Archive for the ‘Rants & Musings’ Category

O’ zapft ist!

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Happy Autumn! And Happy Oktoberfest! O’ zapft ist!

I just happened to have five Bavarian Oktoberfests in my beer fridge, so I decided to post a little review and beer history. Tough job, I know, but someone has to do it, might as well be the Guru…

A quick review: Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It is one of the most famous events in Germany and is the world’s largest fair, with more than 5 million people attending every year. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. The festival is held in an area named the Theresienwiese (field, or meadow, of Therese), often called Wies’n for short, located near Munich’s center. Large quantities of Oktoberfest Bier are consumed, with almost 7 million liters served during the 16 day festival. Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, at a minimum of 12.5% Stammwurze (approximately 6% alcohol) may be served at Oktoberfest. The beer must also be brewed within the city limits of Munich. Beers meeting these criteria may be designated Oktoberfest Bier.

The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer under the criteria are: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner-Bräu, Spatenbräu and Stätlisches Hofbräu-Münich. Oktoberfest Beer is a registered Trademark by the Club of Munich Brewers.

Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Bavaria on October 12,1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n“.

Since 1950, there has been a traditional festival opening: A twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at noon by the Mayor of Munich with the cry “O’ zapft ist!” (“It’s tapped!”) opens the Oktoberfest. The Mayor then gives the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria.

History of the beer style: Also known as a Märzenbier (MARE-tzen-beer, “beer of March”) the style’s origin is credited to Gabriel Sedlmayr, based on an adaptation of the Vienna style developed by Anton Dreher around 1840, shortly after lager yeast was first isolated. It is typically brewed in the spring, signaling the end of the traditional brewing season and is stored in cold caves or cellars during the warm summer months, and served in autumn amidst traditional celebrations.

So – I tasted and formed opinions on the following five brews, not all of which are brewed in Munich (so they don’t qualify for the above list, necessarily), but all of which are German and therefore better representatives of the style (in my opinion) than most North American-brewed versions…

Weihenstephaner – 5.8% abv

  • color: clear straw, reminiscent of a pilsner; thin off-white head
  • nose: pretzels, graham crackers
  • flavor: thin, off-sweet, nice hop bitterness better suited to a Pilsner – not much of an O-fest…
  • overall: 3/5 – very tasty beer, but not well-suited for the category

Erdinger – 5.7% abv

  • color: slightly hazy straw to gold, thick white head
  • nose: pears/apricots, sweet – a little corn (diacteyl)
  • flavor: bread, malt, again diacetyl (caramel corn)
  • overall: 3.5/5 – not malty enough, too superficially sweet and affected by the diacetyl

Warsteiner – 5.9% abv

  • color: crystal clear deep gold, perfect off-white head
  • nose: malt, crackers, piney hops
  • flavor: rich, burnt sugar/caramel, malty
  • overall: 4/5 – from a brewery best known for an outstanding Pilsner, this is a very credible and well-made Märzen. Lovely to look at and eminently drinkable

Paulaner – 5.8% abv

  • color: reddish amber, thinnish white head
  • nose: floral hops, toasted malt, toffee
  • flavor: rich malty up front, dried fruit/raisins, some red wine-like tannins and tartness
  • overall: 4/5 – very much a classic example, well-rounded and complex

Spaten – 5.9% abv

  • color: amber, totally clear & bright, light off-white head
  • nose: malt, mild hops, pipe tobacco?
  • flavor: balanced – malt and hops take turns on the tongue, great sweetness and very pleasant bitterness
  • overall: 4.5/5

Ironically, the one of the five packaged in a green bottle came across as the freshest. There was not one I would dump down the sink, but clearly the beers brewed in Munich remain the best examples. Prost!

For more information about the Märzen/Oktoberfest style, or ideas on how to brew your own, I recommend (with a large grain of salt) George Fix’s Vienna/Märzen/Oktoberfest in the AHA Classic Style series. Whenever I am seeking information on a style, a brewery, a brewing region, I usually start with Michael Jackson’s “Beer Companion” or “New World Guide to Beer” When brewing or tasting the style, I always refer to the BJCP Style Guidelines, even if I don’t always follow them…

Hot Enough For Ya?

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Most of the US has been suffering from a real summer heat wave this past week or so, which has had a dramatic effect on the home brewing scene, at least on mine. I have not been able to bring myself to add any heat to my house, which is generally hovering around 82° – with dark shades down, windows open on the shaded side of the house, fans blowing out of upstairs windows, etc… It has given me a chance to catch up on some bottling and racking, though, and I currently only have 7 carboys full and no primary fermenters. The other reason for not brewing in this heat is that my water source is a shallow spring, which does get warmer in the summer months – probably 45°F instead of its winter low of 34°F. This has a dramatic effect on the wort chiller, slowing down my cooling time to almost triple – instead of 10 – 12 minutes, it can take 25 – 30 minutes to cool 5 gallons down to yeast pitching temperature. So, a pause in the action.

A secondary effect of the heat has been a rash of overcarbonated beers. In the last week I have lost 5 bottles and 2 mini-kegs – the bottles bursting, in one case all over the cellar, in another all over the floor and wall in the living room. The mini-kegs did not actually burst, but one end became distended and bent, and they launched themselves off of a shelf and onto the floor. Total casualty count: 12 oz. of Suffering Bastard Strong Ale, 24 oz. of a barleywine, and 24 oz. of a year-old Strawberry Blonde ale. I was able to salvage most of the 5 liters of Cherry Wheat Ale and another 5 liters of the Rye-P-A in the mini-kegs (in growlers and pitchers) but the kegs are not reusable. I think my wife is going to make a small-scale solar water-heater out of them…

I did get out and enjoy some beer as part of the 4th of July weekend. My wife and I went down to Boston to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park on Sunday, and although the Sox lost, it was, as always, an enjoyable afternoon. No, I do not pay $7.50 for a Bud Lite or whatever, but there is an Irish pub just behind home plate (heading up the right field line) where you can get draft Guinness, Harp and Smithwicks. Pricey, at $8.75 a pint, but relative to the other stuff, it’s a fair deal. If you look carefully, you can find Sam Adams and Harpoon in the park as well. And the Boston Beer Works is right there at the end of Yawkey Way. On our way back to the bus station, we hit the Rock Bottom Brewery for dinner (Stuart St. near the corner of Charles St.). Part of a national chain of brewpub restaurants, each one does its own brewing and menu according to local products and traditions. The menu is fine if you like steaks and seafood, but vegetarians and non-red-meat eaters willl have a more difficult time choosing a meal. AH, but the beer… My wife had a Munich Gold lager (an award-winner, in the Helles Lager category), I had the Improper Hopper IPA (very floral, bitter, a bit hazy, very tasty) and a cask-conditioned Dartmouth Stout (English-style), which was outstanding. In fact, probably the best draft stout I have had in many years.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 18th, 2010