An Oktoberfest seems a natural requirement for a Wisconsin brewpub, or really any brewer that's serious about our state's German heritage. And now, as summer wanes, the first Oktoberfests of the season are starting to turn up in Madison.
Vintage Brewing of Madison offered an early preview of its 2011 version at the Great Taste of the Midwest last Saturday. Brewmaster Scott Manning served it there in an unfiltered state, an early taste of a good autumn beer. That sample was very intriguing, so I couldn't help but follow up with him to find out when it's on tap. Wow, what a wonderful surprise!
What is it? Oktoberfest from the Vintage Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.
Style: The Oktoberfest, or Märzen, style is a medium-bodied golden to light copper lager. The emphasis of the flavor is on a firm but medium-sweet maltiness with a light malty nose. Overall, these beers are clean and nicely balanced, with hoppy bitterness. The finish can be dry, but it should not be overly bitter. Oktoberfest beer was traditionally brewed in the springtime and stored (lagered) during warmer summer months before it was consumed during autumn celebrations. Oktoberfests usually range from 4.8%-5.7% ABV.
Background: Vintage Oktoberfest is made with Pilsner, Munich, and Vienna malts. However, to achieve the distinctive firm, mild, maltiness commonly found traditional German Oktoberfests, Manning uses a small amount of special caramel malts from the Weyermann Malting Company of Bamberg, Germany. Those traditional malts lend light toasted and biscuity flavors and some body. Manning also extends the normal time that the wort is boiled, which richens and adds depth to the malty tones. The beer is hopped with German hop varieties of Magnum and Tettnanger. All those extra touches within the recipe help to distinguish Manning's brew from many others you'll taste this Oktoberfest season.
Vintage Oktoberfest was the National Grand Champion in the Vienna/Marzen Lager category of the U.S. Beer Tasting Championships in 2011. It sells for $4.50/glass or $10/growler (refill). It finishes at about 5.8% ABV. Oktoberfest at Vintage just went on tap this Wednesday, and it is available at both the west side brewpub and at the downtown Vintage Spirits & Grill from now through much of September.
- Aroma: Light malty, with a hint of biscuit-like tones.
- Appearance: Clear orange-copper color; and a soft, off-white head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, smooth and bubbly.
- Taste: Firm malty body with a firm caramel flavor. A very light fruity background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The maltiness lingers into the finish, alongside just a hint of light hoppiness that offers balance and enough dryness that makes the palate thirty for another.
Glassware: Scott Manning likes to serve his Oktoberfest in a pilsner glass to show off its brilliant copper color and soft white head. At the brewpub this works well. However when taking a growler home, the Willy Becher style of glass is ideally suited with its v-shaped taper near the top that holds the beer's creamy head and focuses the light biscuity nose.
Pairs well with: Oktoberfest is a great beer with slightly sweet meats such as lamb, venison and glazed ham. The malty sweetness of Vintage Oktoberfest also goes well with traditional German sausages, especially bratwurst.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers.
The Verdict: I so look forward to the early arrival of the seasonal Oktoberfest. And this year's vintage of Vintage Oktoberfest sets a high benchmark for the local ones to follow this autumn. For this review, the beer was sampled just a few days before it was tapped at the bar, but with the exception of a little filtering, it was ready for drinking. It has a mild, yet firm smooth caramel maltiness with a hint of biscuit aroma in the background. The beer finishes with a light hoppy dryness that gives it balance and adds to its clean overall flavor profile.
Vintage Oktoberfest is a special treat for the transition into early fall with just the right amount of malt character. Prost!