16 Oct A (Few) Houstonians Tour of Oktoberfest Beers – A Mix of History and Reviews
A (Few) Houstonians Tour of Oktoberfest Beers – A Mix of History and Reviews
Bust out your lederhosen or dirndls (or don’t) and enjoy some of Houston’s best Oktoberfest beers. Some breweries go classic, and Holler goes espresso.
Ah, autumn in Houston. There’s nothing quite like the leaves changing colors, the temperatures dropping, and the days getting shorter.
Who are we kidding? Once this front passes, we’ll be back to another few weeks of summer, but that’s not stopping Houston’s yeast priests from cranking out the Oktoberfest beers. Crisp, refreshing and dangerous in a liter glass, these beers go by many-a-name.
They’re known alternatively known as Marzen because they were brewed in March, stored in caves, then tapped around October.
They’re also known as Festbier because they’re tapped at, or in honor of, the famous German Oktoberfest.
Finally they’re also known as Weis’n because the famous Munich Oktoberfest is held at the Theresienwiese (the Theresa Meadow), and it’s at this spot in Germany where Oktoberfest beers were born.
It was 200-something years ago, back in 1810, when a Prince named Ludwig of Bavaria was getting married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, and they invited everybody. Like. ERRRYBODY. It was super unusual that the public was invited to share in their celebration. Nobles of this era rarely associated themselves with the general public however, some 40,000 Bavarians attended the celebration, and now we celebrate it all around the world! With huge tents, song and dance, and of course, plenty of Festbier, Oktoberfest has spread from sea to shining sea.
Most of these beers fall into two taste and color categories: light-bodied, crisp, and clear, pale, yellow look. These are the lighter ones that are easier-drinking.
The other version that is more popular in the States is more malty, smoother, and usually between a red and a dark amber color, if not a deep brown. It is usually, however, still crisp and light-bodied.
The Spaten Oktoberfest that you get here, for example, is a dark, reddish, amber and more malty than its crisp, pale, more traditional German counterpart, but they are both sold as Oktoberfests.
Houston Oktoberfest beers fall pretty hard into the latter category, but they’re definitely not all created equal. Here’s a guide to the local Oktoberfest beers. We promise, no lederhosen or dirndls required! But with this recent drop in temps, you will sit at a long table outside with your new best friends.
THE BIG TENTS
Saint Arnold Oktoberfest: This beer is one of the stronger Marzens at 6.6% ABV, and it’s a 4 time medal-winner at GABF (2 silver in 2018 and 2010 and 2 bronze in 2000 and 2001). It’s richer, maltier and more full-bodied than a traditional Marzen. It’s nutty and more crisp than, say, Karbachtoberfest and Holler’s Houston Triple Craft.
Karbach Karbachtoberfest: This one pours a light amber and drinks pretty clean. If anything separates the Karbachtoberfest from its Houston contemporaries, it’s the smell and taste of spiced, toasted bread. The ABV clocks in at a respectable and typical 5.5%.
THE SMALLER TENTS WITH ALL THE DOGS
8th Wonder Achtoberfest: This one tasted the most crisp and effervescent – it almost reminded us of sparkling water or a soda (in terms of bubbles, not taste). The malt smooths the beer out and adds a hint of caramel richness, but it doesn’t weigh the beer down. The malt comes in first, followed by a lightly hopped touch to clean it up. The body is light, the color is light amber, and it pours clear for an Oktoberfest. We enjoyed the sessionability because it’s not especially strong: the ABV rests at 5.8% ABV.
Holler Houston Triple Craft: This one is the wild card. It’s a smoked espresso Marzen, brewed by Holler in conjunction with Greenway Coffee & Tea and Feges BBQ. Feges smokes German pilsner malts with maplewood and applewood, while Greenway provides a Brazilian double-filtered espresso. The smoky flavor is definitely strong with this one, with a hint of maple syrup and then the espresso comes in strong on the finish. It tasted like breakfast: coffee, bacon, and maple syrup sweetness. The light body keeps it from becoming cloying, however, and the finish is lighter than you’d expect after the first flavorful sip. It’s not as crazy I expected after reading the description: the flavors are pronounced, but there is no one note taking over the beer. It clocks in at 5.3% ABV.
Baileson’s Marzen: Much like its straightforward name, this beer tasted like a straightforward Marzen (especially after Holler’s collaboration festbier). It’s more hazy than other Houston Oktoberfest beers, and it has a more full body than even Saint Arnold’s take on the style. The malt comes through a scratchy, bubbly crispness even on the finish, and it boasts a 6% ABV. Overall, it never got too caramel-y. It stayed smooth on top and crisp underneath, and it just may have been the most balanced of all the Houston Oktoberfest beers we tried on tap.
THE TENTS WITH THE LONGEST WALK
Southern Star Oktoberfest: at 6.3% ABV, this one is on the stronger end. The caramel malts came first, but there was a hint of bready body that carried the malt flavor further across the finish without overpowering it. This beer did not taste as crisp as, say 8th Wonder’s Achtoberfest or Baileson’s Marzen, but the extra hint of sweetness helped set it apart from other local festbiers. Still easy to drink, solid overall.
City Acre Stadtplatz: Also 6.3% ABV, but the body was the key difference between this Marzen and Southern Star’s. This one reminded us of the Baileson’s Marzen in terms of a balance between caramel malt and crispness, but the body was a little on the thin side, almost watery. In fact, this one reminded us of its lager background more than the others – it drank almost like a bock. We also tasted a little more nuttiness in the Stadtplatz than the other Houston Oktoberfest beers, which may be because the body was lighter and so allowed more nuanced flavors to come through.
11 Below Oktoberfest: Clocking in at a very manageable 5.3% ABV, 11 Below offers one of the most sessionable option on the list of Houston Oktoberfest beers. It pours a crystal clear, deep amber color. Rich, bready, sweet and bold in malt character, this beer is quite the paradox. While it’s lower in alcohol, it’s bolder in flavor. The light, floral finish is reminiscent of Saint Arnold Spring Bock, although that’s not a festbier.
Southern Yankee Dope Village: While this one’s technically an Altbier, we won’t get too much into the deets on the yeast and fermentation. They brewed it for the season, and we’ll drink it accordingly. It’s a nutty, bready, sweet example of the style, and it poured a crystal clear copper color, that was a few shades short of brown. If you haven’t heard yet, these folks are the latest addition to Houston’s ever-growing list of breweries. Check them out.
Back Pew Kingsbrau: Bobby and the gang out at Back Pew are nearly purists when it comes to the German styles, so we had big expectations of this one. The higher ABV, 6.3%, is a bit sneaky as this is a very approachable Oktoberfest. The bready malt characteristic shines while a quiet spicy hop characteristic plays the background serenely as each sip finishes dryly.
Luckily, there’s a huge range of Houston Oktoberfest beers for us to choose from. Whether you want something as authentic as the Weihenstephaner yeast in Southern Star’s Oktoberfest or something totally different like Holler’s Houston Triple Craft, you can find something on our brewery’s menus.
Beers to you, Houston!