Nick Carr on September 5, 2016 1 Comment Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Quick Characteristics Brewery Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Location Chico, CA Style Marzen/Oktoberfest ABV 6.0% IBU 30 Hops German Magnum, Palisade, German Record, Saphir, Crystal Malts Two-Row Pale, Steffi Pilsner, Munich, Vienna Shelf Life 6 to 9 months Suggested Glass Mug, Nonic Pint Serving Temp 46-48°F Availability Fall Seasonal (2016) Food Pairings Roast Pork, German Weisswurst Sausage, Butterkase, Apple Strudel Last year, Sierra Nevada started a project to explore Oktoberfest. Each year they plan to partner with a different German brewer and concoct a different Oktoberfest recipe. In 2015, they teamed up with Bauhaus Riegele, one of Germany’s oldest family-owned and independent breweries. The resulting Oktoberfest garnered a Beer Advocate score of 91, a RateBeer score of 90 overall and 100 for the style. It even garnered the title of “the world’s best Oktoberfest” by Men’s Journal. The website states, “We’re exploring the roots of Germany’s famous Oktoberfest beers. Each year, we partner with a different German brewer to explore a different approach to the style.” It’s interesting to me that they use the term “roots” when both last year’s collaboration and this year’s collaboration has produced beers that have more in common with the newer Festbier style, than to the original Märzen beers. There isn’t anything wrong with this approach. The Festbier style, which has much in common with Munich Helles, has become part of the Oktoberfest tradition over the last few decades, especially in Germany. But, ironically most of the Oktoberfest examples offered by American craft brewers take on the richer and darker mantle of the older Märzen style, and are thus closer to the celebration’s original early 1800s roots. I guess we can look at what Sierra Nevada is doing as getting to all parts of the root. Probably in some later collaboration they will make it further down said root and possibly closer to that original beer. Maybe even all the way back to those Viennese Märzens that were seemingly half the inspiration for Sedlmayr’s “March beer brewed in the Viennese way” and the now famous Munich Märzen. The Best-Selling Sierra Nevada Glassware & T-Shirts Whatever comes of these collaborations, I think it’s great what Sierra Nevada is doing. Having a rotating Oktoberfest and collaborative input from such old and venerated breweries in the celebration’s home country is wonderful. And hey, they’ve already introduced Americans to a beer they rarely see; the German Fiestbier. Anyway enough rambling on about beer history and niggling word usage… back to Sierra Nevada’s 2016 Oktoberfest. So, the hype of last year’s release left Sierra Nevada with some pretty big shoes to fill. That’s the problem, I guess, when you make something so unbelievably good the first time out; there’s a lot of expectations to make something at least as good, if not better the next time around. For this collaboration, Sierra Nevada found a brewing partner in Mahrs Bräu. The brewery is family owned, located in Bamber Germany, and is an incredible 400+ years old. The ingredients between the 2015 and 2016 Oktoberfest recipes have some similarities and differences: Two-row pale, Steffi, Pilsner, and Munich malts; and German Mangnum, German Select, Tettnanger, and Spalter hops were used last year. Well, this year it looks like they kept the two-row and Munich, kilned the Steffi as pilsner malt, and added Vienna. The hops, too, changed quite a bit. They kept the Magnum, but all the other hops are new and they include German Record hops, which is a rarely used almost forgotten variety. You probably don’t recognize the Steffi barley either. It’s a heirloom variety used some in Germany, but rarely, if ever, anywhere else because of the larger amount of grain needed to produce batch of beer, when compared to modern strains. This use of not-well-known brewing ingredients, both hops and the malt, is another thing to be pretty excited about. Putting a spotlight on lesser known ingredients ensures they are not totally forgotten. THE TASTING Below are the tasting notes I took while drinking Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest. If you tasted this beer or have one sitting in front of you while you read this, please share your thoughts or tasting notes with everyone down in the comments below. Pour and Aroma: Hits the glass a crystal clear, soft-pale gold. An egg shell colored head of small tightly packed bubbles builds to a height of almost three fingers. Carbonation streams in merry racing lines off the bottom. Smell brings complex pale malt aromas along with clean German yeast and spicy hop sign. Malt is of baked bread and bread crust with low notes of straw. The hops layer in whispers of earthy complexity. Mouthfeel and Taste: Body is round with a nice low-medium fullness. Mouthfeel is lively. Carbonation gives some nice zip to the clean backdrop of lager yeast with a sprizy, spicy quality across the palate. At the front malt shows bready and bread crust qualities with a lithe sweetness all painted across a canvas of straw. Mid palate there’s a pretty nice kick of spicy hop presence with peppery and earthy notes. Slight notes of alcohol. The hops stick all the way to the finish bringing a lively, yet nicely understated bitterness. The finish is medium dry with complex flavors of bread crust and spice hanging on into the aftertaste. FINISHING THOUGHTS I like this beer. Maybe not as much as something slightly maltier, but Sierra Nevada’s latest Oktoberfest is pretty good. If memory serves this one is even lighter than last years and I tend toward the Marzen style more than the Fiest myself. But this is a fine representation of the Fiest style and it’s hard to find any examples in America, so I have to give Sierra Nevada props for making the style accessible. If you’ve never tried a Fiest, it’s worth trying… and who knows what they’re brewing next year. This may be your only chance. Don’t let it pass. Cheers!