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Octoberfest Beer

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Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Galesburg, MI

Style: Oktoberfest/Märzen
ABV: 5.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Drinkable, but flawed)

Pair With:
First of all, I’d like to dedicate this review to fellow Beer Dork Franz, who is currently on holiday in Italy and Greece with his lovely new bride. Congratulations guys, and screw you for not inviting Nigel on your honeymoon. It’s not like it’d be incredibly awkward or anything. In memory of bachelor Franz, Nigel would like to begin his first review in three weeks and first review from his new home base by sampling Franz’s favorite style, the Oktoberfest/Marzen.

Ah yes, it’s that time of year ladies and gentlemen. Nigel woke up with erect nipples this morning, and I’m pretty sure it was from the frigid breeze blowing in my windows since I don’t own a cat. While I do enjoy a good Oktoberfest, it’s not my favorite style. Fairly basic and lacking any unique characteristic, the Oktoberfest style is the amber of the early autumn months. It’s hard to screw it up, but also hard to make it stand above the rest. However, if there’s a brewer out there capable of making an elite Oktoberfest, it would certainly be Larry Bell and the crew in Kalamazoo. These guys could make a beer that used Eddie Glick’s crusty old socks as its basic ingredient taste good, so I’m very excited to see what they can do with a traditional German brew that uses quality ingredients.

First, a word on Nigel’s first two weeks in his new locale. Damn, I love this place! Nigel is within walking distance of four—yes, four—microbreweries (a free pint to the first Beer Dork to guess them all), within a short driving distance of another, and, well … unfortunately within shouting distance of one of the “Big Three.” In addition, Nigel discovered one of the finest retailers of craft brews in the Midwest yesterday. What appeared to be a dumpy neighborhood liquor store on the outside ended up having the finest craft beer selection (and wine, but who cares) I’ve ever seen. After having simultaneous orgasms upon entering, Nigel cleaned himself up and pulled himself together, walking out with a mother lode of quality craft brews (OK, I’ve got to give the shout out: props to Discount Liquors on Oklahoma Avenue in New Nigeland). Though it’s a bit of a drive from Nigel’s base in the heart of downtown, I will undoubtedly be making many return trips to Xanadu, scoring a wide variety of quality craft brews to enjoy and review for you, the intelligent beer drinking public.

So, on to the task at hand, which is Bell’s unfortunately spelled Octoberfest (please, use the “k,” people). As I stated earlier, if anyone out there could turn a fairly tame beer style such as this into something special, it would be Bell’s. Bell’s Amber is, in my opinion, the king of the style, and Oberon is easily the best American wheat you’ll ever have. Other Bell’s selections, such as Kalamazoo Stout, Two Hearted Ale, and Hopslam are in the very top tier of their respective styles, and their seasonal releases are usually among the best out there. So, this is gonna be the first Oktoberfest to blow my mind, right?

Oh, my. I never thought I’d see the day that a Bell’s beer was a huge disappointment, but today would be that day. Is Bell’s Octoberfest awful? No, not by any means. But for a beer style in which being average is good, and slightly above average is great, this is slightly below average, which is bad (got that, kids?). Not only is this slightly—emphasize the slightly—below average, it comes from a brewery that is far above average, making this a solid two-mugger. If this was some obscure, non-elite brewery, I would be torn between a two and three, but this is Bell’s, and my extreme disappointment has pushed this down another notch.

Bell’s Octoberfest pours with a light fizziness. The initial foam evaporates almost instantaneously, almost like you just poured a Diet Coke into the glass. After a minute, you have the most lifeless brew you will ever see: no head, no lace, and no bubbles anywhere. It looks like a Midwestern lake on the calmest day of the year, when the water looks like a sheet of glass. Although the color is quite good for the style, with a rich golden brown, semi-clear hue, the lack of life in the glass is hard to ignore. Yes, I’m aware that Oktoberfest/marzens are not the most exciting brews when viewed in the glass, but this is ridiculous.

The aroma helps ease my fears after the disappointing pour. Pleasant enough for the style, though somewhat faint, hints of both sweet and roasted malt are tinged with a bit of hops. The taste is, well … a letdown. Mostly standard Oktoberfest fare here: heavy on roasted, nutty malt, as well as a sweet caramel and molasses sugariness. A bit bready, meaning it’s heavy on the yeast, with virtually no hoppy bitterness, Octoberfest has a stale, unappealing flavor that makes you long for the next seasonal release, praying to the beer gods that Bell’s returns to form. Octoberfest is a medium-bodied brew that goes down smooth (not surprising given its lack of life), but has a far too-strong aftertaste.

So, there you have it: a subpar brew by Bell’s. While Octoberfest is certainly drinkable and may be enjoyable to some, it does nothing to place it above the muddled pack of Oktoberfest/Marzen brews that are bombarding store shelves this late summer/early autumn season. It may be worth a shot if you’re a diehard marzenhead (if there is such a thing), or if you’re doing a tour o’ the Midwest during the Oktoberfest season. Otherwise, try another quality Midwest brewer’s take on the marzen, and stick to Bell’s Amber for now, or start hoarding Oberon before it’s too late.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on September 14, 2007.
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