A few breweries are making a point this year of not brewing pumpkin beers. It's not that they want to squash the pumpkin craze, it's just that they want to do something different. Alaskan Brewing, for example, which distributes in Colorado, chose to forgo its traditional pumpkin offerings this year in favor of a new coffee ale. And Left Hand, which doesn't really do pumpkins, mentioned that fact in announcing the annual re-release of its Oktoberfest Märzen Lager last week. "Standing out from the pumpkin beer crowd, Left Hand opts for fall tradition with Oktoberfest," the brewery claimed.
And while some people might cringe at the release of Marzen-style Oktoberfest beers in August, it's really not a bad time to be cracking some of these. In the days before refrigeration, the Germans would brew this lager in March (the name comes from the month), when the fermentation could still benefit from cold temperatures, and then store it all summer in cellars for release in the fall at the traditional Oktoberfest celebrations. Unlike pumpkin beers, which are usually heavy ales full of pie spices, Marzen-style lagers are lighter on the palate and on the gullet, going down smoothly, which means you can fill your favorite stein or tankard to the top. But be careful: Because they are designed for fall drinking, most are higher in alcohol than other standard lagers, and a few top out near 10 percent. Malty and sticky, some of them have a drier finish while others are sweet, but all of them bring to mind crisp, sunny days. Prost.
Märzen lagers are difficult and time-consuming to make, however, which is why not every brewery does them. A few of your favorites will definitely brew some for their tap rooms and for celebrations, though, including Station 26 Brewing, Halfpenny, Locavore, Lost Highway and Bierstadt Lagerhaus. Others release their versions in cans and bottles. Here are eight packaged Colorado Oktoberfests to try this year.
Oktoberfest Märzen Lager
Left Hand Brewing
Left Hand has been brewing its Oktoberfest beer for fifteen years, using traditional techniques that result in a beer that "begins with the toasty sweetness of the malt up front while the noble pedigree hops allow for a dry, crisp finish," the brewery says. "Brewing a true-to-style Märzen Lager is no easy feat. Left Hand begins brewing in late spring, as it takes a full two months for the beer to reach lagered perfection. Moreover, the brewers perform a traditional yet time-intensive decoction mash process, a multi-step mash. The laborious method is the key to Oktoberfest’s color and complex flavor."
Fort Collins Brewery
Brewed with 100 percent German ingredients and using a decoction mash, Fort Collins Brewery's Oktoberfest won gold last year at the Great American Beer Festival in the Dortmunder/German-Style Oktoberfest category. It describes the beers as "a light, bready and drinkable brew... The medium-light six- percent ABV brew has a smooth balance of rich malts and noble hops that provide a delicate herbal and spicy bouquet of aromas." This is the first year that Oktoberfest is available in a can.
Farmer’s Daughter Oktoberfest Lager
Grimm Brothers Brewhouse
Grimm Brothers specializes in brewing German-style brews, so it makes sense that the Loveland brewery would release a seasonal Oktobfest in cans. "Using various European specialty malts, we created an elegant, complex, rich, malt-forward beer, slightly hopped for balance and lagered for a clean finish," the brewery says. "The nose is full of malty complexity, with notes of toasted bread, caramel, brown sugar, and chocolate. The aromatics transition to the tastebuds as the same complexity intermingles on the tongue with a light-medium body, creamy mouthfeel, and a crisp, dry finish."
Another German-style specialist, Prost makes a Märzenbier that is "orange in color, with a rich malt profile from the abundant use of Vienna and Munich malts." The brewery also decries the trend that some breweries are following in Europe by making their Oktoberfest beers into "kicked-up" versions of a more mild Helles-style lager. Prost is having none of that: Its Marzen is nearly 6 percent ABV.
Keep reading for more great Oktoberfest lagers...
Dragonhosen Imperial Oktoberfest
Boulder Beer Company
"Late at night in the dark cellar or among the rows of towering vessels at Boulder Beer, if you listen carefully, you can hear the eerie sound of the Dragonhosen." That's how Boulder Beer describes this lager, which weighs in at 9 percent ABV, well above the rest of the beers on this list except for Avery's Kaiser (see below). It is brewed with generous amounts of Vienna and Munich malts for a rich, full-bodied malty flavor, and Hallertau and Czech Saaz hops for "a mild earthy aroma with moderate bitterness."
Dry Dock Brewing
Dry Dock has been canning for a couple of years now, with great success, but it chose its popular Docktoberfest Marzen-style lager for its first seasonal release. The beer "features elegantly rich, toasty German malt flavors, a modest hop bitterness, and a creamy mouthfeel all giving way to a crisp, dry finish," the brewery says. Find it in six-packs all over the place.
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Oktoberfest Marzen Style Lager
Brewing with biscuity-sweet Munich malts and spicy, herbal Noble hops, Odell's entry into the Oktoberfest arena is a departure for the brewery, which usually focuses on hop-forward beers. Weighing in at 6.1 percent ABV, this one is a touch sweeter and a touch stickier than some of the others.
Part of its vaunted Dictator Series, the Kaiser isn't messing around by calling itself an imperial Oktoberfest Lager. This one is a whopping 9.2 percent ABV, which means you're going to need a lot of sausage to lay a base. Here is how Avery describes it: "The Kaiser once said, 'Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.' If the Kaiser and his significant other had tipped this bottle, we’d all be 'sprechenden Deutsch!' We took all that is good in a traditional Oktoberfest – gorgeous, deep copper sheen, massive malty backbone and spicy, floral, pungent Noble hops – then intensified each into this."