Fall, my favorite time of the year. Cooling temperatures, leaves changing color, baseball playoffs, football and hockey underway, and—perhaps best of all—Oktoberfest.
I’m a huge fan of Oktoberfest/Märzen beers. I look forward to their release every year. This year, I decided it would be fun to do a big Oktoberfest shootout, trying a bunch of different Märzen beers side by side and determining which is my favorite of the year. If you follow me on Instagram, then you may have already seen the first four rounds of my Oktoberfest shootout, as I’ve been posting each round over the course of the last two weeks. I started with 12 different Oktoberfest lagers, tasting them three at a time and picking a winner for each round. I included German beers, local beers, and other American craft beers. I then had a final round with the first four winners, along with one wild card runner-up. The first four rounds I tasted alone, but for the final round, I had two friends help me judge the overall winner.
I’m lucky to live in a city that has one of the biggest and best Oktoberfest celebrations in the US—Nashville Oktoberfest grows bigger and better every year and is my favorite local event of the year. If you happen to be near Nashville, be sure to attend this year’s festival, which is now underway (and runs through Sunday). It may be overcrowded (like Nashville itself), but it’s a damn good time.
So, which Oktoberfest beer came out on top? Below are the details of each round of tastings and the final medal winners.
Round 1—Duck Rabbit vs. Hofbräu vs. Nashville Brewing Company
Duck Rabbit Märzen (Farmville, NC) 4.6% ABV
Malty, musty, and a little hoppy. Solid, but unremarkable. Lacks complexity. A perfectly good lager that is quite drinkable, but is ultimately fairly average. Grade: C+
Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier (Munich, Germany) 6.3% ABV
Big and robust maltiness up front, which quickly dissipates into a fruity, thirst-quenching, wonderfully satisfying traditional lager, with lots of light caramel sauce. Wonderful. Grade: A
Nashville Brewing Company Festbier (Nashville, TN) 4.8% ABV
Malty. Fruity. Nice body. Complex. Surprisingly good. If given to me blind, I might have guessed this was German. Very good. Grade: A-
Round 1 Winner: Hofbräu
Round 2—Paulaner vs. Wiseacre vs. Bell’s
Paulaner Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany) 5.8% ABV
The fruitiest of lagers. Apricot. Apple. Peach. Not a malt bomb, but still a nice amount of maltiness, with just a hint of mustiness. Well balanced and complex. The finish is quite long and filled with apple, like you just swallowed a fresh and crisp Fuji picked right from the tree. Grade: A-
Wiseacre Oktoberfest (Memphis, TN) 5.9% ABV
This seems like something of a compromise between an American style lager and a traditional German Märzen. Big bodied and malty, but with a bit of delicate fruitiness. The only weakness is that it was just a touch flat, but not enough to be a major deterrent. Overall, this is very good. Wiseacre never disappoints. Grade: B+
Bell’s Octoberfest (Comstock, MI) 5.5% ABV
Big and malty, and a little musty. Some fruits and grains. Long and lingering finish. Good, but slightly disappointing, if only because Bell’s makes one of my favorite lagers, Lager of the Lakes—and this Märzen is not as good. But that’s actually pretty unfair, since Lager of the Lakes is one of my favorite beers in the world regardless of style. Still, I was hoping for something just as spectacular. This is definitely more of an American style Octoberfest lager—bigger and bolder than your typical, tradition German Märzen. It’s quite good, but not quite great. Grade: B
Round 2 Winner: Paulaner
Round 3—Spaten vs. Sierra Nevada vs. Schlafly
Spaten Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany) 5.9% ABV
Big bodied. Biscuity. Malty. Light caramel. Not as much fruitiness as other German Märzen lagers I’ve had. A little dank and musty… a touch too musty. Nonetheless, very good. Spaten has always been my go to German Märzen, and it remains one of the best. Grade: B+
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest (Chico, CA) 6.1% ABV
Malty, biscuity, and plenty of caramel. A nice amount of fruitiness. Complex. A touch of bitterness, especially on the finish. Very good, but the bitter note (and the finish in general) is holding it back from being great. Still, I like this a lot. More German in style than many American Oktoberfest beers. Grade: B+ (if it weren’t for the finish, this would be an easy A.)
Schlafly Oktoberfest (St. Louis, MO) 5.5% ABV
Now this is a great representation of an American-style Märzen. Big and malty, with loads of caramel. It’s been a few years since I’d had anything from Schlafly, and this is my first experience with their Oktoberfest, but I’m quite impressed. One of the best American Oktoberfest-style beers I’ve had. My only negative is that it doesn’t have quite the complexity of some of the best German Märzen lagers out there, like Hofbräu. Still, this is great. Grade: A-
Round 3 Winner: Schlafly
Round 4—Blue Pants vs. Erdinger vs. Smith & Lentz
Blue Pants Oktoberfest (Madison, AL) 6.0% ABV
Massive maltiness. Buttery and biscuity. Tons of caramel—I mean, wow, this is a caramel bomb! Huge flavor. Absolutely delicious. One of the best American Märzen-style beers I’ve ever had (and it certainly is definitively American in style). Grade: A
Erdinger Oktoberfest (Erding, Germany) 5.7% ABV
Grain forward. Malted barley, with an emphasis on the barley. A bit fruity. Hints of biscuits. Fairly delicate. Good, but not my favorite German Märzen. Grade: B
Smith & Lentz Oktoberfest (Nashville, TN) 5.4% ABV
Big malt backbone, with a bit of delicate fruitiness. Crisp, clean, and refreshing. An excellent lager (S&L is always good quality), but going side-by-side with the others in this round, it is simply overshadowed by the massive caramel of the the Blue Pants. Grade: A-
Round 4 Winner: Blue Pants
The final round featured the winners of each of the first four rounds—Hofbräu, Paulaner, Schlafly, and Blue Pants—plus one wild card—my favorite runner-up, Nashville Brewing Company. To help me judge and pick a winner, I invited two friends over to my house for a blind tasting. My friends knew the five beers in the finals, but I served them the finalists blind, so they didn’t know what they were drinking when they picked their favorites.
Both friends are well versed in the craft beer scene and know good beer when that drink it. And both choose the same beer as their clear favorite—Blue Pants. In the end, it wasn’t even close, they both chose Blue Pants as the winner, with Schlafly as the runner-up. Personally, I thought that Blue Pants and Hofbräu were very close, but the consistency of Blue Pants won out. I drank several bottles of all of the finalists over the last two weeks, and while Hofbräu was great, several bottles of Hofbräu had a touch of skunkiness (perhaps due to the journey overseas?), while Blue Pants was consistently amazing. Blue Pants wins.
GOLD MEDAL: BLUE PANTS
SILVER MEDAL: HOFBRÄU
BRONZE MEDAL: SCHLAFLY
Questions about my scoring system? Refer to the Review Method & Scoring Scale page.
For more reviews, check out the Beer Review Archive.