Every time I see a large display of pumpkin beer at a grocery store I think, “Who the hell is still buying this stuff?”
These displays show up in late August – when summer is still very much a thing, mind you – and take up significant real estate in grocery store aisles and on beer shelves.
I don’t know anyone who drinks pumpkin beer anymore, but apparently enough people still do to warrant displays so big you’d think Mainers only swill pumpkin beer in the fall.
Two years ago, I did a taste test of nearly a dozen pumpkin beers and came up with my top five picks. Though a few skirted the line of being “good beer,” they mostly tasted like synthetic pumpkin, plastic candy corn and sadness.
I haven’t had a pumpkin beer since that fateful taste test, and even then, I was getting paid to write about them.
Right now you might be thinking, “Hey, I like pumpkin beer in the fall.” Perhaps I’m being too harsh on these gourd-inspired beers. But perhaps not.
If you like pumpkin beer and you’re still reading this (thank you, by the way), you’re probably thinking, “OK, mister beer writer, then what should I drink this fall?”
My answer: one of the many great Oktoberfest beers being made by Maine breweries. An Oktoberfest beer is a märzen-style lager brewed with amber malts and lager yeast. This drinkable style of beer debuted in 1841 at Germany’s Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest lagers, as they are also known, have the crisp bite of a lager, the malty complexity of an amber ale, all while being brilliantly crushable for daylong festival imbibing. It’s the perfect style for early fall when the days are warm and the nights are brisk.
A number of Maine breweries are canning Oktoberfest lagers this fall, making them widely available around the state. Here are three I’ve been crushing.
Rising Tide’s take on the märzen lager pours the palest shade of amber of the Oktoberfests in this roundup, with a yellowish red hue. Its nose gives off malt notes of subtle copper and cereal along with floral hop notes from the German hops. With the first sip, it’s clear that this märzen lager would fit in perfectly at Germany’s Oktoberfest. It has the clean, easy drinking characteristics of a lager with a nuanced malt complexity that makes you salivate.
This take on the classic märzen lager pours a deep red hue in appearance with a nice foamy head of tiny bubbles. This is the most malt-forward Oktoberfest on this list with notes of cereal and molasses; however, the malts don’t overpower the palate, keeping this märzen wonderfully drinkable. As the beer warms up, titillating smoky malt flavors begin to surface — reminiscent of fall bonfires. The beer finishes with a subtle caramel flavor and earthy, citrus hop notes from the German Hersbrucker hops.
Cracking a can of Bunktoberfest releases fresh notes of grassy hops and molasses bread. The beer pours a golden amber topped with a frothy white head reminding me of those iconic photos of dimpled Oktoberfest beer steins filled beyond the brim. At 6.3 percent, this is the booziest märzen of the bunch, giving it a nice alcohol kick beneath flavors of caramel, biscuits, subtle copper and herbal hop notes. The finish leaves a satisfying sweetness on the tongue along a refreshing lager bite that makes the palate yearn for more.
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
12 to 6 p.m., Saturday, 94 Patterson Road, Limerick. On Facebook
Located in rural Limerick, Gneiss Brewing celebrates four years of brewing German-inspired beer. Its Gneiss Weiss hefeweizen quickly became a local favorite as a drinkable wheat beer perfect for warm-weather imbibing. Since opening, Gneiss has added a number of year-round offerings, along with a line of barrel-aged beers. Saturday’s party features a lineup of 10 beers, along with food by El Camino Fresh Mexican Grill. Expect live music and lawn games all in a beautiful bucolic setting.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, 106 High St., Portland. On Facebook
Anytime I can do good in the world while drinking great craft beer, I’m in. Little Tap House, Austin Street Brewery, and The Pixel Fund combine these two elements at Pints for Paws this Sunday. This event features adoptable dogs hanging out on the patio at Little Tap House. Austin Street has brewed a double dry-hopped IPA, called Florens, for the event. After a few pints of Florens, it might be hard to resist not taking one of these cute pups home with you. All proceeds from Florens will benefit The Pixel Fund.