The first round of Oktoberbest 2011 is halfway over, with a couple of surprising upsets and a couple of shocking, bit-spitting failures by favored programs to even make the sweet 16. (Well, actually, they're just too hard to find in stores, but that doesn't quite have the same drama.)
Plano Craft Beer Examiner Brian Brown and Dallas Craft Beer Examiner Paul Hightower have each finished judging the first division in their respective categories of this bracket-style Oktoberfest beer judging. Each is judging eight beers in two divisions for the first round. The winners go on to a second round, with the final four judged in a Final Pour at Dallas Observer HQ.
Hightower is judging Texas beers and non-Texan American beers, while Brown is taking on German beers and "offbeat" beers, brews that don't fit the standard Oktoberfest märzen style. Hightower is done with the first round of American O-fests and Brown has waded through the first German onslaught. Read on to gasp at the thrilling underdog victory, bemoan the fall of a favorite and curse that your bracket already doesn't have a chance at winning the office pool.
Also after the jump is information about a Deschutes guided tasting at the Libertine tonight (which replaces the usual last-Wednesday monthly beer dinner) and drinking and balloon twisting with the coolest clown since Shakes at The Common Table.
Hightower matched Samuel Adams Oktoberfest against Harpoon Oktoberfest, and didn't mince words when choosing the winner. After praising Harpoon's slightly sweeter, maltier base and appreciable hop bite, he had this to say about one of the forefathers of American craft brewing: "The deciding factor comes with the Achilles heel present in just about every Samuel Adams product. It is technically perfect but ultimately soulless, a very clean and highly drinkable caramel lager but without any presence, personality or distinctiveness."
Ouch. Wonder if he'll draw as big a reaction from Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch as he has from that other big swinging Koch of the craft-beer world, Stone Brewing Co.'s Greg Koch, who fired back after Hightower asserted that Stone has become stagnant.
In his other matchup, Boulevard Bob's No. 47 Oktoberfest versus Brooklyn Oktoberfest, he chose the lighter, more balanced Boulevard offering.
A past favorite, Flying Dog Dogtoberfest didn't make the cut as bottles were too hard to find, and the fine Choc Choctoberfest wasn't quite prominent enough to get a tourney invite.
Brown pitted Paulaner Wiesn Bier against Spaten Ur-Märzen and Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen against Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen. The corny sweetness of the blonde lager Paulaner Wiesn Bier sunk like a depth-charged U-boat against the toasted malts and light creamy body of the Ur-Märzen, though Paulaner's other offering triumphed thanks to its better balance and more moderate malt sweetness against the heavier Ayinger.
As for German biers that didn't make the cut, Beck's Oktoberfest was too watery and burnt tasting and Hofbräu was too boring.
The only matchup I can speak to this year is Sam Adams vs. Brooklyn, and I've got to agree that Sam Adams failed to make much of an impression. It's clean and crisp but too light for my tastes. Brooklyn is marginally richer, but wasn't especially memorable either.
I'm much more excited to see what the others have to say about the Texas and offbeat beers. Looks like Magic Hat Hex, which I really liked, will make the offbeat category, along with Avery's The Kaiser, which I tried for the first time a couple weeks ago and found to be just as comically overbearing and pushy as its namesake. But I'm most curious to see how they rank the Texas beers, as Saint Arnold and, yes, Shiner have been my fave O-fests of the season.
The Round 2 semifinal will pit Texas against the rest of America, while the offbeat beers will surely test the patience of the stoic four-ingredient Germans.
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Deschutes brewer Robin Johnson will lead drinkers through a guided tasting starting at 7 tonight at The Libertine Bar featuring three Deschutes beers with three food items for just $20. On the menu:
Mirror Pond Pale Ale paired with Mussels in corn stock.
This is base camp, where any craft brew exploration begins. A distinct hop nose and hop-forward flavor make Mirror Pond the quintessential Pale Ale. It is aromatically complex, multi-layered, and unmistakably "right." ABV 5%
Obsidian Stout paired with Venison chilli.
Deep, robust and richly rewarding, this is beer to linger over. Obsidian has distinct notes of espresso, chocolate, roasted malt and black barley, with just enough hop bite to cut the sweetness. ABV 6.4%
The Stoic paired with puff pastry triangle with vanilla cream cheese, chocolate ganache & blue berry glaze and whipped cream.
A prized, potent, Belgian-style Quad of stirring depth and complexity. Four nuanced fermentations. Aged, sequestered, in select rye whiskey & wine casks. Ergo a stoically brewed quad, with the spellbinding complexity of its medieval ancestors. ABV 11%
And The Common Table's Brewsday Tuesday tomorrow, starting at 5:30 p.m., includes a special guest, Hoppy The Clown, who will drink, smoke and maybe make you a balloon animal while you enjoy Clementine, Tramp Stamp, Eagle Claw Fist and Hoppy Feet.