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The Beer Thinker: An Oktoberfest For The Rest Of Us

After deeply immersing myself in the world of pumpkin beers the last few years, I decided to all but swear off that love-it-or-hate-it seasonal style this October, and focus on a whole different seasonal - the Oktoberfest beer.

The real, traditional Oktoberfestbier is only made in Munich. However, the basic Oktoberfest-style beer is the marzen, which many brewers all over the world cook up on a regular basis. Marzen comes from the German word for "March," suggesting it's traditionally brewed in the spring, but consumed straight through the summer to the beginning of fall, with its flavor evolving the longer it's left in the barrel.

Most of the marzens you'll find on shelves in the fall will have a prevalent caramel or toffee kind of flavor, bready or nutty in the background, and an overall malty sweet element. If you're a hophead, marzens are not your thing, considering they rarely taste hoppy or spicy at all.

Most of the beers I've chose to highlight here stick pretty closely to that flavor profile, with one notable exception.

Metropolitan Afterburner: I've gone on about this one before - it really is one of my favorite beers of any style, so any other marzen has a lot to live up to. Having said marzens aren't hoppy, slight hop bitterness is probably one of the things that makes this one distinctive. But, the real strength is how it blends that hint of hoppy with a bunch of other flavors, including a just-right caramel flavor that's there from start to long finish. Incredible balance.

Revolution Oktoberfest: Very malty at the start, giving way to a different kind of almost fruity sweetness. After the malt sweetness at the top, it achieves the tighter balance of flavors you would expect from a marzen. I've tried this beer three autumns in a row now, and I think Revolution is doing something in the mix every year to make it better. The tweaks are working. Also: One of my favorite labels of any beer.

Half Acre Lager Town: I haven't had this one in close to a year, so I don't know if it's changed much, but I saw one thing in my notes that was worth calling out: It's the same mix of flavors as the others, yet also contains a hint of smokiness that gives it a little extra something to stand out from other marzens I've tried.

Lakefront Oktoberfest Lager: You can't have a list of German Oktoberfest beers without one from Milwaukee. This is simply a well-balanced lager. Unlike the others, it's hard to pick out one flavor that makes it particularly distinctive, though if you take a whiff, you would think you're about to drink something with a strong flavor of toasted bread. Instead, it's just really smooth.

Goose Island Oktoberfest: Of all the marzen flavors, toffee is the one that steps up in this beer. It actually tastes a little like Goose's Mild Winter Ale, which also has a toffee element to it, but this one is sweeter, and there's maybe a hint of hoppiness to it. Also of note, it appears almost orange in the glass, different from the more copper-like hue of other marzens.

5 Rabbit Vida y Muerte: Which of these things is not like the others? This is a marzen, but as with its other beers, 5 Rabbit has brought distinctly Latin ingredients to the table. Dulce de leche delivers a rich milk caramel and honey flavor, while milk sugar adds sweetness. A purist might argue it's not true enough to the traditional style to be consider an Oktoberfest beer, and maybe 5 Rabbit recognizes this, too, as it brands it as a Day of the Dead beer. Until recently, I hadn't had this one in about three years. Glad I found it again.

Beer Wire
* The big local beer event of the week looks like the interview/reading/beer sampling slated for Tuesday at the new Lagunitas brewery. Lagunitas founder Tony Magee will be interviewed by the Tribune's Josh Noel. Magee has published a new edition of his brewery biography, So You Want to Start a Brewery, outlining his founding of Lagunitas in California at a time when craft beer didn't represent much of a market opportunity. The new edition includes an epilogue on the opening of new, massive Lagunitas brewery and tap room in Douglas Park. Magee's been a pioneering, sometimes divisive (at least on Twitter) figure in the craft beer world for more than 20 years, so this should be interesting.

* Monk's Pub in the Loop is hosting a breast cancer charity event Wednesday. One of Green Flash's co-founders is a breast cancer survivor, and the brewery has been making the rounds the last few years with its Treasure Chest Raise a Glass to Find a Cure events. I haven't been to Monk's Pub in years, but what seemed years ago like a lawyer-trader bar recently has been gaining more of a craft beer reputation.

* Rockwell's Neighborhood Grill hosts its Freak-Nasty Foundersfest this Thursday, featuring an epic range of beers from Michigan's Founders brewery. Just off the Rockwell Brown Line stop, this place is an underrated craft beer haunt. It doesn't have as long a list or as many taps as some, but good choices.

* Goose Island is opening a tap room at its Fulton Street brewery on the Near West Side. Funny, because though it seems like Goose is a little behind the tap room trend, it started Chicago's original craft beer tap room in the form of its Clybourn Avenue brewpub more than two decades ago.

* Paste magazine recently offered its own Oktoberfest beer rankings, with high regard for Half Acre Lager Town.

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Previously in The Beer Thinker:
* Tapping Lincoln Square
* Size Matters
* Lagunitas Changes Everything
* Make Beer, Not War
* Collaboration Brewing
* Summer Brew
* Mothership Goose
* The Pumpkin Is A Fruit, An Ale And A Lager
* Barreled Over
* Craft Favorites
* The Best Beers Of 2013 That I Can Remember.

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Dan O'Shea is our man in breweryland. He welcomes your comments.



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Posted on October 20, 2014


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Charter Schools Complicit With Segregation.
SPORTS - USA Gymnastics Bans Illinois Coach.

BOOKS - The Randomness Of Harvard Admissions.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Public Lands Matter.


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