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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Oktoberfest at Der Rheinlander

Lovely Portland, already turning cloudy.
Thanks to PDX Pipeline I won a pair of tickets to Oktoberfest at the Rheinlander in Portland, Oregon. Growing up in Wisconsin, where Polka is the state dance, and having 80% German in my blood, Oktoberfest is as common to me as Thanksgiving or Christmas. While Oktoberfest celebrates all things beer, I've come to find it a time to celebrate the end of summer, and enjoy the Autumn harvest. Eating, drinking, and dancing the polka is an added bonus.

The Rheinlander did not disappoint when it came to any of the above mentioned qualities this festival has become known for. On tap was two beers from Spaten, and one from Hofbrau. All three were filled with full bodied textures and hints of sweetness in the their finish.

To wash your beer down, they had a full menu of sausages, pretzels (with Swiss cheese fondue), German potato salad, and schnitzel. While slightly expensive (what can one expect, it's Oktoberfest, right?), the food was both high quality and delicious.

What Oktoberfest would be complete without games and music? My friend, Sarah, participated in the litre stein challenge - hold your mug at arms length without bending or moving it. While she put up a valiant effort (and was the last girl standing), the dudes prevailed in this contest.

Lastly, we have the band, Poloma, who are from Chicago.  They kept the crowd entertained with traditional music (Roll out the Barrel, Happy Wanderer, etc.), keeping us on our toes with ziggy zaggy chants, toasts, and song lists for us to sing along with them.

While Der Rheinlander is different than the huge Oaks Park Oktoberfest (which has several tents with bands, wiener dog races, and vendors selling wares), it's intimate setting, entertaining band, and tasty food has won me over. I'd also like to note that proceeds to the Rheinlander's cover charge benefited the Northwest Down Syndrome Association.

Not able to make your own Oktoberfest? My suggestion is to buy a six pack of Widmer Brothers Okto add some polka, eat a sausage, and you will have a taste of the full Oktoberfest experience.


Questions? Comments? Please write below, or contact the author at: 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Oktoberfest beer from a regional perspective - Virginia & Maryland

We have looked at the benchmark German style Oktoberfests, we looked at a local, and now we are going to take a closer look at a few regional Oktoberfests. Regional in this case means Virginia and Maryland. 

Legend Brewery, out of Richmond, is a Virginia institution, brewing beer since 1994. Drink enough beer in Virginia and sooner rather than later you will have a Legend.

Legend Oktoberfest poured a clear, bronze color, with minimal head. On the drink it had a very pleasant hop and rich slight sweet toffee taste mixed together. Carbonation is a bit above average. It is lighter on the palette than expected, but interesting to note, the aftertaste is reminiscent of a much heavy beer. On the finish it leaves a cloying bittersweet taste in the mouth. I felt I needed to spit after a few drinks. For me this beer is an easy, well-balanced Oktoberfest to drink, but it requires food to clean out your mouth afterwards. This beer is not a solo companion, it needs some wurst and pretzels, otherwise you may find it sticks around too long afterwards. It comes in at a slightly low, for an Oktoberfest, 5.4% ABV.

Here is the "party line" on Legend Oktoberfest:
Legend Oktoberfest is a celebration of malt harmony! This copper hued lager is brewed on a base of Vienna malt and owes its rich flavor profile to generous helpings of Munich and Caramel varieties. This beer is on the sweet side of balance, but the soft complex maltiness is countered by a touch of German Spalt hop bitterness for a clean finish. Legend “Fest” complements hearty cool weather food like stews, sausage dishes, and smoked meats.
DuClaw Brewing started in 1996 and has established itself throughout the eastern Maryland region. They brew a diverse array of brew and are well received. Similar to Legend, you can't drink Maryland craft beer without having a DuClaw sooner or later.

DuClaw's Mad Bishop poured a clear amber color, with minimal head. It lacks the toffee, caramel notes of other marzens, replacing them with a hoppy, roasted maltiness. The hop flavor flowed through the drink and into the aftertaste eventually giving way to a light residual barley flatness in the mouth. It is bittersweet but not overwhelming, a smooth crisp drinker overall. It is a decent beer but a bit too grainy. If that is something you enjoy out of your beer then this is marzen will be right down your alley. It comes in at 5.8% ABV.

Here is the "party line" on DuClaw Mad Bishop:
So begins the SERMON

Haunting the congregation with its distinct copper color and rich toasted malt flavor, this true German-style Octoberfest lager is smooth in body and uses German hops in the brewing process to balance out the distinctive, toasted malt sweetness. The clean smoothness is created by the long conditioning (lagering) process of 8 weeks, which is something they don’t talk about in Sunday school.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beer Links for Oktoberfest!

Beer and pretzels, two things that
are even better together!
(Original found here.)
Oktoberfest is in full swing and Autumn is here. The next two months are my favorites in the year. Let’s take a look at a few headlines.

In the News!

Photos: Oktoberfest – world’s biggest beer festival going strong (Denver Post)

Has Oktoberfest Become A Tourist Trap (Photos) (Huffington Post)
Over 6 million people on 64 acres at tourist prices? I think the safe answer is yes, it's a tourist trap. I still want to go.

Raise a glass (or beer mug) to the Oktoberfest tradition (NBC News)
Can’t make it to the big one? Here are some American alternatives.

Oktoberfest Alternatives: German Beer Destinations Beyond Munich (Conde Nast Traveler)
Want to get away from the big one? Here are some other Deutsch alternatives!

Daughter won’t get beer, so man calls 911 (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Oh stupid beer crime, I do miss you.

10 Most Expensive NFL Stadium Beers (The Street)
Drink before you go in the will save you money.

Drunkenomics 101: Playing a Beer Market (Wired)
Not much in the way of beer, but it could make for an entertaining evening.

When it Comes to Beer, Variety Rules in USA (Voice of America)
This right here is why America is currently the best beer country in the world. Not only are we brewing more styles, we are even bringing them back from the dead.

Crooked Stave Barrel Cellar ordered to stop selling draft beer (
I'll be a bit put out if I can't get a few bottles for some reason when I go to Denver in a few weeks.

New Beer Bar Makes Stolovayas Trendy Again (The Moscow Times)
I just want to know what beer they have!

National Drink Beer Day: Cheers to free (and reduced) beer across America (Video) (
I don't need an excuse to drink beer but if one is available then why not use it!

Budweiser Will Launch 3 Limited Edition ‘Zip Code’ Beers Next Month (Business Insider)
I think this will be the perfect opportunity for a big ol' beer roundtable with the JGF crew.

In Site News!

Oktoberfest month drives on so we will have some more Oktoberfest reviews and commentary coming your way so stay tuned. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

American Craft Oktoberfestbier doubleheader!

Last time we took a look at the current reality of "true" Oktoberfestbier and the "legend" of Oktoberfestbier. It is the legend that has heavily influence the American craft scene in regards to their views of märzen. Let's dive into a few examples to see the interpretation. 

Left Hand Brewing Oktoberfest
Brewed by Left Hand Brewing out of Longmont, Colorado, their Oktoberfest poured a clear, dark, amber color with minimal head. It has fair carbonation and on the drink it is hoppy and bitter with little of the toffee malt flavor you would expect. In fact on the first taste I was slightly taken aback on how bitter this actually was. The bitterness yields as you continue to drink but it never fully backs down, staying ever present even through the aftertaste. The toffee flavors and a slight sweetness start to emerge from the background as the beer warms but they aren't able to balance the märzen as they should. This is a beer out of balance with too much bitterness overriding everything else. If you prefer a bitter tasting beer then this is worth checking out. Overall I'm glad I tried this but it is doubtful I will come back to it. Left Hand Oktoberfest comes in at 6.6% ABV.

Here is the "party line" from Left Hand Brewing:

"This is no festivus for the restuvus - on the contrary - we start brewing in the Spring and it takes a full two months to reach lagered perfection.Biscuity, malty goodness dominates upfront while the noble pedigree hops lend a properly spicy, dry finish. Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi. Time to roast your chicken and upend your stein before the air gets crisp, the leaves flame and fall and the skies fade to black. Auf geht's!"

Stegmaier Oktoberfest

Brewed by the Lion Brewery out of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Stegmaier Oktoberfest poured a clear, golden amber color with a small white head that slowly collapsed into a film across the top of the beer. On the drink this beer reveals that it is slim, with little body. It is light in ways that a märzen shouldn't be. All the characteristics are present, the hoppiness, the toffee flavors, the sweetness, but it seems they have been diluted and aren't as pronounced as you would expect them to be. It finishes very quickly, with little aftertaste. Long story short this is a gateway beer for märzen style brews, as an entry point for novices this will work well, but more experienced beer drinkers this will quickly pass by. It comes in at a surprising well masked 6% ABV.

Here is the "party line" on Stegmaier Oktoberfest:

"In recognition of our German heritage, we proudly present you with our Stegmaier Oktoberfest Beer. Traditionally known as Marzen, it boasts a brilliant reddish-brown color and full-body for the true beer drinker. In Using a blend of Munich, Vienna, and Aromatic malts, Stegmaier Oktoberfest possesses a light-toasted character with a touch of sweetness. The addition of German hops adds a perfect balance of flavor, which is sure to be enjoyed by the most sophisticated palate. We hope you enjoy. Prost!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Your mid-week beer links to keep the mind Oktoberfest sharp

Oktoberfest. (Original found here)
Since it is Oktoberfest month here at JGF lets start off with a few Oktoberfest related stories.

In the News

Fort Bragg cancels annual Oktoberfest celebration; decline in revenue, attendance cited in festival's demise (Fayetteville Observer)
A part of me isn't really surprised and I'd be curious to know how this was promoted over the last few years. Something tells me that the Ft. Bragg MWR didn't really move with the times.
Germany's real crisis: Oktoberfest beer shortage looms (NBC News)
I guarantee the bottles will come swarming in. Those Germans couldn't handle the embarrassment if their premier festival had a beer shortage.

Heading to Oktoberfest in Munich? Read This, Especially If You're Female. (
Some good tips in this if you travel across the pond to the big one.

Red Robin Beer Milkshake Debuts Ahead Of Oktoberfest (Huffington Post)
We have Red Robin's near us. I may have to go try this...but I must admit I'm hesitant.

Portland's Passions for Beer, Bicycling United in New Guidebook (Sacramento Bee)
Looks like Sarah is going to have a new project for JGF!

Campaign launched to mass produce White House beer (Mother Nature Network)
An interesting idea but their kickstarter campaign needs a lot of help if this is going to become reality.

The Audacity of Hops (
A very informative article on what it takes to get started in the commercial craft brewing industry.
Is Obama's public love affair with beer improving his numbers among male voters? (The Province)
Your American politics article through a Canadian lens. Remember what Lincoln said.

You're Doing It Wrong: Pumpkin Bread (Slate)
Pumpkin brews aren't getting covered till next month, but here's a recipe to tide you over. Somebody needs to try this out and report on it.

Carlsberg Expects European Beer Market to Be Challenging in 2013 (Bloomberg Business News)
Market saturation is coming for macrobreweries and once arrives the craft beer industry better be prepared.

A new marriage of kebabs and beer in PB (
This sounds like a winner.

President of Beers (Willamette Week)
Here's a countdown that is sure to piss you off in some aspect, beer snobbery at its finest.

In Site News

The biggest news is that JGF is welcoming a new writer into the fold. Craig Jones, a frequent commenter on the blog has joined the writing team and will be bringing his thoughts and food knowledge to beer reviews. In addition he will be taking a closer look at the exploding Southern beer scene. Welcome aboard Craig.

Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Untappd, and Google+. Just click on the widget in the upper right corner and it will take you where you want to go. Thanks for stopping by. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

We kick off Oktoberfest month; a dose of reality and a taste of a legend

September has arrived and with it the greatest beer festival in the world. I speak of course of Oktoberfest. For sixteen wonderful fall days, people will drink, eat, and be merry. So in celebration of that we are taking September to take a closer look at not only the festival, but also the beer that named after it. To start off we are going to take a look at two German brews, one that reflects the reality of today and one that informs the legend. 

First we will look at the reality. Staatliches Hofbräu-München has been brewing beer for the Bavarian state for a long time. They are one of the select breweries allowed to produce for the Oktoberfest and label their beer accordingly. The irony is our first beer doesn't look anything like what you would expect an Oktoberfestbier to look like. So what gives? When you look at the parameters that define Oktoberfestbier this beer actually is. It is brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, around high 5, low 6 percent alcohol, and the brewery is within the city limits of Munich. That's it. That is all it takes for a beer to be an Oktoberfestbier. Turns out Oktoberfestbier is a bit of a misnomer. For over 200 years the beers served have varied from dunkel, to bock, to märzen, and since 1990 all beers brewed and served at Oktoberfest have been golden colored helles brews. The festival has evolved with the times and so has the beer. Basically, Oktoberfestbier is dictated by whatever the popular taste is at the time. We will get more into this craziness later in the month but for now lets dive into the beer.

Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier is one of the beers you will find in the tents at Oktoberfest. It is a Helles style beer, but due to the rules it is an Oktoberfestbier. This is the current reality. The beer poured a clear dark golden color, with a small white head. It has a pleasant malty aroma. The hops are up front giving way to a smooth, malty, slightly sweet taste. It finishes bitter but the aftertaste vanishes quickly. It is a very drinkable beer with a nice body on it. Make no mistake, this is a festival lager, a beer to carry you throughout the day, while you eat some sausages, enjoy a pretzel and generally have a good time. It is an average brew that is an easy drinker. It comes in at a sneaky 6.3% ABV.

Here is the "party line" on Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier:
The Munich Beer Festival, or Oktoberfest, is an event of superlatives - it's the largest popular festival in the world, staging in the beer metropolis of Munich. Millions of visitors from all over the world flock along every year to enjoy its very special atmosphere.
For this occasion, Hofbräu brews a rich, full-bodied beer which goes down ideally with traditional Bavarian cuisine. With its deliciously bitter taste and alcoholic content of 6.3% volume, Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier is as special as the Beer Festival itself.
Now for the legend. Our other candidate is Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen. This beer is about as authentic an old world, old school Oktoberfestbier as you will find. As mentioned above, you are 22 years to late to find this in the Oktoberfest tents. For American craft brewers this is the style (maybe even the actual beer) that has informed their Oktoberfestbiers to this day.

It poured a rich, clear, amber color with a light tan head that shrank down to a thin layer across the top of the beer. On the drink you get a pleasantly malty, hoppy mix. It has some sweetness to it, and a nice rounded body with decent carbonation. It coats the mouth and on the aftertaste you get a mild bittersweet roasty and toffee nut flavor that sticks around for several minutes. This too is a sausage beer, but it clamors for some rye bread and spicy brown mustard also. As you keep drinking this beer reveals itself as a very smooth and easy drinker. This is a well crafted beer and worth tracking down. It comes in at 5.8% ABV.

Here is the "party line" on Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen:
The Oktoberfest, the world’s greatest folk festival, attracts millions of visitors every year and of course, there’s a special beer here too. But, whether it’s in a bottle or in a Wiesn beer mug, the Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen is available the whole year round. Its clear amber colour, malty taste, with hints of toffee, and its zesty bitterness will instantly turn your own four walls into an Oktoberfest tent.

Over the course of the next month we'll take a closer look at Oktoberfest itself, but beer-wise we will be focusing our efforts on how the American craft brew scene has defined Oktoberfestbier and continues to stretch the boundaries of it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Beer links for the post Labor Day funk

The unofficial end of summer is here but the heat hasn't gotten the message, at least here in Virginia. We haven’t done the news lately so let’s get caught up.

In the News
Beer Drinking: Shape Up! (The Economist by way of the Chicago Tribune)
In other words my tulips are trying to mess me up.
Yes, I do wish I was still on the beach.
White House beers just in time for the debates (Washington Post)
Homebrewers get brewing…for America!

White House Beer: A Brewer Weighs In (New York Times)
Now that the recipes have been released, everyone has an opinion. I still just want to taste the originals, though I am not holding my breath with my interview request.

SAB Miller Relaunches Spiced Indian Beer (Wall Street Journal)
I would be curious to try these, and I think you could do some cool things with Indian spices but based on the brewer I don't think these will pass muster.

5 intoxicating facts about beer (Mother Nature Network)
Beer…it’ll get you drunk.

Budweiser turns to music in bid to attract younger beer consumers. (Los Angeles Times)
Two things in this article that are interesting, the first is that Budweiser knows it missed the boat on changing tastes, the second is the Project 12 Brews. Stay tuned as we will be tasting those.

How to get beer into backcountry without turning hikers into pack mules (Alaska Dispatch)
Having hiked a few miles with a pack on my back all I want to know is how it tastes after 20 miles of hoofing it.

Japanese Beer: A Look at Asian Craft Brews (The Daily Meal)
Some cool new names to track down for that Japanese Untappd badge.

The 20 Top Selling Domestic Beers (Huffington Post)
Not only is the list deceiving it is also depressing.

2012 NFL Beer Bible (Esquire)
Just in time for the start of the season. Yay!

In Site News
Macro month is over and there is a lot of ground uncovered, partially from me refusing to get out of my vacation mindset and the rest from the fact that I found more material than I could shake a stick at. Something bigger is will be coming out off all that research so stay tuned, I just don't know what that format will be yet.

Now we dive into the big pool of flavor that is Oktoberfest month. Also it is the start of the NFL season, (Go you Packers go!) So what can you expect? A little history, reviews of a variety of Oktoberfest brews, and whatever else we can scrape up.

As always thanks for following. Remember to like/ follow/circle/friend us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Untappd. We made it easy, just click on the widget in the top right corner. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fruity Beer & Fruity Pies: A Summer Sensation

As well all know, the late, great, Michael Jackson really knew his stuff. Jackson's word in beer has been my own training of sorts. So when he tells me he loves a beer - in fact thinks its one of the best 10 beers in America, I'm listening. Oh - and did you say it's brewed by New Glarus, one of my favorite breweries? I'm definitely on board now...

New Glarus Brewery's Belgian Red is "the marriage of wine and beer." If its not 100% beer and its not 100% wine, how do you pair it with something? The answer to me is simple: pair it with something that is both sweet and savory. How about pie! YAY PIE!

Its berry season in Oregon, and the Farmers Markets are filled with the ripe local delicacies. Since moving to Oregon, I've been hooked on marionberries, a hybrid blackberry with a balanced amount of sweetness and tart. My lovely wife, a baking phenom, takes homemade pie dough (seriously, she makes the stuff for fun - I'm sure a pre-made pastry shell from the cold case in a grocery store would work fine, too), lines it in an oven safe ramekin, and adds the berries. The berries I'm told simply have a little bit of water, lemon juice, sugar, and corn starch, but that's it. Baked in a 400 degree over until perfection and now it's time to eat.

Pairing beer with food can be tricky, but when successful, it can be a joy. Michael Jackson is right by naming New Glarus Belgian Red as a top beer in America - a perfect crisp taste, just sweet enough to awaken the palette and tart enough to make drinkable (and, by drinkable, I mean sharing a 750 ml bottle without getting tired of it). The marionberry pie enhances the beer's wheat-like flavor, and doesn't over power the pound of Door County cherries put into every bottle.

Overall - a perfect desert to any outdoor meal, picnic, or barbecue (oh, who am I kidding, a perfect desert ANY TIME!). Next time you have a fruit beer or a lambic try pairing it with in season fruit pies.

Have any good beer & pie pairings? Let us know in the comments below.

{ prost! }

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mere shadows of their former glory: Pabst and Schlitz

For the last set of reviews for macro month we are going to look at two beers that once dominated the American beer scene. Both were the most popular beer in the country at one time and both have fallen whether through mismanagement, greed, or a combination of both. 

Pabst Brewing is a beer conundrum. It is the fourth largest brewer in the country but it doesn't own a brewery, while it was started in Wisconsin it now has its corporate headquarters in sunny Los Angeles. It was a beer my grandfather and uncles drank but it is reinventing itself as a go to beer for the hipster and alternative crowd. While Pabst has been resurgent it is a pale imitation of its halcyon days. In the latter half of the 1800s Pabst was the dominant brewery in the United States and locked into a fierce rivalry with Anheuser-Busch. The whole blue ribbon thing was Pabst's way of rubbing their rival's nose in it. Unfortunately Prohibition was not kind to Pabst and compounded with some poor decisions by the 1940s they were well outclassed by both Schlitz and Anheuser-Busch. Eventually they lost their reputation too, ending up in the bargain bin of cheap beer

A funny thing happened though in the middle of the last decade, Pabst became popular again. A new group of people started to glom onto the beer drinking it as an ironic statement first, but later as an alternative to Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. In addition, Pabst Brewing actively worked at corralling a lot of old and defunct American lager brands, plumbing the nostalgic value out of these where they could.

Pabst Blue Ribbon poured a clear yellow straw color with a white foamy head. It has more flavor than its peers, at best it could be described as a very mild pilsner, with a hint of the earthiness and crispness you would find in one of those. It has a good deal of carbonation keeping it light on the tongue and it finishes with no real aftertaste except that faint macro flatness. Pabst isn't anything special but it is probably cheaper than its macro brethren and better you expect. It comes in at 4.74% ABV.

Schlitz is the "Beer that made Milwaukee famous" and at one time was strong enough to trade blows with Anheuser-Busch for American beer primacy. These days it is an afterthought, a small flicker on the radar. More known now for being a case study for marketing folks on what not to do. (Seriously, go follow that link and read the article. We'll be here when you get back.)

In its heyday Schlitz Brewing went toe to toe and round for round with with the St. Louis heavyweight and often came out on top as the bestselling beer in America. The 1940s and 1950s were golden times for Schlitz and it flip flopped back and forth for the top spot. Eventually though Budweiser won out seized the top spot for good. To make a long story short Schlitz decided to become more efficient with the breweries they had and started shortchanging their fermentation process and the ingredients for their beer without an overarching long term strategy. Needless to say it spelled disaster and Schlitz tanked, dragging its reputation down with it. By the time it was all over Schlitz ceased to be, bought up by Strohs, who was then acquired by Pabst . Now Schlitz is just another beer brand in its old rival's retirement home of brews.


So what to make of the beer itself. For starters this took a little bit of work to track down. I was set to go to Pennsylvania to find it, but fortunately friend of the site, Eric, tipped me off to a store in Rockville, Maryland that was a whole lot closer. I made the much shorter drive to Rockville and discovered Belby's Discount Beer & Wine

A quick side note, Belby's is the kind of beer, wine, and liquor store that is fun to stop by and see what treasures are hidden on the shelves. Family owned and operated it is packed to the gills with alcohol goodness both with top shelf and low shelf. While its non-descript appearance doesn't look like much on the outside don't let that fool you. They have a good selection, are very friendly, and are reasonably priced. There were more than a few beers on the shelf that I hadn't seen in awhile or ever before and that makes this store a winner in my book.

Now lets get to the pouring. Schlitz poured out a clear light golden color with a white foamy head. On the drink the first noticeable thing is that there is some body to this beer. It has a very mild hop to it with good carbonation mixed in with some biscuity flavor, and it finishes with a pleasant malty aftertaste. It is an easy drinking beer. It is reminiscent of Coors Batch 19, another beer that surprised me. It comes in at a 4.6%ABV.

What makes the 1960s recipe so intriguing is it aids in revealing Schlitz's twofold legacy. First is the lesson on what not to do with your brand. That is the overt part. The second though, is a little more devious. Don't think for a moment that Schlitz's competitors didn't see what happened and learn from Schlitz's mistakes. I would argue that Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, Miller, and Coors all incorporated some of the efficiencies that Schlitz had used both with beer ingredients and fermentation process but were better prepared to take full advantage of them. In other words the macrobrews you drink today are pale reflections of what they were fifty years ago. To wrap this up if you are going to drink a macro brew then you could do a whole lot worse than drinking a Schlitz.