Thursday, 27 September 2018 13:40

Michigan Marzen Madness: An Oktoberfest Taste-off

Written by  Joe Boomgaard
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Oktoberfest, Mitten Brewing Co. Oktoberfest, Mitten Brewing Co.

Oktoberfest beers conjure up images of oversized beer mugs, lederhosen, boisterous beer halls, and loud oompah music. 

Like many traditional German-style lagers, the marzen or Oktoberfest style also serves to showcase the malt as its central focus. 

Where hopheads have their IPAs, malt fans venerate the marzen style. 

Traditionally, the style was brewed in March and lagered over the summer months in caves and caverns. The style praised for its drinkability, yet subtle complexity would eventually come to take center stage at Oktoberfest celebration in Munich. 

Marzens should be clean and bready in flavor, with a rich malty aftertaste and nonexistent or muted hop bitterness, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines. They also feature a “dry finish that encourages another drink.”

It’s a combination Grand Rapids-based The Mitten Brewing Co. pulled off well in its seasonal Oktoberfest, which was released in mid-September. 

The Mitten’s example was the highest-scoring beer in a blind tasting of Oktoberfest beers conducted by Revue. 

Co-founder Chris Andrus said the scoring was interesting because marzen “is a style where we don’t generally expect to play,” given the brewery is known more for its American craft styles.

With its Oktoberfest, Mitten focuses on brewing a very traditional marzen with all German malts and saaz hops. The particular beer has evolved over the last couple of years to improve the underlying target of “malty and clean.”

While Andrus and co-founder Max Trierweiler are lager fans, Mitten patrons should expect to see them only occasionally, given the added cost, time and tank space needed for the lagering process. 

Still, Andrus said Mitten’s investments in improving beer quality — particularly with its on-site quality lab — have allowed the brewery to produce versions of the style in which the brewing team can take pride.

“What shines is the process,” Andrus said, noting that just brewing a marzen is only one piece of the puzzle. “Taylor Darling is our cellarman, and never is his job more important than with a lager. Lagering is a cellarman’s job. He did a great job, and it shows.”

Highly Recommended

Mitten Brewing Co., 
Grand Rapids
6.5% ABV

Pours clear with a deep coppery color. Malts and bready notes dominate the aroma and carry over to the flavor, where the malts take on an interesting complexity. This is the stereotypical flavor you expect in a festbier. Four of the five tasters on the panel picked this as their top choice. It’s a great representation of the style.

Score: 88.6

Kusterer Marzen
Cedar Springs Brewing Co., 
Cedar Springs
6.7% ABV

The bready and malty goodness welcomes you in with a slightly sweet hug. It’s a very clean, traditional take on what we think of in the style, plus it’s highly drinkable yet rich and complex — if you want to look for it. Lovely dry finish. Spot on. 

Score: 81.8

Wolverine State Brewing Co., Ann Arbor
6.1% ABV

Almost bronze/amber in color, this beer totally smells the part, showcasing the malts front and center. It features a lovely bready/malty flavor, with a slight sweetness that finishes dry. Very well-balanced, while also being very malt-forward. 

Score: 80.2


Roak Brewing Co., Royal Oak
6.5% ABV
Score: 76.6

Octoberfest Beer
Bell’s Brewery Inc., Comstock
5.5% ABV
Score: 76.4

Griffin Claw Brewing Co., Birmingham
5% ABV
Score: 70

Also Tasted

Pigeon Hill Brewing Co., Muskegon

Rochester Mills Beer Co., Rochester

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