The Taste Test: Blind-tasting 26 Minnesota Oktoberfests

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Best of show flights // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

These beers, listed in no particular order, were selected by our judges for best exemplifying the Oktoberfest styles as defined by the Beer Judge Certification Program.

Waconia Brewing Oktoberfest

Specs: 5.7% ABV, 20 IBU
Malt: Vienna, Munich, Pilsner malts with a touch of Cara Ruby

Hops: German Hallertau Mittelfrüh

Tasting Notes: Waconia Brewing’s Oktoberfest pours clear and copper gold with a wispy off-white head. Clean lager and light toasty malt aromas are met with rich toasty malt flavors and just enough hop bitterness to balance the beer. Overall, an excellent beer that hits all the style marks: clean, malty, crisp, well-attenuated.

Big Axe Oktoberfest #1

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Specs: 6.2% ABV
Malt: 2-Row, Vienna, Munich, Melanoidin, Crystal 80
Hops: Magnum

Tasting Notes: Nisswa’s Big Axe Brewery submitted two festbiers to the tasting and both cracked our top 10. The first pours a deep gold color with brilliant clarity and sweet grainy malt aromas. Slight biscuit aromas and flavor were uncharacteristic for the style, but bready and toasty flavors dominate the malt profile. More hop presence would have better balanced the malt sweetness, but our judges found this a clean, tasty Oktoberfest.

Big Axe Oktoberfest #2

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Specs: 5.7%
Malt: 2-Row, Vienna, Munich, Melanoidin
Hops: Magnum

Tasting Notes: This second festbier from Big Axe Brewery pours light gold with a brilliant clarity and an off-white head that laces the glass. The beer sports a doughy aroma and flavor with a light toasted malt character adding a bit of complexity to the profile. Like their other recipe, this could have used more spicy hop character, which was too subtle to achieve perfect balance.

10K Brewing Anokafest

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Specs: 5.2% ABV, 25 IBU
Malt: Munich, Pilsen, Melanoidin, Caramalt
Hops: German Tradition Hops

Tasting Notes: This medium-bodied märzen has great body and a dry profile that makes its highly drinkable. While there is a rich malt aroma on the nose, a slight caramel sweetness is also present in the middle and on the finish that is uncharacteristic from the style. Despite that, this was a tasty märzen from the Anoka-based 10k Brewing.

Bauhaus Brew Labs Schwandtoberfest

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Specs: 5.7% ABV, 27 IBU
Malt: Pilsner, Munich, Vienna, Caramunich III, Blackprinz
Hops: Summit, Mandarina Bavaria, Tettnang

Tasting Notes: With brilliant clarity and a clean lager character, this deep golden Oktoberfest from Northeast Minneapolis’ Bauhaus Brew Labs has a strong bread crust aroma and toasty flavor balanced with a dry hop bitterness. Our judges agreed that Schwandtoberfest is a complex, well-made, and highly quaffable Oktoberfest.

Summit Brewing Oktoberfest

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Specs: 6.8% ABV, 30 IBU
Malt: Moravian 37, Crystal, Munich, 2-Row Pale
Hops: Northern Brewer, Tettnanger, Saaz

Tasting Notes: Classic example of a märzen with a strong, rich malt character on the nose and the palate. Bready and toasty, this beer is medium-bodied, has a slightly creamy texture, and a warm finish that kept our judges going back for another sip. While the hops balanced the malt well, one judged noted a little more spicy German hop character would help to really nail the style.

Urban Growler Brewing Company Mocktoberfest

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Specs: 6% ABV, 22 IBU
Malt:German Munich and Pilsner
Hops: Hallertauer Hersbrucker

Tasting Notes: With near brilliant clarity and a great amber color, this märzen has a bready malt aroma and light toasted malt flavors on the palate. Overall our judges found it quite pleasant, but slight vegetal notes and high esters, which are uncharacteristic of the style, were present and kept this beer from placing higher.

The Top Three

No. 3 – Town Hall Brewery Oktoberfest

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Specs: 6.7% ABV, 18 IBU
Malt: German Vienna, Cara Hell, and Cara Belge
Hops: American Crystal and German Hallertau Mittelfruh

Tasting Notes: Rich and toasty Munich malt flavors are well supported by a good addition of spicy hops. This dark copper medium-bodied lager is crisp, well-attenuated, and begs for a return sip. One judge waxed that this its the dictionary definition of “Oktoberfest.” All agreed it’s a prime example of the classic märzen style.

No. 2 – Fair State Brewing Cooperative Festbier

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Specs: 5.7% ABV, 20 IBU
Malt: Vienna, Munich I, and Munich II
Hops: Sterling

Tasting Notes: Exhibits a great lager character and is well-attenuated. Toasty Munich malt aromas are present on the nose, and on first sip sweet malt give way to toastier flavors before drying out on the finish. The hop bitterness and herbal character is slightly high, but otherwise a true representation of the festbier style.

Best of Show – Beaver Island Brewing Company Oktoberfest

Specs: 6% ABV, 22.6 IBU
Malt: German Pilsner, Munich and Vienna
Hops: Spalt

Tasting Notes: Beaver Island Brewing turned a lot of heads at the judging table when it was revealed it had placed first in our Oktoberfest blind tasting. Some judges expressed surprise, but all agreed that the St. Cloud–based brewery’s Oktoberfest was the best of show.

After tasting through all 10 beers in the final round, winnowing the field to five, and tasting each of the remaining beers again, Beaver Island’s Oktoberfest jumped to the head of the pack. The brewery’s version of a classic German märzen was made in conjunction with the city’s second annual Oktoberfest celebration hosted at the brewery. It poured crystal clear with a deep copper hue and a light off-white head that clinged to the glass as we drank.

Where this beer truly excelled, though, was in the way it showcased German malts without suffering from the caramel sweetness or excessive hop bitterness evident in a number of beers in the overall field. Judges noted Beaver Island Oktoberfest’s rich, toasted bread aroma and its complex malt profile, which coated the palate with a creamy texture before finishing like a clean, dry lager.

Perhaps the biggest compliment to any Oktoberfest: this is a beer that can—and should—be drunk by the liter. In essence, this eminently drinkable lager is a locally-made, top-notch märzen worthy of its namesake celebration—Oktoberfest.

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About Brian Kaufenberg

Brian Kaufenberg is the managing editor, writer, and photographer at The Growler Magazine. His column "Now Open (Or Damn Close) keeps you up to date on the newest breweries in Minnesota.