Great Lakes Oktoberfest: A true signature beer
September 20, 2012
I have tended to look past beers from Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewing for several years. Part of that is probably due to the fact that I have easily drunk a lifetime's worth of their beer already. They were the craft beer in town before there was such a thing as craft beer in this town. Now that the whole world is awash in the stuff, and quality beer from practically anywhere on the planet can be easily purchased from any local shop, sticking with a particular brand has become much harder. We should all be supporting the local brewers, though. Otherwise we will head straight back into the dark ages with only the same five bland macro beers available. We never want that to happen again, do we? The other thing that rankles me a bit about Great Lakes is the whole hyper-infatuation with their Christmas Ale, which is unwarranted for one thing and poorly handled for another — with distributors strong-arming stores and bars that only want to sell it for them in them in the first place. Anyway, all that is forgotten and forgiven because Great Lakes makes the best Oktoberfest beer that is not brewed in Austria — all right or, maybe, Germany.
This marzen style beer is comfortably in Great Lakes' wheelhouse and they have knocked it out of the park. Most of their beers tend toward the Germanic, with big malt profiles, but this one stands above. It is the color of shiny copper and a respectable foamy head sits atop. The lacing is superb. The malt, of course, stands out in the aroma giving it a bready nose that is a bit on the sweet side, with a dab of hops to spice it up. As it opens up, that bread gets toastier. The flavor is complex and malty with the hops only playing a supporting role. It has the autumn flavor of smoky hay and a caramel sweetness along with the bread that stands out in the aroma, and the hops just sit lightly on top to give it a little punch and dry out the finish. There is a creaminess throughout that softens any edges and helps hide the 6.5% alcohol. This is an excellent beer garden beer; it is a shame it is only offered from August through October.
Just as required in any Oktoberfest beer, this beer practically begs for a good sausage slathered with spicy mustard. It would also probably do well with some wings, but I would tend to give it what it asks for. A big stein of this in a tree shaded beer garden could transport anybody straight to Bavaria. I have criminally never been to an Oktoberfest that has served this beer, but it should be mandatory. Nothing that was ever served instead was comparable. In the fall, inexplicably as far as I am concerned, people have gravitated to the pumpkin flavored or otherwise over-spiced beers that flood the shelves at this time of year. Great Lakes Oktoberfest is much more appropriate and satisfying. It is smooth and easy drinking, and the medium body gives it just the right amount of heft.
I have had my quibbles with Great Lakes. Their beers can start seeming to be one-note, but if malty is the note you like, you will probably go for most of their beers. Their Oktoberfest is every bit as malty as the style dictates, but it does not get that stickiness often associated with marzens. This is the beer that Great Lakes should be known for. It is far superior to the vastly over-rated Christmas Ale everyone loses their silly minds over. There are no gimmicks in this one. No spices to distract. It will not remind you of a slice of pumpkin pie. It is brewed to be the best marzen style beer you can find, and that is exactly what it is.