The calendar's thirstiest fortnight is coming to a close this Sunday, but the American celebration of the traditional German beer festival will rage on, with big parties in Minneapolis continuing into mid-October.
Oktoberfest is customarily celebrated with märzen — an amber-bodied, sweet lager typically served in and spilled from gigantic dimple steins. Since we're stuck stateside for the festivities, it seems prescient to take a look at the American take on this classic style for Deutschland.
With the hundred thousand-ish breweries in Minnesota, there's quite a spread of seasonally appropriate fall beers to be considered, but to be counted in this ranking, the brewery must specifically position the brew as an Oktoberfest. No straight-up märzens, no autumn ales, and definitely no pumpkin beers. For the sake of the consumer, the beer also needs to be available in liquor stores — which means that event-centric limited releases like 612Brew's Oktoberfest, Excelsior's Docktoberfest, Badger Hill's Anti-Oktoberfest, and Urban Growler's Mocktoberfest or any other tap-only offerings are all not being considered here.
With that in mind, ready the pretzel necklaces, obatzda, and lederhosen. Let's drink.
Sechs) Summit Oktoberfest
7.1% ABV, 25 IBU, Beer Advocate score: 82
Summit is kind of a party brand, which makes Oktoberfest an ideal fit for their fall seasonal, but man, something went wrong in the formulation on this one. The only unenjoyable beer on this list, the St. Paul brewery's take on the märzen is sticky sweet. It tastes like raw candy — like toffee before it's fully baked — and goes down like mug full of batter. Though there's a lingering metallic taste, Summit's Oktoberfest does finish well, with a crisp hint of apple, but why is it so heavy? 7.1 ABV isn't the kind of gravity that'll sustain all-day chairoplane-ing, and with such a thick, sugary body, this beer is really a mismatch for your Wiesn — Bavarian or American.
Fünf) Bauhaus Schwantoberfest
5.7% ABV, 27 IBU, Beer Advocate score: N/A
Kickstarted German brewhouse Bauhaus puts out a pretty down-the-middle märzen for their annual Schwantoberfest celebration (happening this Saturday in Northeast). 2015 is the second year their "seasonal curiosity" graces the shelves, and the young brewery has done well at creating something worthy of their namesake. The beer blooms out of the tallboy with a bready, voluminous foam that smells of roasted oats. The body goes from cloudy to clear within a minute of pouring, but the hearty grain taste continues to the last drop. In German, "schwan" translates to "swan," and that's apropos of this beer's graceful drinkability. But don't dare let this Minneapolis lager go warm, because heat reduces this traditional Bavarian to a syrupy throat-coater.
Vier) Schell's Oktoberfest
5.5% ABV, 20 IBU, Beer Advocate score: 82
It's easy to pick on Schell's. The middling New Ulm brewhouse has been putting twist-off-caliber beers in pry-top bottles since the brand was reinvigorated in the early 2000s. But August Schell's has been operated by the family of a German immigrant since 1860, so one thing they do right is Oktoberfest. The spirit of the märzen is that it's easy to drink by the boot. Schell's Oktoberfest has that familiar skunky Schell's taste in the beginning, but the pedigreed brau drinks like water. It's one of the few on this list that isn't overburdened by licks of caramel or candy. A lot of folks on Beer Advocate or RateBeer praise Schell's Oktoberfest as the perfect American interpretation of the märzen, and while that doesn't necessarily make it a good beer, this ubiquitous bottled seasonal embodies the spirit of the festival like few can.
6% ABV, 34 IBU, Beer Advocate score: 90
University of Minnesota-adjacent Surly just wrapped up their eighth annual celebration of Oktoberfest last weekend, and the heavy metal beer hall once again featured their "not a German-style Oktoberfest bier" SurlyFest as the centerpiece. The beer is certainly unlike most styles in its peer group, but it's a lot like the other beers Surly puts into production. With an IBU of 34 and a triple-rye malt, SurlyFest is kind of a motherfucker to drink if you don't expect the grassy, piney notes and inherent paleness, but the beer adds an Americanized complexity to what is admittedly a boring style. The Germans never were known for their adventurous beermaking, and Surly is able to advance the märzen without totally pissing on its grave.
Zwei) Fair State Co-Op Festbier
5.2% ABV, 20 IBU, Beer Advocate score: N/A
Fair State is a beer nerd's brewery, which makes it an aesthetic mismatch for a style as simple as an Oktoberfest, but goddamn if the Minneapolis co-op doesn't put a refined spin on the märzen. Fair State is scheduled to celebrate the Bavarian holiday on October 10, but enthusiasts can grab Festbier in 22 oz bombers right now. The serving size is a big strike against Festbier, given that Oktoberfest is all about consuming in volume, The rich orange bier pours with a moustache-grabbing froth. One RateBeer user compared the taste of a leaf pile, which is an absurd thing to say, but there is a earthiness to the brew that befits Fair State. A great representation of the brewery, but not a perfect representation of the style.
Ein) Lake Superior Oktoberfest
6.5% ABV, 20 IBU, Beer Advocate score: 83
As the sole brewery located over an hour's drive from the Twin Cities (Lazy Loon's Volksfest is virtually impossible to get outside of Victoria), Lake Superior came into the Oktoberfest rankings with stacked odds, but the Duluth brewhouse puts out a top-honors märzen. Despite the bier's demonstrably darker body, it has a crisp, balanced taste that finishes with just a tickle of grass. The four-time medal winner goes down with unpredicted liquidity, all the while supporting a grain-forward body. Lake Superior's Oktoberfest isn't the best local märzen because it's the truest to the style, nor has it landed the no. 1 spot because for layering complexity on a centuries-old formula. This Northcountry brau is champion for its ability to square both considerations into a tasty, bingeable beer any German or American should be proud to have in their stein.