris Calhoun’s Oktoberfest, Tucker Brau!
- Second Street Oktoberfest, Sat-Sun, all-day
- Hoptoberfest at Beer Creek Brewing Company, Saturday, October 19, 2 p.m.
- Autumn Beer Dinner, Blue Corn Brewery, October 24, 6:30 p.m.
- Santa Fe Brewing Company’s Annual Oktoberfiesta, Saturday, October 26, noon
And, as of the publishing of this article on Tuesday, October 8, there’s also plenty of Oktoberfest beer to find in stores and at the taprooms.
Paul Mallory said his Oktoberfest will be on tap at Blue Corn for a few more weeks. Mariah Scee, creative director and lead can designer at Second Street, assured me that there’s still plenty of OktoberForest in cans, and it will be back on tap soon at all Second Street locations. Andy Lane said his Oktoberfest is still in good supply at both the Agua Fria and Bisbee Court locations of Tumbleroot. And, as far as Oktoberfest from SFBC, well, they’ll tell you when you’ve had enough.
Also, below are just a few of the Oktoberfest beers in bottles and cans that Withrow said he has stacked on the shelf at Susan’s Fine Wine & Spirits:
- Second Street OktoberForest
- Weihenstephaner Festbier
- Left Hand Oktoberfest
- Rahr & Sons Oktoberfest
- Santa Fe Brewing Oktoberfest
Now if my article has made you as thirsty for Oktoberfest as it has me, go get you some now! Oans, zwoa, drei, g’suffa! To a fantastic Fall, filled with hoodies, spooky things, and fresh green chile dishes! And to much festing with friends!
For more @nmdarksidebc info and #CraftBeer news, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro. Untappd: SantaFeLuke.