American beers beer reviews Germany

Oktoberfest beers — USA vs Europe

Hofbrau Oktoberfest beer
Hofbrau Oktoberfest beer

The relentlessly thirsty Eric Delia posted some interesting thoughts on American brewers preserving European traditions the other day. This was prompted by an article in the New York Times, where the authors sampled 24 “Oktoberfest-style” beers before declaring that the top three were all American. The article makes the point that while the original Munich brewers are producing lighter and lighter beers, the American brewers have kept to a more traditional style and are doing it better.

It’s an interesting tasting, and has some good observations on the nature of festbiers:

“A good Oktoberfest beer is a masterpiece of balance and integration, delicious without being extravagant”

Although I did find it amusing that they considered beer that was 5.5-6% to be “rather mild”!

Certainly the three (German) festbiers we tried last night exemplified this idea of perfect balance. We drank Augustiner, Hofbrau and Spaten. It’s very difficult for us to describe what these beers tasted like, mostly because they’re absurdly drinkable and we gulped them down. The Augustiner probably won, with a more pronounced malt flavour and a crisp, dry finish that made us desperate for the next sip.

The balanced nature of these beers make it hard to identify specific flavours, but that’s not to say they’re flavourless. They’re certainly all much better than the standard lagers by these breweries, despite their relative conservatism.

In contrast, Brookyn’s Oktoberfest beer did not meet the high standards set by their “usual” lager. It ticks all the boxes in the BJCP style guidelines — it’s a gorgeous amber colour, with a tempting caramel aroma. But it doesn’t taste as wonderful as it looks, sadly. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it just doesn’t have the same gulpability as the other three we tried. That could be something to do with relative freshness, of course.


10 replies on “Oktoberfest beers — USA vs Europe”

I love Spaten Oktoberfest. It’s much nicer than regular Spaten which I find too malty sweet to be really drinkable. You’re right it’s so drinkable and it’s quite high in alcohol so you have to be careful with it.

If the lads in Munich are making lighter beers, then surely that is the benchmark for Oktoberfest beers (being devil’s advocate and risking the wrath of bjcp) 😛 “Styles” change, and I think the variation and interpretation keeps it all interesting. I was amused when the journalists that Joe posted about over on Thirsty Pilgrimcommented that a certain German beer was not “to style”. Who cares! Did it taste good?

I enjoyed the Loewenbraeu example recently. Very easy to sink back at 6.1%, and I reckon thirst quenching drinkability is the main factor for a beer that it meant for a big beer drinking festival. But maybe I have a simplistic view of life 🙂

Sadly very, very few (if any) American microbreweries know how and/or take the time required to brew a great lager. Every American commerical version of Oktoberfest I’ve had so far has been a dissapointment. Most are too lazy/half assed/or too concerned with the bottom line to do decoction mashing and lagering and thus will continue to fall short.

This is just the opinion of one American.

Spaten is nice, one that I wish I could get my hands on more often. My Oktoberfest night this week was dominated by Paulaner Oktoberfest, which bottled isnt great, but on tap (and in the right setting) is waaay too easy to drink. Hence not blogging about it. Too drunk. But at least im not alone, eh?

Welcome, Mark. I don’t know enough about American versions to comment, really, but I could see how great Munich beers could be dismissed as being “bland” if you’re used to more extreme beers. That was the impression I got from the NY times article, anyway.

Leigh – we got a load of Paulaner in last year for the party, and you’re right, it’s not that great in bottles. Never had it on tap, but I imagine those guys know what they’re doing.

Hello Guys,
Please note that the bottled and draft Oktoberfestbier from Germany is very different from each other!
Going by styles (ie Oktoberfestbier really is a Märzen beer) then probably Hacker-Pschorr (bottled) is the only beer resembling it! The draft is also very good but a lighter colour and not so malty.
In reality, most of Munich’s ‘Oktoberfestbiers’ are just 0.6% stronger versions of their Hell Lagerbiers.
There we go.
(Bier-Mania! Cultural Beer Tours)

I tried de Hacker-Pschorr and it´s a lot different of all the others i tried, almost nothing in common. The others are between a hell bock and a strong export, and this Hacker-Pschorr is a lighter version, less body, but much more complex, some caramel malts, nutty aroma, i really liked it….and Oktoberfest style is not my style but if as you say draft is different i´m glad it tastes like this last one.


Every American beer makes a malty version of their Lager and slaps an “oktoberfest” label on it. Of the many I tried, Flying Dog’s – “Dogtoberfest” was the best.
I will say that the Munchen styles are a little lighter in flavor and feel when compared to the American versions. From Hacker-Pschorr was the best representation of marzens I had from Deutschland.

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