We at Mashing In continue to honor Fest Season this week by taking a look at the 2016 Oktoberfest Festival Lager collaboration from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, California) and Mahrs Bräu (Bamberg, Germany).
Last year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. began a new approach to the annual release of their Oktoberfest. Instead of revisiting the same beer recipe each year, the brewery now works in collaboration with the finest brewers in Germany to create one-time only releases that pay proper respect and homage to the Festbier style. This 2016 release of Oktoberfest was brewed with the help of Mahrs Bräu. Located in Bamberg, Germany, this “family owned and operated business, run with conviction and passion,” has been brewing beer with “Character” since 1895. Combing countless years of brewing knowledge, representatives from both Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu decided to brew up an “authentic version of the festival beer . . . deep golden in color with a rich malt complexity, but with a noticeable spicy hop character from the use of the nearly forgotten Record hop varietal.” That description alone is enough to whet my appetite, so let’s grab a glass and get to some Tasting Notes!
Tasting Notes for 2016 Oktoberfest Festival Lager from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. & Mahrs Bräu
Appearance: As this 2016 Oktoberfest Festival Lager fills the glass, it is obvious that it differs from the subject of last week’s Tasting Notes – Oktoberfest from Cigar City Brewing (click here to read up on that one) – by being an offering that is a lighter, more blonde representation of the Festbier style’s history. This one presents itself as a rich gold in color. When held to direct light, it then glows with hues of brighter golds and straw yellows. The body has an immaculate clarity and displays a carbonation presence pulsing rhythmically in a few locations along the glass. A little over a finger of intensely white foam built off of the pour. It clings with determination to its initial site, leaving sizable chunks of lace at the mouth of the glass. Because of this, the head falters to a thin top cap after just a few sips. As you can see from the photo above, it is truly a sight to behold.
Aroma: Surprisingly, lager yeast greets the nose first with that clean earthiness that we all seem to associate as that archetypal, “that’s beer!” characteristic fragrance. A light malt presence works its way forward with crackery notes and a dollop of honey. The hops then saunter in casually to finish things off with delicate earthy, spicy and fruity tones. The overall aroma is by no means dainty. It is blatantly foreshadowing this beer’s full intentions.
Taste: The malts turn up first with gently sweet notes of grain, cracker, and simple breads. The malt and grain presence may be light, but it is by no means shy. They are here to shine and are held up by a pronounced lager yeast note that gives the drinker a full on Pils-like experience. This is all accompanied by a soft hop character putting out grassy and spicy notes along with just a whisper of fruity tones in the background.
Mouthfeel: This lager is light in body, but it wants to push itself closer to medium. It has a generous carbonation level that tickles the tongue and throat. On the palate, it is crisp with just a touch of playful sharpness. The sweetness of the malts seems to vanish just as quickly as it hits the taste buds. At 6%, the ABV does make itself known a bit with some warmth turning up on the throat and in the belly. The aftertaste is just some lingering light grains.
Final Thoughts: Stay with me here while I paint a picture for you. You are driving down a country road with the windows down to soak in everything that this beautiful day has to offer. Your travels take you by a farm that is in the process of harvesting grain. As you pass, you notice a presence that is filling the air. This is more than just the hearty, clean aroma of freshly cut grain. No, this is an indescribable phenomenon that permeates and saturates all-encompassingly: a smell in your nose, a taste in your mouth, a flood of memories in your mind, etc. Nostalgia. This is something you have felt before, but it is almost as if you are experiencing it once again for the first time. Losing yourself in this realization and whatever images this experience has conjured up in your mind, you cannot help but grin, slow down just a bit and fully take it all in before the moment passes.
This beer is that experience in a glass. What I mean is that it is obvious that Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu wanted to create the cleanest, most quintessential of lagers when they approached this 2016 Oktoberfest. From the first sip, they want your experience with this lager to somehow be both virginal and familiar. That first sip, although new, is processed as a memory. This is a beer that makes you feel like you may have had it before while still coming across with a level of craftsmanship that you have yet to encounter during your craft beer journey. If you are looking for a simpler description, we can push verbosity aside and say that this is a beer meant to quench the thirst of the beer connoisseur and the everyman. A beer that is so refreshing and clean in flavor that it will never have the chance to go warm in 2 liter steins at Oktoberfest celebrations everywhere. In summation, it is a beer that can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. Prost!