Friday, September 14, 2007

Oktoberfest #3 - Day 2 Sample A (New Glarus)

We continue our quest to try all of the commercially available Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. If we can, we will try to find Oktoberfests from some of the breweries that aren't readily available here in Madison (Viking, Central Waters, Calumet, Lakefront, etc.); but we are starting with the ones that are.

The methodology is simple: blind tasting of two different Oktoberfests. In the mbr refrigerator is all of the Oktobers. One of us sets up the glasses with two random unannounced Oktobers, and another tastes without knowing which beers have been poured. Tasting notes are taken, and guesses are made as to which Oktober is being consumed. The following is those tasting notes; unedited. We try not to "rate" the beers, just to review them. Enjoy. If you have had any of these beers, please feel free to post your review in the comments.

I'll admit, today's samples baffled me. Here's some reviews from Beer Advocate and Rate Beer of New Glarus' Oktoberfest, called Staghorn. It gets, almost exclusively, really really good reviews.

There are some theories floating around though to explain many of these glowing reviews. In talking with a lot of beer folks, most seem to agree that New Glarus has an "aura" about them that raises the reviews almost uniformly. Virtually every review is over 3.5, and many top 4 (on a scale of 5). Some of the reason for this is the general unavailability of New Glarus beers. Outside of Wisconsin New Glarus is practically impossible to get a hold of. And, New Glarus is world reknown for some of their beer (e.g., the Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart). So, people think that all of their beers must be great. Something of a "since this isn't widely available, it must be good" theory of reviewing.

So, I dare some of you reading this blog who gave the Staghorn such high reviews to subject it to a blind taste test. You might be surprised. I was. Here are the notes.

New Glarus StaghornSample A (New Glarus Staghorn)

Appearance: light amber/copper; no head; crystal clear

Aroma: very light aroma; very faint yeasty/breadlike aroma; only very slight grassy hoppiness

Flavor: very faint caramel flavor, somewhat roasted and earthy, almost nutmeg; an off metallic flavor that may be the hops trying to assert themselves; flavors are very muted, almost like they were afraid of making it too sweet; the anti-sprecher

Body: thin to medium bodied and moderately carbonated, a strange metallic flavor lingers, I think it's a faint hint of hops, but it's really hard to grasp a hold of the bitterness

Drinkability: At a crowded outdoor festival, I probably wouldn't notice the metallic flavors, and it's light enough bodied that I could definitely drink a few, I'm just not sure, if I were looking for an Oktober, that this would not my standard; it's too dialed down

Summary/Notes: it's really not that bad of a beer, but it's not a bold example of the style (ed note: after I found out this was New Glarus and was surprised: the bottle, and the marketing materials suggest that this Oktober has some spices in it, and that may be what is muting the caramel flavors so much, but it still doesn't excuse the almost complete absence of hops; the flavors asserted themselves a little more as it warmed up, but still muted; this review was poured at normal refrigerator temperatures)

Guess: Point

Recommendation: If you're stuck in a bar with nothing else except macros to drink, it wouldn't be a bad choice, but there are better examples of the style out there


  1. I've had a couple pints of Staghorn at the Old Fashioned lately. On both occasions, they were served in frosted (!) glasses, which just mutes the hell out of this near-delicate beer. I found it much more flavorful as it approached room temperature.

    I agree with you about the aura surrounding New Glarus. Personally, I rarely drink beer from breweries that don't offer more than one pale ale/IPA/hoppier brew, so I rarely drink NG. However, some of my out-of-state pals love it when I bring some to share.

  2. What is it about NG that creates this "aura?" I myself often think fondly of their little brewery, started with a wing and a prayer, and yet many of their beers fall into the pleasantly drinkable, but not too overly exciting category, which surprises me every time, for within five minutes of having finished a bottle of none-too-extraordinary but nice NG beer, my mind drifts off to thinking of that quaint, micro-brewery that excels at all things tucked away in our WI town of New Glarus, and how great all their beer is. Must be something in the water...

    Great web site, mbr!


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