Beer Review: Firestone Walker’s Oaktoberfest

Name: Oaktoberfest
Brewing Company: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Festbier
ABV: 5.2%

Firestone Walker brings a nice touch to their take on the traditional Fall German Lager for the first, welcome national release of the beer in years.

FirestoneWalker_Oaktoberfest

From Firestone Walker’s landing page for the beer:

One of our seasonal classics has made a celebratory return this fall with the release of Oaktoberfest, an oak-inspired homage to the great Bavarian tradition of Oktoberfest. “Some recipes endure for a reason, and Oaktoberfest is a perfect example,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “We’ve been making this ‘Paso Festbier’ periodically for more than 15 years, and it has stood the test of time.” This year, though, it comes with a twist

While similar in style to previous editions, the 2021 Oaktoberfest is our first in packaged form to have been lagered in French oak barrels from a premium Napa Valley Cabernet producer. The beer’s light amber color foreshadows its toasty, biscuity flavor. The oak-barrel lagering allows for an even smoother mouthfeel, all while remaining true to the beer’s crisp malt profile and hints of noble German hops.

The origins of Oaktoberfest date back to 2005, when we hosted our inaugural Oaktoberfest event. Ever since, the beer has come into periodic rotation, most recently as a draft-only offering in 2019.

Following in the tradition of classic German festbiers, Oaktoberfest is ultimately made to be enjoyed in a festive state of mind. “This beer has tons of flavor, but it’s super smooth and easygoing, too,” Brynildson said. “It’s a perfect fall sipper. Grab your stein and enjoy!”

Firestone Walker is one of the most respected breweries in America across all the styles they brew. One of their beers I’ve been wanting to try for a few years (called out very briefly in my very first Oktoberfest feature) is their fall lager, Oaktoberfest. For whatever reason this beer (and their flagship Double-Barrell Ale) haven’t been on the shelves in NJ for a very long time (if ever), so I was very pleased to see it in shops near me.

I’ve gone on about the differences between the fall lagers classified as “Märzen” vs “Festbier,” this one is a Festbier. The Festbier is not quite as malty, more copper in color than amber, and usually slightly lower in ABV. So here goes, my anticipated sampling of Oaktoberfest.

The beer pours a lovely copper / caramel into the dimpled mug with a fairly thick head thanks to the relatively vertical pour I gave it. The beer looks spot on for the style. Aroma? Mainly the smell of beer.

That first sip impression? This beer will deliver what I hope it will deliver: a flavorful, lager. As I drink more, I get some of that oak character layered in with the sweet maltiness of the style. Maybe a little bit of vanilla from the oak? Maybe toffee? Slight hints, nothing too overpowering. Festbiers, at least those I’ve enjoyed, have a slightly more crispy finish than the smooth finish of a Märzen.

Oaktoberfest delivers that crispiness, but I think the oak lagering/aging smooths it out just a tad for a very, very pleasant after effect. The Festbiers in Germany traditionally are made for enjoying pints and pints and pints of them over the course of an afternoon and the Brew MASTERS of Firestone Walker have taken that theme to heart with this beer. It was delicious and I couldn’t help finishing it rather quickly.

Suffice it to say, I am very pleased that Firestone Walker decided to package and distribute this beer nationwide this year. The beer lived up to the anticipation I had for it, but the quality of Firestone Walker’s beers never really surprise me.

I also have to say I’m glad this one was distributed in bottles. The majority of beer is in cans these days, so it is a refreshing change of pace and throwback to have a beer out of a bottle.

Oaktoberfest is a fantastic nationally-available Festbier/Fall Lager.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Oktoberfest (Level 14)

The Leaves are Changing color, which means it’s that magical time of year full of festivals, sausages, and of course, plenty of bubbly brews. Enjoy your Oktoberfest and don’t forget your Lederhosen! That’s 70 different beers with the style of Festbier or Märzen.

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Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2020 Six Pack

This is the third annual Oktoberfest Six Pack (and fourth Oktoberfest feature overall), but clearly, Oktoberfest 2020 is unlike any we’ve experienced. For starters, the annual celebration of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese’s marriage was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, much like the majority of social gatherings have been since March 2020. However, breweries are still churning out Festbiers and Märzens since the styles are a popular staple of many a brewery’s portfolio. Three years into “constructing” these six-packs and I’m still able to find new malty, amber lagers to highlight every year. I’m going more local this year than I have in the past, with a focus on four NJ breweries and 2 PA breweries. I’ve had three of these (one of them just this past week).

A note on the difference between Festbiers and Märzens. Festbiers are generally lower in alcohol and more “sessionable” in the 5% to 6% ABV range. Märzens are typically slightly higher in ABV starting at 6% ABV. The story goes that the beers served at Oktoberfest in Bavaria were dropped in ABV slightly to sell more beer without making the attendees too inebriated. Festbiers are a less malty, less intense and lighter in body compared to the Märzen. For me, whatever style a particular brewery calls the amber lager they sell as “Oktoberfest” or some variant of the name, is a highlight of the beer year for yours truly. Most of the beers you’d find in Germany during the festival would actually be Festbiers, while those with the “Oktoberfest” moniker are mostly the American-ized versions or what the German breweries market and sell in the U.S. as their fall, amber Lager.

On to the Six Pack!

Fest | Asbury Park Brewing Company | Asbury Park, NJ | 5.9% ABV

Image courtesy of Asbury Park Brewing’s Facebook

Asbury Park Brewery is one of a few in the Asbury Park area (Kane is a only about a mile away and Dark City is squarely in Asbury Park). I’ve only had one beer from Asbury Park Brewery, but I enjoyed it. Asbury Park is also home to a huge German Biergarten, so there’s some German in the air down there. APB is sporadically distributed through the State and based on how much I enjoyed their stout, I’d give this one a try.

What Asbury Park Brewery says about the beer:

A Märzen Lager brewed in the Oktoberfest tradition. Deep caramel in color with a complex malt body.

Festy | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | 5.5% ABV

Image courtesy of Carton Brewing’s Facebook

 

Carton’s Festy is hitting cans for the first time in 2020 largely due to the Pandemic. In past years, this beer was served at local beer festivals, but with social gatherings severely limited, Augie and his crew made a great decision to can and distribute the beer. I’m really hoping cans make it near me because Carton has such a strong Lager game. My impression of the beer is that it is flavorful with a spicy hop slap at the finish of the beer.

What Carton says about the beer:

Under the festival tents there are the Oktoberfest Marzens made “in honor of the fest” and the Festbiers made “for drinking at the fest”. As more and more quality Marzens show up at Autumn-fests around NJ, we decided that the drift off the beaten craft opportunity here was to make the “drinking beer of the fest” as traditionally as possible. A floor-malted German-pils malt bill picks up a Festbier touch of autumnal richness through the addition of light Munich and Victory. Then hop spiciness comes in the form of Tettnanger and Strisselspalt for both the kettle and late-hop additions. Drink Festy because these days a commitment to tradition is as far off the path’s trend as can be.

My Favorite Märzen / Märzen Style Lager | Lone Eagle Brewing | Flemington, NJ | 5% ABV

Image courtesy of Lone Eagle Brewing’s Facebook

Lone Eagle has been releasing an Oktoberfest annually since (I think) 2017, I’ve had it most years and enjoyed it, regardless of what they call it. I remember being very pleasantly surprised with the beer when I had it on draught at one of the Board Game nights back when those were still a thing. With their new brewer joining late last year, I don’t know if he tweaked the recipe at all, but they did slap a new label on the beer that evokes the traditional German bierhall.

What Lone Eagle says about the beer:

Märzen is a German style of beer traditionally brewed in March and lagered until Oktoberfest. This beer has a nice rich malt character with a slightly dry finish. It’s full flavored and easy to drink. Prost!

Lederskirten Oktoberfest | Manskirt Brewing Company | Hackettstown, NJ | 6% ABV

Image courtesy of Man Skirt Brewing’s Facebook

I had Manskirt’s take on the classic Oktoberfest when I first visited a few years ago. If I recall, I think it was the beer I enjoyed the most during that visit. Last year was the first year they canned it so I’m hoping I’ll be able to grab some cans this year to enjoy at home.

What Manskirt says about the beer:

Our take on a traditional German Marzen, or Oktoberfest lager. Lots of Munich and Pilsner malts make a solid backdrop for the German hops used here. A long, cold lagering process makes this beer clean and crisp.

Creekfestbier Lager | Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company | Croydon, PA | ABV 5.2%

Image courtesy of Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Facebook

Neshaminy Creek is one of the closer PA breweries to me, I’ve visited a couple of times and I’ve enjoyed most of their output especially their beers with Germanic leanings. However, I haven’t sampled their annual Märzen yet. They’ve gone through something of a label rebranding over the last year or so and this beer is now available in 4-packs of 16oz cans. I think it was originally a 22oz bomber offering, but that particular beer vessel has all but gone the way of the dinosaur

Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company says this about the beer:

Our seasonal traditional German-style Märzen Lager brewed with German Pilsner and Munich malts, and hopped with German Hallertau and Tettnanger hops. Fermented with a traditional Bavarian monastery Lager yeast.

Unter Dog | Yards Brewing Company | Philadelphia, PA | 5.6% ABV

Image courtesy of Yards Brewing Company’s Facebook

Yards, traditionally known as an Ale-house, introduced their first year-round lager to their lineup last year. With the success of that beer, it makes sense for them to finally put a Märzen into packaging and distribution. I think this is available in both cans and bottles, so hopefully I’ll be able to grab some in the next month or so because I did enjoy Loyal Lager.

What Yards says about the beer:

This Oktoberfest, we’re celebrating the city that never gives up with our new Märzen-style beer. Fetch a 6-pack today, sit back, and roll over with joy. Good boy!