Oktoberfest, Paoli-Style

Fall is an exciting time for the epicure. Though the end of the grilling season is nigh, our ovens fire once again, slowly welcoming savory fall foods that will grace our holiday tables. And then there’s the beer. Oh, the beer! Light, watery summer ales and wheats become harder and harder to find, and fuller, more flavorful harvest-style beers enter the picture. For the beer lover, it’s simply the best time of the year.

Last year we took a look at some of the best pumpkin beers around. This year, we’re talking Märzen, the Bavarian-style beer of Oktoberfest. Before refrigeration, high temperatures made it impossible to brew beer in the summer months, so brewers crafted Märzen in March and stored it in caves and cellars all summer long. In order to ensure that the beer would keep, Märzen was brewed at a higher gravity (i.e. with more sugar), creating a beer that’s a bit sweeter and slightly higher in alcohol (5-6%) than a typical lager. The result is a medium-to-full bodied, copper beer that’s malt-forward and very smooth.

I recently sat down with Jeff from TJs in Paoli, who is offering an insane selection Märzens over the next month or so — as of today, they have NINE Märzens on draft, with more to come. In addition, there’s a great balance between traditional German brewers and American innovators.

We sampled each of the brews and jotted down some notes on each one. Below are the results:

Germans:

Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen, 5.8% abv
TJs: Crisp with clean malt flavors, more depth and complexity than the other Märzens, Highly recommended and well worth seeking out.
MLD: Boldly flavored, lots of fruit up front and full-flavored from start to finish. Almost tastes Belgian. A tad boozy. If you’re only drinking one, this is certainly the pick.

Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen, 5.8% abv
TJs: Surprisingly light color with a wheaty crispness, very clean and refreshing
MLD: When tasted right after the Ayinger, smelled like wet mop and tasted somewhat flat. When I revisited later, it was more interesting. Hints of wheat, but not in an overwhelming way. Grew on me.

Spaten Oktoberfest-Märzen, 5.9% abv
TJs: Amber color, muted flavors, virtually no hop bitterness, almost tea like
MLD: Solid, but nothing spectacular. All flavors are muted, although for me it was the hoppiest of the Germans we tried.

Coming soon: Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrau

Americans:

Great Lakes Oktoberfest, 6.5% abv
TJs: Darker than most, complex malt flavors and depth, nice medium body. Once again Great Lakes proves that they don’t make a bad beer
MLD: Very complex, although every flavor is subtle. I loved the coffee notes towards the back, although the malt could be a bit bolder. No booze heat at all, despite the high ABV. Agree that Great Lakes scores another win.

Left Hand Oktoberfest, 6.6% abv
TJs: Darker than the rest, almost fruity with hints of coffee, slightly boozy, medium bodied. A pleasant surprise factor on this one, if the booziness could be turned down ever so slightly it would have been the top American.
MLD: I wonder if they tried to clone the Ayinger here — starts out with similar fruity, sweet, slightly boozy flavor. This one thins at the end though and doesn’t finish as well. Still a strong contender.

Bell’s Octoberfest, 5.8% abv
TJs: Very light color, present hop bitterness, a little thin on the mouthfeel
MLD: Kinda strange — powered by a citrusy fizziness that gets up into your nose. Hopper than most. Since Marzens tend to be so similar, I do kinda dig the unique aspects here.

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest, 5.8% abv
TJs: An unremarkable Märzen, smooth and easy to drink, but was out classed by the rest in the tasting group
MLD: Fruity and Malty. Agree that it isn’t as complex as some of the others — but it was solid and could be drunk all night.

Sly Fox Oktoberfest, 5.8% abv:
TJs:  (no notes)
MLD: Grassy, very hoppy compared to the rest. Not enough malt. Tastes the least like a Märzen out of the bunch.

Coming Soon: Stoudts, Flying Fish

Summary:

In the end, we both agreed that Ayinger was the best overall beer, and that Great Lakes & Left Hand had the best Americans of the group. Truth be told, however, the differences between one well-crafted Marzen and another are slight, and one really can’t go wrong with any of these options for a true taste of Fall.

What are your favorites?

Thanks to Jeff and TJs for putting this together for us — be sure to stop in and try a Marzen (or three) or any of their amazing draft beers sometime soon. Also thanks to @wisdom for the photo.

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