Monday, October 1, 2007

Oktoberfest - I'll Let You In On A Secret

Sample Shelf TalkerFirst, a word from our sponsors. Oh, right. We're the sponsors. Well, a word ... As we mentioned in the last post, we want to help promote beer and educate consumers. To that end, if you check under the "Home" section of the navigation menu in the upper-left-hand corner, you will notice that we now have MBR shelf talkers for retailers to use. We will provide these for each beer that we actually review here on the site. They are a little different from "traditional" talkers. First, in keeping with this site, we do not "rate" beers here - there are no numbers. Personally, we find numbers pretty useless; what does "90" mean? So, no numbers, just descriptions of the beer, and some suggestions for appropriate glassware. If you are a retail outlet, feel free to use these to help educate your consumers.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled post ...

We here at MBR often drink beer that comes from somewhere other than Wisconsin or Germany. I know, it can be hard to believe. The last non-Wisconsin, non-German beer we reviewed here was Dogfish Head's Midas Touch Golden Elixer on August 23rd, over a month ago. But, believe it or not, we've been known to drink other beers. While today we aren't going to leave the Oktoberfest style, we are going to leave the state of Wisconsin. In our travels, we've picked up a few non-Wisconsin, non-Oktoberfest beers that are close, interesting, widely available, or otherwise that can be part of this Oktoberfest series.

Today, we are leaving the state to visit some neighbors.

August Schell Brewery

Our first beer comes from two hours South-West of Minneapolis; from New Ulm, Minnesota and August Schell Brewery. Schell has been brewing since 1860 and claim to be America's second oldest family-owned brewery. Any brewery that comes from the "Polka Capital of the Nation" is A-OK in our book (although some of us at MBR have spent significant time in Wisconsin and Cleveland and would see them's as fightin' words). With a sturdy understanding of history, it's not hard to believe that a fine Oktoberfest beer comes from this town of 14,000 people. August Schell only brews four year-round beers (a vienna lager, a pilsner, a pale ale, and a caramel bock), and seven seasonal beers. The concentration at the brewery, it seems, is on quality over quantity. We really enjoyed this Oktoberfest and will try to make the trek down to New Ulm and visit the brewery next time we are near the Twin Cities.

August Schell OctoberfestAugust Schell Octoberfest (sic) Beer
Appearance: burnt-orange/copper color with thick, off-white head

Aroma: bright, almost lemony and sweet, citrusy behind the sweetness

Flavor: med-light body, slightly sweet, but moderately muted flavor; little hoppy bitterness; fast, but muddled finish - flavors just kind of fade away instead of a crisp, hard finish - an improved hop profile could clean up the finish considerably

Body: med-light body, moderate carbonation, fades quickly

Drinkability: good drinkability, I could drink these at a bar watching the Vikings lose another game to the Packers; flavors could be more assertive and a focus on the hops could really clean this beer up nicely.

Notes/Summary: A nice beer from a brewery that we haven't heard a lot about; perhaps some of the Minnesota readers could leave some comments about this brewery? Rants? Raves? Complaints? This is solid. Reminds of the Point Oktober a little, though a little more assertive than Point; sort of a cross between Point and Tyranena.


The next brewery needs no introduction. Bell's is well-known here in Wisconsin. Between the Oberon, the Two-Hearted, and virtually the entire line of Bell's product, it would be pretty hard not to have some opinion (generally very favorable) of Bell's. They have a very good reputation here for brewing quality beer, for supporting The Great Taste of the Midwest (they took over Maduro this year for a pre-party there), and for pulling all of their product out of Illinois after a dispute with distributors there. (as an aside: if you haven't read that article from the Chicago Reader or aren't aware of the circumstances surrounding Bell's withdrawal from Illinois, please click on that link and read the story; it's an amazing piece about inept politics and the power of distributors' lobbies). So, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Bell's makes a damn fine Oktoberfest beer. What did come as a surprise was just how good this beer is. In our own subjective opinions it is the best Oktoberfest we've reviewed this year. It's only real American competition would come from Rowland's Calumet Brewery in Chilton, WI - a beer we unfortunately couldn't include here because we have not been able to make it the two hours up to Chilton to pick up a growler.

Bell's Octoberfest BeerBell's Octoberfest (sic) Beer
Appearance: bright orange, the color of the label and fallen leaves; crystal clear, thin white-ish head that falls away quickly

Aroma: earthy and only mildly sweet; a light fruitiness from the hops and clear bread-like freshness; one of the few Oktobers where you can SMELL the depth of the malts

Flavor: wow! Great hit of caramel maltiness and hops then it's gone; demanding that you drink it again, and again, and again; if you can manage to hold it in your mouth, a subtle roastiness comes through and it reveals itself to be surprisingly full; this beer has a fruitiness (from the yeast maybe?) that adds a nice complexity and brightness to the flavor; the label says this is 5.7% abv, which might explain some of the brightness (it's a little high for the style)

Body: at first seems medium to light bodied, but is actually a pretty solidly medium bodied beer; this beer finishes fast and clean with only a slight residual malty aftertaste left

Drinkability: I could drink this everyday for the rest of my life.

Notes/Summary: This is one of the top Oktobers that I've consumed; there's really no two ways about it. While this was not a blind tasting, I'm not sure it matters much. There are few widely-available Oktobers that can compare; while I would put Calumet and it's slightly darker, more roasted and fuller Oktober against this one, that would be a battle I would never want to end. Awesome. My only improvement for this beer would be to extend the flavor a little more; the finish comes too quickly and hides some of the body and depth of the beer - I think a function of the bright hoppiness.

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