The judges have spoken. The Elite Eight of our Oktoberbest 2011 have been winnowed down to the quaff-able quartet to be sent on to the Final Pour.
And in our quest to determine the best Oktoberfest beer available in North Texas, Dallas Craft Beer Examiner Paul Hightower, Plano Craft Beer Examiner Brian Brown and I, along with a few other beer-loving Observer writers, will sample the finalists (hopefully this Friday) in a roundtable similar to the one that gave rather mixed reviews to Samuel Adams Utopias.
Here's how Hightower and Brown chose their winners:
Hightower picked Real Ale Oktoberfest over Humperdinks Über Brau in his Texas division and Boulevard Bob's No. 47 Oktoberfest over Harpoon Octoberfest. Of the Texas matchup, he appreciated the Humperdinks offering's Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal-winning lightness and drinkability, but ultimately favored Real Ale. "It is heavier, darker, more roasty, more malty and pushes the envelope of the guidelines with its 5.7% ABV," he wrote. "It is certainly not something to be swilled by the liter for hours in a tent but it is undeniably a great-tasting beer." As for the rest of America, Harpoon and Boulevard both offered "fantastic examples of the style," he wrote. But while Harpoon was a "perfectly balanced festbier," he found Boulevard's his favorite: "It is light and caramel with a clean malty sweetness that is accompanied by a faint, crisp bite of bitterness at the end that leaves the palate clean and keeps this beer eminently drinkable."
Up in Plano, Brown picked Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen over Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen in the German division and Magic Hat Hex over Fort Worth's own Rahr Oktoberfest in the Offbeat division. Initially thinking he'd prefer the more robust Spaten, he found a side-by-side tasting changed his mind: "Spaten steps to the fore with what appears to be a more dynamic character on the nose. Once again, though, Paulaner's cleaner profile exposes something less appealing in the competing brew." As for the Offbeat offerings, in the toughest choice of the series, Hex nudged out the local boy for being more offbeat: "The answer lies in the simple belief that Hex better represents what the Offbeat category is all about. In fact, sampled together it is Rahr's distinctive, yet straight-forward malt profile that helps to showcase the complexity of Hex."
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Real Ale Oktoberfest is the only beer I've tried that made it to Hightower's final matchups, and it was indeed a fine dark and roasty O-fester. As for Brown's matchups, I haven't tried either of the German versions this year, but certainly look forward to amending that. Hex and Rahr Oktoberfest were both great beers, and while I didn't try them side-by-side, I definitely found Hex more memorable, more because it stood apart from Magic Hat's usually weak beers than because it was an unusual Oktoberfest offering. I probably wouldn't have been as much of a stickler about whether a given beer strictly upheld style guidelines for märzens, and would've let Rahr compete against the other Texans in place of Humperdinks. But then, I'm not a certified beer judge as my two colleagues are. I certainly look forward to helping decide on the winner.