OCTOBERFEST ALE

Welcome back, beer drinkers! I know it’s been a few weeks since my last review but, rest assured, I have spent most of that time away “doing research” and have several beers in line for discussion. Some of you warm-weather fans may not be too excited about my choice of beer for this week and that Fall beers are already showing up on shelves everywhere, but if department stores can advertise for Christmas sales before Halloween has even come & gone, then what’s to stop a brewery from jumping ahead a few weeks. Now I’m assuming some of the more knowledgeable drinkers out there have some concerns with the name of the beer highlighted this week. The first “error” I would point out if reading this would be the spelling of Oktoberfest. With the combination of my German heritage and my pilgrimage to the official Oktoberfest in Munich a few years ago, I am always critical of anyone Americanizing the word by substituting the “k” with a “c”, but to each their own, I guess. The second part of the name that would draw immediate concern on my part would be that it is essentially an oxymoron. Although beer is broken down into several classifications, they all actually belong to one of two groups; ale or lager. Basically, ales use top-fermenting yeast that ages quickly from 60-75° and lagers use slower bottom-fermenting yeast which prefers 34° and several weeks of cold storage. There is a little more to it than that, but I feel it’s a significant description for what we are talking about here. Oktoberfest is a beer style that not only falls into the lager category, but it pretty much defines the style. Before refrigeration, breweries in Germany could not brew during the summer months because the temperature range needed for fermentation could not be met. Because of this, beer would be stored in underground caves to keep it cool during the hotter months. This provided the cold storage needed for lagern, “to store” in English. Oktoberfest, while officially a celebration of the marriage of Price Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, it also marked the time of year when brewers could get back to work and all the stored beer had to be consumed in order to make room for new batches. This certainly sounds like a perfect reason to hold the largest annual fair on Earth.

The beer in question comes from the Wachusett Brewing Company in Westminster, MA. During my last vacation, I spent some time at my family’s lake house which turns out is only about 20 minutes from this brewery. I visited them on a Thursday afternoon to get a quick tour and score some free samples. I occasionally joke around by saying “Once you’ve seen one brewery, you’ve seen them all” because they all use almost the exact same processes and have very similar equipment, but there is always some slight differences and that’s why I take tours whenever possible. This brewery was a perfect example of what I’m talking about. We started our tour with some friendly chit chat with our guide. My girlfriend and I were the only two people on this tour which really gave us a good chance to ask a lot of questions and see some stuff most tours may not be able to. We were given a not-so-brief history lesson about the brewery, which was started by three engineering graduates from Worchester Polytechnic Institute. It was actually quite interesting to see how they applied their engineering knowledge to brewing. The first, and largest, of these applications was the mash tun they built from and old pressure cooker. You may have visions of a locking pot on your stove at home but this pressure cooker is big enough for me to stand up in and close to 20 feet long. What I specifically like about it is the opening is an entire end wall, which make shoveling spent grains much easier than going out through a small port hole like most mash tuns have. The second part of the brewery that really left an impact with me was part of the bottling line. Before filling a bottle, most breweries will purge the bottle of oxygen by forcing carbon dioxide in just before filling with beer and capping. The Wachusett bottling line actually uses liquid nitrogen to remove the oxygen from the bottle, while also chilling the bottle before filling. Now this may actually be used by other breweries but this was the first time I had ever seen it which makes it pretty uncommon in my mind. The last memorable part of the tour for me was when our tour guide stated that Wachusett only brewed ales. I quickly responded that I had seen a tap handle labeled “Octoberfest” which had to be a lager. She smiled and replied “Nope, that’s our Octoberfest Ale”. At this point the tour may not have been over but it sure was for me. I couldn’t pay attention to another word she said and wouldn’t have noticed if we walked into a room full of pink monkeys juggling flaming chainsaws. All I could think about was trying this abomination. When the tour was over, we made our way to the sample bar which was impressive in its own right. They had eight taps flowing with the potential for two more. My girlfriend took the proper tasting route and started with the lightest beer but I had to go right for the Octoberfest Ale. It poured like an Oktoberfest; copper-orange in color with a nice white head and the aroma wasn’t much beyond a slight toasted malt smell. The taste had the strong malt backbone and slight hint of hops that was expected, but it also had a fruitiness that was a bit surprising. I believe it was the yeast creating the hint of apple I was getting which also made the taste a little drier. Overall the beer was very smooth and drinkable, which in my opinion is the most important aspects in a beer that is intended to be drank a liter at a time for hours on end. However, I will say I’m a little surprised that Draft Magazine listed it at #8 on their list of Top 10 Oktoberfests available in North America. I did enjoy it, and even bought more to bring home, but I think the flavors coming from that ale yeast and its overall deviation from the style should have kept it off that list.

Wachusett does some very good work on their other ales. They make a very good rye beer called Ryde and several good IPA’s. Yankee fans might not want to be seen drinking a Green Monsta IPA, but if you find one I would suggest buying it. I know they are distributed by Hunterdon Brewers in NJ but I don’t ever remember seeing them on any shelves. I only remember seeing their logo on Hunterdon’s website because I remember thinking it looked like the logo from the Bottlecaps candy by Willy Wonka. So if you see it anywhere, let me know. I’d like to have it again without having to wait until my next trip to Massachusetts. Like I said earlier, I just got back from vacation where tried a bunch of New England beers that were new to me so the next few week’s reviews will be based on them. Let me know in the comment section, or my fancy new email address listed below, if there are any Fall beers you would like to see reviewed in any weeks ahead. Cheeahs!

Chris Wecht

chris@brewerycomic.com