A fall beer face-off
ABQ Beer Geek
There isn’t a true category of fall beers, as there is for winter warmers. But fall is the season when two popular styles, Märzen (commonly known as Octoberfest in the U.S.) and pumpkin are released. New Mexico gets imported versions of most of the beers served at Germany’s legendary Oktoberfest. Locally, Santa Fe Brewing has an Octoberfest available in cans, and Turtle Mountain has an excellent version available at their pub. Pumpkin beer choices are limited in the Albuquerque area as far as bottled offerings. I recommend the pumpkin releases from Marble, Hallenbrick and Chama River, which should be available in the next week. Chama will also debut a new version of theirs, dubbed “Punkin Drublic.”
I conducted a tasting of some of the packaged versions of Octoberfest and pumpkin beer. All beers were sampled in blind tasting format, so no preconceived opinions of a brand obstructed my judgment. I kept it simple in my ratings, using the five-star scale.
Shiner Oktoberfest: Shiner specializes in German-style lagers, and though this isn’t a bad offering, the flavors don’t seem to mesh well. It’s too mild in flavor, even with the caramel undertones. ★★½
Spaten Oktoberfest: Spaten’s version is the first keg tapped at Munich’s Oktoberfest. It’s always good on tap. However, Spaten bottles the beer in green glass, which hurts it. UV light penetrates clear and green glass, which gives beer that “skunked” aroma (think Heineken). Still, the Spaten has a richness that almost overcomes the skunkiness. ★★★
Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen: Another of the six beers served in the Oktoberfest tents. Paulaner is the driest of all the versions I tasted. The malts usually give an Octoberfest beer a level of sweetness that isn’t present here—but I don’t miss it at all. The beer is well-balanced, with a pleasant earthiness that makes it very drinkable. ★★★½
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen: The clear winner of this category. Immediate toffee flavors cover the tongue, and the malts give it just the right amount of sweetness without making the beer cloying. Don’t look for this one in six-packs; it’s only available for individual sale in 16.9-ounce bottles. ★★★★½
Harvest Moon: Though Coors has a winner with Blue Moon, Harvest Moon is a dud. Where’s the pumpkin? I don’t get much from this beer. Only recommended for those who want to flirt with the possibility of pumpkin flavor. ★½
Punk’n: The lowest in alcohol of the pumpkin styles tasted—only 4 percent alcohol by volume. Though it smells nice, the taste is more like pumpkin pie crust than pie. Not bad, though, and a good session beer. ★★½
Jack’s Pumpkin Spice: Who knew? This Anheuser-Busch InBev product is the most drinkable of the lot, with a medley of pumpkin pie spices that plays together nicely. This would be my go-to when those locally brewed options I mentioned at the top aren’t available. ★★★
Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale: Hello, cloves! That’s the first thing that hits me in this aggressively spiced beer. Nutmeg also comes through, but not without a fight from the clove. The most flavorful, but I can’t see myself drinking more than one in a sitting. ★★★½
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