First off, a big thanks to Observer art director Alexander Flores for the beautiful bracket above. As you can see, Round One of Oktoberbest 2011 is complete; Dallas Craft Beer Examiner Paul Hightower has determined the Texas Division winners, and Plano Craft Beer Examiner Brian Brown has picked which two Offbeat Offerings beat off their competitors.
Earlier in Round One, you'll recall, Harpoon Oktoberfest defeated Samuel Adams Oktoberfest and Boulevard Bob's No. 47 beat Brooklyn Oktoberfest in the non-Texan American division, while Spaten Ur-Märzen bested Paulaner Wiesn Bier and Paulaner Oktoberfest beat Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen in the German division.
Which brings us to the last match-ups of the round. In the Texas Division, Hightower pitted Saint Arnold Oktoberfest against Humperdinks Über Brau and Live Oak Oaktoberfest against Real Ale Oktoberfest. As for the "Offbeat" category, encompassing brews that wander off the beaten path of guideline-adhering märzen-style Oktoberfest beers, Brown matched Rahr & Sons Oktoberfest (which is why you don't see Rahr in the Texas Division) against Summit Oktoberfest and Avery The Kaiser against Magic Hat Hex.
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Having really enjoyed Saint Arnold Oktoberfest, I was disappointed to see it eliminated in the first round by Humperdinks. Hightower called Saint Arnold "clear and clean with a light nutty sweetness and malty tang that ensures you can drink this one all fest long," but Über Brau had a "slightly sharper hop bite to cut some of the malty sweetness, possibly owing to the fresher brewpub serving." Considering that Choc was not considered for his bracket because it wasn't as prominent as Samuel Adams, I'm surprised Hightower included a beer that's only available at Humperdinks. Maybe it's just that good. Real Ale versus Live Oak was a heartbreaker for him, it seems. Oaktoberfest was "perfectly balanced with its flavors, mildly malty and spicy and highly drinkable" but Real Ale's relatively new Oktoberfest, the company's first lager, is "bready and malt-forward, just slightly darker than the rest of this division with a hint of roast that takes it right to the edge of the style guidelines" and ultimately held his interest longer than most festbiers. I haven't tried Oaktoberfest myself, but really dug Real Ale's Oktoberfest, largely because of the darker, roastier, bigger flavor.
Surprisingly, despite their German heritages, Spoetzl's Shiner Oktoberfest and Franconia Oktoberfest both failed to make the cut. I really enjoyed Shiner Oktoberfest, finding it really crisp and well-balanced -- but maybe that's just because my expectations for Shiner are never very high. I was pretty disappointed by Franconia Oktoberfest, though I only tried a sample of it at Brew at the Zoo, where I was already half-drunk and sipping from an unrinsed taster cup -- not ideal for making a fair assessment. But Hightower's dismissal of it as "a bit ordinary" is pretty much what I thought.
As for Offbeat brews, Brown set Rahr & Sons Oktoberfest and Summit Oktoberfest against each other; both come in at more than 7 percent ABV, which is what puts them in the category, as the style calls for ABVs of 4.8 to 5.7. The straightforward, malty and bready Rahr easily beat Summit, which was hazy and had an off-putting "caramel apple cider" quality. Never tried Summit, but Rahr has been one of my faves of the year, so I'm glad to see it advance. Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest, which I liked for its distinctive rye smokiness, edged out the big, bad, 10-percent ABV Avery The Kaiser "Imperial Oktoberfest." Brown found its heavy-handed alcohol and sweetness too much; I thought it was almost syrupy, even if the concentrated herbal and floral hops gamely tried to balance it out. An interesting experiment, but I'm not sorry I won't be drinking it again in the Final Pour.
Brown has already narrowed down his two picks for the Final Pour. More on that once Hightower has made his picks as well.