With all respect to Munich, the best Oktoberfest beers in the world are no longer exclusively German. In fact, as the brewers of Deutschland become more industrial than traditional, Americans have taken the lead in producing both pristine examples and inventive hybrids. Here are our absolute favorites, 10 Americans and four Germans.
Two Brothers Atom Smasher
On October 12th, 1810, Bavaria's Prince Ludwig was married to Therese of Saxe-Hildberghausen and the citizens of Munich were invited to celebrate the occasion at a massive festival on the fields in front of the city gates. This being Germany, beer was served. The event was such a hit that it has been repeated annually ever since, with only the occasional break due to cholera epidemics and war. Both the festival and the beers that were served there became known as Oktoberfest, and we can all thank Ludwig and Therese for the complex (yet easy-drinking) lager and the great parties.
The Oktoberfest beers are smooth quaffers with a nuanced malt backbone. Only Munich-based breweries are allowed to sell their beers at the official festival, but the style has spread globally. Two Brothers Brewing Company, located outside of Chicago, brews one of our favorite American examples. Its Atom Smasher respects the traditional Oktoberfest flavor profile, but also puts a unique spin on the concept.
Atom Smasher pours a pale copper with a light tan head and it has a delicate bready aroma. At 7 percent alcohol, it's a stronger beer than most German examples, but if you didn't read the label you'd never know it. It drinks dangerously easily and has a beguilingly subtle malt character with a gentle toastiness. The beer is lagered, or aged cold, in oak foudres – large upright wooden barrels that are more commonly found in wineries than in breweries. The foudres soften the flavors a bit while adding a trace amount of vanilla flavor. This isn't a flavor that we normally associate with an Oktoberfest beer, but like the higher alcohol, it's not at all unwelcome.
Atom Smasher is packaged in bottles adorned with an illustration of the oak foudres that they're aged in – a nice touch. Unfortunately, there's a catch: Two Brothers have limited space in those foudres. Consequently, Atom Smasher is a limited release beer. Drink it while you have the chance because we're buying it whenever we see it. [twobrosbrew.com]
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco