Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Upland Brewing Company
Bloomington, IN

Style: Oktoberfest/Märzen

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Pair With:
It’s mid-January, and I’m drinking an Oktoberfest … you got a problem with that?

Let’s talk seasonals. Check that … let’s talk out-of-season seasonals.

Anyone even remotely familiar with craft beer understands the idea behind seasonal brews. Just as any fine chef has certain dishes that pertain to the changing seasons, craft brewers do the same. It’s typically light in summer, dark in winter, with a wide variety in between, from spring bocks to fall märzens. The types of styles associated with the various seasons often dates to the Middle Ages, so this isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s something that has been re-discovered in America thanks to the craft beer explosion of the past 20 years.

While the seasonal talk could go on forever and deserves a larger forum than a beer review, my choice of brews begs the question: does it matter what freakin’ season it is? Isn’t a good beer a good beer regardless of whether it’s a July heat wave or a January cold spell? Are we as drinkers and craft brewers in general too set in tradition as to not explore outside those unwritten parameters? In other words, will my Upland Oktoberfest taste like a frozen dog poopsicle because it’s the dead of winter rather than the harvest? I think not.

Some brewers do certain styles exceptionally well, and my argument is that they should play to their strengths year-round. Dabble for sure, but don’t get away from what you’re good at just because it’s perceived to be out of season. Capital Brewery is one of my favorite examples of this, as they brew some of the best bocks found anywhere and they do it in every season but summer. They make other seasonals as well, but they don’t come close to the quality of their bocks. It would be a shame if they only did, say, two bocks a year (autumn and spring) because that’s what ze Germans did back in the day. I love Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Wet Hop Ale, which they brew in the traditional fall slot when the Northwest hops are harvested and now again in the spring, importing fresh hops from the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an awesome beer … why have it but once a year?

And, for the lovers of those seasonal styles, it sucks to have to stock up during a short, often less than two month window to satisfy the cravings. Franz is a good example of this. German to the core, his favorite style is the Oktoberfest/märzens. While I’m personally baffled by that choice and know for a fact that Franz is a true connoisseur, a lover of many styles, there’s no reason he should have to wait until September to get his märzen fix, then have to frantically scour store shelves in December for any remaining tidbits. If you make a mean märzen, then you should do it for more than a month or two.

Which brings me to Upland Oktoberfest, which I’m not only reviewing in January to make my seasonal point, but also to piggyback on my last review, which was for another Upland seasonal, Ard Ri. And, not to retract everything I just said, but I kind of want to get it out of the way … not because of its seasonal status, but because I’m not nearly as ga-ga over märzens like Franz is. Nigel needs room in the ol’ beer closet.

Unlike Ard Ri, which was a unique brew that was hard to pinpoint, Oktoberfest falls largely in line with the parameters of the style. The pour gets us started in that direction, as it pours clean, with a mild frothy head of about an inch that quickly dissipates, leaving a slight lace at the top throughout. It’s a beautiful golden brown hue, with a slight hint of cloudiness. All in all, a picturesque brew that matches what you’d expect from the style.

The aromas are also typical for the style, but a touch enhanced given the typical weakness of märzen scents. A pleasant bready, earthy aroma dominates, with hints of roasted grain and yeast. A slight touch of sugary sweetness is present in the background, adding an extra boost to a solid, if not overwhelming aroma.

The flavor is quite pleasing while falling largely within my expectations. Malt dominates, with equal parts light toasted graininess and a more yeasty, bready tone that’s typical of märzens. Sugary notes of caramel and toffee provide a nice secondary flavor, playing well with the initial onslaught of grain. On top of that, there’s a noticeable bite of citrus in the background, one you don’t usually sense in a märzen. But, when combined with the sugars, it plays well, making Upland Oktoberfest a tad sweeter than many of its brethren, all while maintaining that earthy, grainy, malty overtone. It’s extremely balanced and flavorful, but again … not excessive in any area. Medium bodied and smooth on the palate, Oktoberfest is a prime candidate for a session brew, be it during its early autumn peak or any other time of the year.

Upland Oktoberfest is a good example of why certain styles shouldn’t be limited to any particular time of the year. Of all the Upland brews I’ve sampled to date, this easily is the most approachable, a solid drink that lovers of a variety of styles are sure to enjoy. I’d say pick one up should you see it, but you’ll likely have to wait until September to find this tasty seasonal treat. And that just plain sucks.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on January 26, 2010.
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