You know when Oktoberfest starts, right? September, natch. And you know when Oktoberfests are brewed, yeah? March--giving them the confusingly dually temporal name Oktoberfest/Marzen. So it is perhaps no surprise that the first autumn beer on shelves is Widmer's tasty "Okto" Oktoberfestbier, which, apparently, could be released anytime.
(I would love to report that Okto is the name of a funny character in Lederhosen, poised to fill the void left by the Hamms beer bear, but alas, it's not so. Just a silly name.)
The Oktoberfest style is one of the tastier lagers (I hereby demonstrate my biases against lagers), spicy and malty, the color of a Halloween maple leaf. It is one of the most universal accompaniments to food, going well with everything from pasta to salmon (and of course, sausage), and also one of the most well-liked styles. Oregon, being an ale state, tends not to produce many Oktoberfests, so the Widmers have the shelf (and taps) mostly to themselves. This turns out to be just fine.
As the style demands, Widmer Okto has a rich autumnal hue--in this case, a deep red/orange (the picture I've included does not do the beer justice). The brewery describes the aroma as "floral," but it is mostly absent olfactory interest--I do get a very mild candy sweetness.
The flavor is just about perfect to style--malt forward, but with a classic peppery spiciness that I wouldn't begin to know how to brew. (I'd assume it were a yeast characteristic in anything but a lager.) The Widmers' play this note up, which will appease ale-drinking hopheads, but not dissuade classic lager drinkers. Despite its absolute clarity, it has a rich, hearty mouthfeel, suitable for crisp evenings.
(If you'll allow me to wax poetic--not that you have any choice--a good Oktoberfest should have the quality of fall infused into its essence. The warmth summer's last sun and the sweetness of late fall's harvest--pumpkin pie and cider. It's a beer for a particular time, and, like the start of school, somehow actually seems to coax that season into being.)
Not only is this one of the two best Oktoberfests I've ever tasted (along with New Glarus's interpretation), but it's quite reasonably priced. Forget the airfare to Munich--one liter of the festbier (two pints) is over eight bucks! Go to the Gasthaus instead and have a fine German meal--spaetzle, anyone?
Malts: Pale, caramelmunich 60L, extra special, carapils
Hops: Alchemy (bittering), Mt. Hood, Tettnanger(finishing)
Alcohol by volume: 5.5%
Original Gravity: 13° Plato
Bitterness Units: 25
Available: Throughout the Northwest; in stores now (Sept 11).