Sadly, the largest and most famous Oktoberfest celebration, held annually in Munich, Germany, has been canceled this year due to COVID-19. Oktoberfest traditionally begins in mid- September and continues into October. Of course, autumn isn’t canceled, and as it arrives in Virginia, local breweries and beer drinkers can look forward to the release of beers appropriate for the season.
In Germany, the term Oktoberfestbier is legally defined with strict regulations about ingredients, brewing methods, alcohol levels, etc. In the United States, breweries have a bit more leeway, but beers that are specifically for Oktoberfest fall primarily into two categories: festbier or märzen. Märzen is the darker, fuller-bodied style many identify as the beer of fall, and was once the beer served in Germany for Oktoberfest. However, recently there’s been a move away from this style to the lighter-bodied festbier style. Festbier, a pale lager with low alcohol content, is more refreshing, making it easier to drink, and easier to drink more of.
Whether your personal preference is for a lighter- or a fuller-bodied style, local breweries have you covered.
The Festie Oktoberfest Lager from Starr Hill Brewery is available only during the months of September and October. It’s traditional in style with a low alcohol level of 4.8 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), and a pale golden color that is accompanied by a malty, biscuit nose and a light yeasty bread palate with just a hint of Hallertau hops. Interestingly, the beer is labeled “märzen-style” but falls squarely in the festbier category. It’s also available as part of the brewery’s Fall Tour variety pack that includes Starr Hill’s Grateful Pale Ale, Reviver Red IPA, and Last Leaf Maple IPA too.
Devils Backbone also has a festbier, the O’Fest Lager. It comes in slightly heavier at 5.9 percent ABV. It’s golden in color with a bit more fullness on the palate. A light nose of cracker and lemon peel leads to malty and toasted bread flavors, with a drying finish and slightly lingering hop bitterness. Very classic in style, this will appeal to those who find other festbiers a bit too light.
The 13.Five Oktoberfest Lagerbier from Blue Mountain Brewery takes its name from German regulatory laws requiring beers served at Oktoberfest to have an original specific gravity of 13.5° Plato. This number is related to the final alcohol level, which is 6 percent ABV in this case. The beer is medium amber in color, with a nose that is malty and bready, with hints of toasted sesame. On the palate, it is rich with lots of biscuit and cracker and well-balanced hop character. This märzen-style brew is a clear nod to tradition and is a good example of what many expect of Oktoberfest beer.
Just released, the Märzen Oktoberfest- style Amber Lager from Random Row Brewing Co. comes in at 5.8 percent ABV and brings malty, yeasty flavors with hints of rye bread. There is a touch of citrus- flavor hops on the slightly drying finish. Very pleasant and easy drinking, it’s available on tap and in four-packs of 16-ounce cans.
Three Notch’d Brewing Company’s limited release Oktoberfest beer is cleverly named Hansel and Kettle Imperial Oktoberfest. Available in 16-ounce. cans, this is a full-bodied märzen-style beer with higher alcohol (8 percent ABV), a dark caramel color, and a weighty palate. The sweet biscuit nose leads to flavors of toast and dark caramel and a long finish that has just a hint of bitterness. Very enjoyable for those looking for a fuller style märzen.
Champion Brewing is really getting into Oktoberfest this year with the release of four German-style beers: a festbier (5.5 percent ABV), a märzen (also 5.5 percent ABV), a kölsch (5 percent ABV), and Lagerboi (a zwickelpils, which is an unfiltered pilsner-style beer that is becoming more popular with American beer drinkers and comes in at 4.8 percent ABV). Hunter Smith, president of Champion, shared that he is excited to also feature the festbier and märzen on tap at his Brasserie Saison restaurant.
One of the newest breweries in town, Selvedge Brewing at The Wool Factory, is also offering a traditionally German style for the fall. Corduroy is a bock, typically darker in color and a little higher in alcohol than beers made for Oktoberfest. At 7 percent ABV, it’s a deep amber brew that’s still smooth on the palate. The nose is reminiscent of rising bread dough. Full flavors combine malty, yeasty, and roasted nuttiness with a slight sweetness. The overall impression suggests warm, toasted brioche, and it’s a perfect beer for chilly autumn days.
Lastly, for some the fall season would not be complete without flavors of pumpkin or maple. While the explosion of pumpkin beers that was seen a few years ago has seemed to subside, Rockfish Brewing Co. offers a seasonal pumpkin ale for those who are looking. The previously mentioned Last Leaf Maple IPA from Starr Hill will entice those who love maple syrup with a flavor that isn’t overly sweet, but reminds them of freshly made pancakes on a Saturday morning.
Whatever your fancy, local breweries are offering a variety of beers to tempt your palate this autumn. Even if you can’t travel to Germany, it’s still possible to celebrate Oktoberfest and good beer here in Virginia.