You know how dickheads of a certain stripe like to accuse the rest of us decent and delicate folk of being "fake outraged" when we get offended by things like racist team names, sexist advertising, or casual child abuse? They are so certain of their wrong opinions that they cannot imagine that we honestly disagree; they think we're just acting pissed for sport. Fuck 'em.
In this vein, lots of serious beer people … um … seem to get surprisingly exercised about seasonal releases. I see where they're coming from, to a certain extent. The constant change broadens our drinking options in obvious ways, but it taketh choice away at the same time. Just the other day, a thoughtful Drunkspin commenter pointed out that if Sierra Nevada weren't so fixated on seasonals these days, they could do away with the mediocre Flipside Red IPA and extend the availability of the excellent Ruthless Rye.
Fall is a particularly vexing time for the anti-seasonal brigade. The peeve they pet the heaviest is "seasonal creep"—the way the next crop encroaches on the current season. Since summer is the best season (just for straight living; beer opinions may vary), it bums them out on a couple different levels when fall beers start showing up in the crotch-sweatingest days of early August. Firstly, because it heavily implies that summer will once again have the gall to eventually end, and also because most autumn beers kinda suck.
There's the pumpkin problem, about which I'm of two minds. I don't like all the nutmeggy bullshit myself, but I know a lot of people who really look forward to it, and I don't see where it really hurts the rest of us. The world's supply of Cantillon is not affected by InBev's inevitably forthcoming release of ShockTop: Extreme Cinnamon Edition!
But fall also comes with an infinitely more credible option: Märzens, the traditional German Oktoberfest beers. (The rules concerning what qualifies as an official Oktoberfest beer are old and German and found here; most American beers labeled "Oktoberfest" are brewed in the Märzen style.) The problem here is that one of the reasons geeks so loudly denounce pumpkin beer is that it deflects attention away from the fact that not too many of us really dig this style, either.
Märzens are mid-potency lagers traditionally brewed in their namesake month of March, stored over the summer, and released for Oktoberfest (which begins in Munich this Saturday). They tend to be copper-colored, heavily malty, slightly roasty, and egregiously under-hopped for the average American beer-drinker's taste. I'm no kind of hophead, as beer writers go, and I'm a huge lager advocate, but even I tend to be bored by most of these things.
Not all of them, though. Firestone Walker is a great brewery that's not afraid to cheat the style guidelines a bit and sacrifice authenticity to serve the greater good of delicious beer. They do this with their way-hoppy Pivo Pils, which I hold against them because I happen to like the hop profile of more traditional pilsners. But I heartily approve of their hopped-up Oaktoberfest Märzen. Capricious!
It smells like regular old brewski, which is disorienting, considering Firestone Walker's innovative bent, reputation for barrel-aging, and inclusion of the word OAK right in the fucking name! They are liars. I wouldn't be surprised if no one at the brewery had ever burned a rock or engaged in bipedal locomotion. Turns out the "oak" reference is an homage to their hometown of Paso Robles, which means "pass of the oaks" in Spanish. The beer's full given name is Firestone Walker Paso Märzen. Great. Fine.
That filthy trickeration aside, this is very good stuff. It opens with the traditional Märzen notes of sweet, lightly roasted molasses, then extends into apple and earth notes before the peppery kick of an apparently high dosage of Hallertau hops kicks in to lend the balance lacking in most Märzens.
If you're lucky enough to find yourself in the right beirgarten in the next few weeks, look for a mug of Oaktoberfest to help wash down your sausage, and your seasonal disdain.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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