I dont know about you, but I am having a busy semester: This time of year always seems to be a juxtaposition of stress and beauty. Stress from school tends to put a damper on the changing season (aka fall … aka my favorite season), but wisdom tells me to remember all the wonderful pieces that make this time of year special. Autumn means awesome weather, football, colored leaves and, of course, seasonal fall beers.
Fall begins with Oktoberfest. We all know the word, but what is it and what does it mean to us in Montana? Oktoberfest is a huge 17-day fair that has been traced back to 1810, originating in Bavaria in honor of Bavarian culture; but mostly as an excuse to make and consume food and to drink beer.
So, in keeping with the American way, many brewers in the US have taken this German tradition and made it their own. Thankfully, in the US, brewers are not held to a restrictive doctrine called Reinheitsgebot (look it up; its a kick). So, although an “Oktoberfest” beer is a category recognized by the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and is always a lager by those standards, many breweries in the US choose to do whatever they please.
The month of October has turned into an excuse by many breweries to make something different. However, just because something is labeled “Oktoberfest,” does not mean it’s worth drinking. Just like some houses give out grandma-style hard candy and some have full-size name-brand candy bars, not all breweries are giving out delicious beer that makes us feel nostalgic and warm and fuzzy on the inside.
Montana has surprised me as one of the “good houses” this year with their Oktoberfest offerings. I can wholly recommend the “Oktoberfest Lager” from Red Lodge Ales as well as “Harvest Fest,” both currently on tap, at our own Bozeman Brewery and AleWorks, but supplies are low so get on this now. Both of these beers are easy on the palate and leave you wanting more. The Oktoberfest from Red Lodge is only 5.5 percent AVB so that makes it sessionable* in my book (though not by the strict definition as provided by Beer Advocate) — it is flavorful and crisp. The Harvest Fest from Bozeman Brewery is a recipe that has remained unchanged for years and was created by the founder of the brewery. It is balanced and easy drinking, but not lacking in character — mildly bready with a soft hop nose.
When picking out an Oktoberfest, look for descriptors like those of the two aforementioned beers; Oktoberfest beers can be a bit dowty, so I tend to be excited about those that are more out there. Also, don’t forget you can always check sites like beeradvocate.com to make sure your beer is a treat, not a trick.
Finally, I’ll mention a beer that has become an exciting local annual tradition. The beer is a collaboration between the Bozeman Brewery and the people of Bozeman to create a beer called “Terroir.” According to Wikipedia, Terroir (French pronunciation: [tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, “land”) is the set of special characteristics the geography, geology and climate of a certain place. I love this idea. The beer is designed annually by the brewers at Bozeman Brewery using hops grown locally in personal gardens. People are also asked to help harvest the hops at a fun community event. The beer will inevitably be different each year due to the changes from crop to crop.
I was given a sneak preview of this year’s version before it had been fully carbonated. It was a delightful pale ale: not too intense but definitely intensely hoppy. What I tasted that afternoon was still very raw, but showed great potential that I am excited about. I was told this beer is unfiltered and uses approximately 90 pounds of local hops — I would certainly get out to try this local tradition. Although it is not an Oktoberfest, it is part of what makes the Bozeman fall so enchanting.
*session beer n.
Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability. The purpose of a session beer is to allow a beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or session, without overwhelming the senses or reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication. (Yes, you can drink and enjoy beer without getting drunk.)