And, as October begins, we leave with the momentum of our Oktoberfest posts to carry your beer buying decisions. Indeed, we've been talking to you guys on the streets and it seems our comments have helped quite a bit. So, thank you!
So, like Amazon and other online retailers, this is the part where we tell you: "if you like this, you may also like _______________." And the blanks here are all styles that are similar, but not exactly like, an Oktoberfest beer, aka marzen.
Like we said Wednesday, the marzen style is defined by a pronounced caramel maltiness, it is usually lightly to moderately hopped with noble (European) hops. Its color ranges from dark gold to dark amber and it generally has a foamy off-white head. It is best served cold (45 degrees or thereabouts), but warms up well. And, there is a definite preference towards drinkability; it has a medium-light to medium body and typically little aftertaste. These are not terribly complex beers, though there is some capability with the malt profile to show-off a bit. But, overall, there are not fruity, spicy, or overly earthy tones either in aroma or flavor.
Up first, is the brother of the marzen, the Vienna Lager. The Vienna is very similar to the marzen, with the only primary difference being a heavier body, and not quite as much emphasis on the caramel. Of course this similarity in style seems natural, the drive from Munich to Vienna is only 400 kilometers, about 270 miles or the distance from Madison to Minneapolis. Close indeed. The Vienna lager is typically a slightly heavier beer than the marzen. It is a bit smoother, with a thicker mouthfeel and lower carbonation. Sometimes it can have a syrupy feel to it. And, it is generally low-hopped with noble hops. For a perfect example of a Vienna lager, check out Capital's Winter Skal when it comes out. While they can be consumed in a pint glass, they can also hold up well in a snifter or red-wine style stemmed glass.
Another similar style, is more like a cousin of the Oktoberfest: the amber ale. You can think of the beer world divided into two main areas: ales and lagers. The only real distinction is a technical one (though it turns out to be a very large distinction), lager yeasts are bottom fermenting while ale yeasts are top fermenting. Lager yeasts are typically fermented at cold temperatures (as low as below 32 degrees farenheit) while ale yeasts ferment at room temperature (or thereabouts). For our purposes here, without going into too much detail, the biggest distinction that you will find is that ale yeasts will impart a subtle fruitiness. The amber, of course, has a number of derivatives: the american amber, the irish red, and the alt-bier (an amber ale that is fermented in a lagered style at cold temperatures). Amber ales have the typical caramel sweetness and are moderately hopped. Of course, the American Amber can be very highly hopped. The Irish Red is much smoother, and is often served from the tap on nitrogen (as opposed to CO2, nitrogen provides a firm, smooth, velvety carbonation). While the alt-bier is the schizophrenic cousin: it is typically a red recipe that uses ale yeasts but ferments at lager temperatures, this eliminates some of the fruitiness, but the ale yeast provides a smoother, less crisp finish.
Finally, last, but certainly not least: the rauch (smoked) bier. You either love 'em or hate 'em, there are really no two ways about it. Generally the rauch recipes are based on marzen styles, though some breweries have used helles, pilsner, or bock recipes. The malts, before being used, are put in a smoke house where they are smoked over beechwood, or sometimes oak, or other woods. They are very dry. The strongest of them can leave what feels like a vacuum in your mouth. The body is generally medium-light to light. Some of them can taste like you are drinking a sausage. Seriously. It turns out that this years Unplugged beer from New Glarus will be a Rauch beer. We love rauchbiers here at MBR, so rest assured that the day this one is out, there will be a review here.
So, get out and try some of these other styles. If you like Oktobers, these are all similar, and, as you can see, Wisconsin breweries, retailers, and bars have them.