Beer Guzzler 

October Brews

The Germans enjoy a reputation of being a precise and practical people. This seems to be especially true when it comes to their language. What French is to romance, German is to accuracy. So why is it that a festival that starts the third Saturday in September spans the final two weeks of that month, then closes down just three days into the next month is called Oktoberfest, not Septemberfest? Billed as the world's largest public festival, it all begins this Saturday at noon when the Lord Mayor of Munich taps the first keg. By the time it's over, some 5.5 million liters of brew will have been poured.

Here in the United States, we pragmatic Americans start celebrating in September then continue through to the end of October with any number of cities across the country putting on their own festivals. At the center of it all is the beer, traditionally brewed in the spring, left to lager in cool caves over summer, then rolled out in time for Oktoberfest. Spaten's Ur-Marzen, created in 1872, lays claim to being the first Oktoberfest beer. Though it has become lighter in color over the years, it's still a potent brew. Demonstrating remarkable balance, it offers just the right amount of gently roasted malt playing against light but lively hops. Neither too bitter nor too sweet, the original is still one of the best.

The Widmer Brothers in Portland, Oregon, not only make an Oktoberfest ale, they also hold their own celebration getting a week's head start on the one in Munich. Their Okto is a bit fuller bodied and darker in color than the Spaten. The malt takes the lead in this version, with a soft layer of hops on the finish evening things out. A touch of spice on the nose and in the mouth adds interest, along with a light floral character that marks this distinctive brew.

Technically, Hale's Ales O'Brien's Harvest Ale is not an Oktoberfest, but it is one of the very best brews of autumn. A light haziness marks this amber-hued brew made with fresh hops from the fall harvest. The toasty malt comes through, but this is a hop-driven ale, lightly bitter and utterly refreshing. Still, it has the strength and richness to hold up to the cooler weather. This one sells out fast, so score your bottles while you can.

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