As we move into the Fall, new beer flavors come to the fore. Unlike summer, when beers become thin and boring, the fall is when beer gets interesting. Today, we’re talking specifically about Oktoberfest beer. This bastion of early autumn is hard to miss in the liquor store. They beat you over the head with display after display of American versions, German classics, and variations on the Oktoberfest theme. Not to mention all the blue and white swag you could want.
First, a full disclosure: I love the fall. I love harvest festivals, apples, pumpkins, cider, cool weather, flannels and jeans, hats, seeing your breath in the morning, foliage finding, roasted veggies, and football on Sundays. I also love Oktoberfest beers. I wait patiently all year for them and, when the time is right, I drink them all and bask in the glory of the season.
Many people—I’m told they’re called “basic bitches”—go cray for pumpkin spice lattes. No disrespect to flavored coffee, but I’ll stick with a pale or amber, low abv bottle of bready richness all day, thank you very much. Pumpkin beers can be delicious too. My personal preference is Southern Tier’s Pumking, but there are many worthy examples of the style. For me though, Oktoberfest beer means cooler weather is on the way and fall is here.
The thing about Oktoberfest beer is that they’re all very similar. In the grand scheme of beer flavor, there isn’t much difference between Paulaner’s Oktoberfest, Spaten’s, or even Sam Adams’ offering. It recalls the experience of going to breweries in Germany and every hall having the same four styles of beer. You know what you’re getting, but there is enough variation to keep things interesting. However, in my estimation, one Oktoberfest-Märzen rises above the competition: Ayinger. Ayinger is just a killer brewery. Everything they make is delicious, most notably Celebrator, the double-bock. But it is their Oktoberfest that I look forward to all year. When I finally take home a four pack of half liter bottles, I’m giddy with anticipation.
Except this year. This year, I can’t find it anywhere. A few places have told me that they sold out fast. A few other places simply scratch their heads and wonder why they don’t have any. One guy even offered me last year’s leftovers.
So, in the absence of Ayinger Oktoberfest Märzen, I’m stuck with the second tier. First of all, if you’re looking for a good Oktoberfest beer, start with the krauts that started it all. My suggestion is Spaten, Paulaner, or Hacker-Pschorr. They are more or less standard. They never fail, they are delicious, and they are consistently available. They’re paler in color than most American Oktoberfests, but they have a balanced, ready flavor that tastes like Fall.
Plenty of American breweries make nice Oktoberfests. Saranac has a nice color, but the flavor is not as precisely balanced as its German counterparts, and it lacks the viscosity that the Germans have mastered. Still, it’s a tasty beverage that you can drink all day. Sam Adams makes a steady, consistent Oktoberfest that you will never have trouble finding as well. Want a beer when you come in from raking leaves? Paulaner Oktoberfest makes you want to smell the autumnal air and jump in the leaves. Doing a little Fall grilling? Spate Oktoberfest is the beer for you.
All of these beers are very fine, but Ayinger is sublime. I am honestly a bit angry that I can’t find it this year. I started trolling for it in August—AUGUST. I fear that my Ayinger has fallen victim to the ever creeping start of the fall flavor season. Somewhere in the first week of August, it seems that there was a run on the limited supply of the Ayinger, and now it’s all gone.
We don’t have to do this, my people. We can buy fall flavors in the actual fall. We can enjoy summer all the way into September. We can eschew cider-y beverages until the weather dips below sixty and we get a frost. We can buy Halloween costumes in October. And we can buy Oktoberfest beers as God intended: in September.
*UPDATE [In which the beer gods smile on all deservers]:
I found Ayinger! Oh, happy day!
When all hope seemed lost, I received a promotional email from one of the many liquor stores in my area. They were pimping all of their Oktoberfest beers. Sam Adams was prominently displayed at the top (I’m not knocking this beer, by the way. I’ve spent many’s the happy fall day enjoying them.), so I was not hopeful. Besides, I had asked around there twice before. But, scrolling down, I stopped short and let out an honest to goodness audible gasp. There it was. A picture of a half-liter bottle of my amber muse. And next to it (could it be?), a green check mark saying “available for in-store pick-up.”
Immediately, I called them to set some aside. They had 15 bottles. That’s it. That was their entire stock. I snagged four of them – they seemed reluctant to let me set aside so many, but my wife would murder me in my sleep if I didn’t have two for her and two for me – and brought them home.
I am currently enjoying this honey-colored minx. It’s just better. In every conceivable way. It has a rich color and sweet aroma. It’s frothy and viscous. It has that malt flavor you crave. And it finishes impeccably clean. Easily the best Oktoberfest in the world and one of my top beers in the whole year. Get it, if you can.