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Monday, September 11, 2006

Autumn Beers - Widmer "Okto" (Oktoberfest)

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.

Tasting Notes
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).



  1. I'd put in a vote for Sam Adams's interpretation as well. Yummy!

  2. Had my first Okto last fall, and have been anxiously awaiting its return. Great review.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Holy crap, GD, you're right. I haven't the vaguest clue what to make of that. Oktoberfest is a classic lager--in this case literally so. Lager means "to age," and the beer drunk at Oktoberfest was historically brewed in March and aged in ice caves for six months. So what that "ale" means on the bottle is beyond me.

    Further thoughts:

    1. Maybe it's their alt yeast, which will produce a quasi-lager beer;

    2. Maybe that spiciness I was tasting DOES come from the yeast (further affirming my, ahem, genius palate).

    I dunno--going to have to try to track this down.

  5. According to This article in Brewing Techniques Widmer uses ale yeast to make Okto.
    Widmer Brewing Co. of Portland, Oregon, has been brewing highly untraditional and idiosyncratic but very successful top-fermenting Maerzenbier and Festbier interpretations for some years now.

    It seems to be common practice for breweries to use 1 yeast for everything, varying the temperature to get different characteristics. I know that Rogue does this with their pacman yeast quite successfully.

  6. Thanks for the confirmation, Chris. Widmer does use an alt strain of ale yeast, which finishes out quite a lot like a lager. But while you're right that a lot of breweries don't like to mess around with multiple yeast strains, I don't believe that's true with Widmer. Particularly through their Collaborator project, they've brewed more styles of beer than just about anyone in the state. I'm pretty sure they don't uniformly use the alt yeast for all those.


  7. Heh...I pulled my comment down because after I re-read it, I wanted to do some research before I popped off about it...looks like Chris did it for me. Thanks!