German brews here in Ohio’s heartland
By Kevin J. Gray
Every fall, beer lovers around the world eagerly await the arrival of Oktoberfest beers, the big, malty beer style of Bavarian origin. Traditionally, each March, Bavarian brewers would brew up batches of a style called Marzen then store the beers in caves through the summer months. In the fall, they’d literally roll out the barrels and tap the kegs. The worldwide popularity of the style is probably due to its being served at Bavaria’s Oktoberfest celebration. The 400-year-old festival originated as a wedding celebration, when, in October of 1810, Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (later crowned as King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The general public was invited to attend, something not often done in those times, and nearly 40,000 locals showed up. The celebration stuck and four centuries later, brewers around the world brew Oktoberfest beers in celebration. But you don’t have to go to Bavaria to have fine Oktoberfest-style beers. Thanks to the Midwest’s strong German heritage, here are five versions of the style brewed right here in Ohio.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest (Cincinnati)
I know, I know – Samuel Adams is brewed by the Boston Beer Company, but the truth is that most of the Sam Adams beers are actually brewed right here in Ohio. While the company headquarters are still in Boston, in the late 1990s the company purchased the old Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery in Cincinnati, founder Jim Koch’s hometown. For many, this moderate 5.3 percent ABV beer marks the start of Oktoberfest season. The beer itself pours a reddish amber hue, with a thin tan head that clings to the edges of the glass. The flavor is a roasty malt, with only very slight caramel and toffee notes. Minimal hops in the aroma, but a slight bite that is part hops, part biscuity bite from the malt. Overall, more toward the sweet side than the bitter.
Thirsty Dog Barkoberfest (Akron)
Some readers will remember when Thirsty Dog was the Miami Valley’s sole remaining brewpub. While the Centerville location has been replaced by a mega-gym, the Akron-based brewers are still pumping out great beers. A nod to German tradition, this Oktoberfest is brewed with German malts and hops. This dog is a full-flavored, big malty Oktoberfest with a bite. Many will note strong malt flavors, ranging from sweet caramel to bready biscuit notes. This year’s version is a tad paler and less orange than other Oktoberfest beers, with a thin tan head, but this six percent ABV beer has a huge flavor and a lot of bite. There are a lot of complex malt flavors here, with a nice hop kick to balance out the sweetness.
Great Lakes Brewing Company Oktoberfest (Cleveland)
Great Lakes makes outstanding seasonals. While Oktoberfest is almost upstaged by Nosferatu, a monster of a seasonal red ale that is resurrected each year in the weeks before Halloween, the Cleveland brewery’s take on this traditional German style should not be missed. Along with the Sam Adams Octoberfest, many in the Midwest consider GLBC’s Oktoberfest to be a quintessential taste of the season. This beer is a nod to Cleveland’s Oktoberfest and the city’s large German population that once celebrated the festival in outdoor beer gardens like Haltnorth’s Garden and Kindvater’s St. Clair Garden. The beer itself is 6.5 percent ABV, and brewed with Munich and caramel malts that give it a full-bodied flavor and malty aroma, with mild bitterness from the Hallertau hops. Available all over the state, but probably best tasted in the Cleveland brewpub’s beer garden.
Wooden Shoe Minster Oktoberfest (Minster)
Sandwiched between Lima to the north and Dayton to the south, the village of Minster, Ohio celebrates a massive Oktoberfest annually, drawing more than 80,000 attendees each year. Wooden Shoe Brewing Company is headquartered in Minster and this year has created a Minster Oktoberfest beer to commemorate the village’s annual festival. Brewed with the traditional Oktoberfest flavor profile of big malt and balanced hops, this brew uses German and Vienna malts to achieve hints of caramel, toffee and bread-like notes. The label features Bobblehead Bob, the mascot for Minster’s Oktoberfest and the brewery is selling special 5-packs of the Oktoberfest. The pack includes a Bobblehead Bob where the sixth beer would be. (You can also pick up a traditional sixer, without Bob, but where’s the fun in that?)
Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier (Cincinnati)
No Oktoberfest list would be complete without a focus on Cincinnati (or, as the locals call it around this time of year, Zinzinnati). The city overflows with German heritage, as witnessed by the annual Oktoberfest celebration — second in size only to the original Oktoberfest in Munich. In fact, with more than 500,000 attendees per year, the Zinzinnati Oktoberfest has been dubbed the largest American Oktoberfest. And no mention of Cincinnati would be complete without a nod to Hudepohl. Cincinnati was once crammed full of breweries making traditional German style beers, and Hudepohl was one of the last breweries standing. The brand disappeared at the end of the last century but resurfaced under different ownership last fall, with the introduction of Hudepohl Amber. The brewery has added an Oktoberfest this year, which falls in line nicely with a standard Oktoberfest style — big malt and balanced hops. This beer is solid, albeit a little tamer than the others on this list. It might be a good one for folks new to craft brewing.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.