At long last, Oktoberfest is upon us. After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional Munich festival (which, no, does not really take place during October) kicked off on Saturday and will continue through Oct. 3. Thousands of tourists who were forced to stay home in 2020 and 2021 will flock to the legendary festival to raise a glass, chow down on some bratwurst and get a little debaucherous — and we’re willing to bet they’ll be looking to make up for lost time this year.
To celebrate Oktoberfest’s official in-person return (and to gear up for all the similar Oktoberfest celebrations that take place here in the States as well), we decided to round up as many Oktoberfest beers as we could get our hands on to taste and rank here at InsideHook HQ. Our team of five tasters gave each beer an individual score based on their impressions, and those scores were then tallied up to give us our final rankings. Some beers were sweet, malty Märzens, while others were pale, crisp festbiers more similar to what you’d find in Germany, but the majority of them had us yearning for a massive stein to drink them out of (and maybe a pretzel or two while we’re at it).
You may not be able to make the trek to Munich this year to experience Oktoberfest’s triumphant return, but there are plenty of options to help you get in the spirit here at home. Check out our ranking below to find out which ones to avoid and which ones to stock your fridge with as soon as you can. Prost!
17. Karbach Karbachtober Fest
This Texas brewery’s Karbachtober Fest is a traditional Bavarian-style Märzen, made with Vienna and Munich malts and cold fermented and aged for six weeks. Unfortunately, however, it failed to impress our panel of tasters, all of whom lamented its lack of flavor. One in particular noticed that the malts were barely noticeable — there was nothing here that read as “Oktoberfest.” Instead, it tasted more like a run-of-the-mill lager.
16. Golden Road Brewing Oktoberfest
Golden Road’s marketing materials for this beer go out of their way to highlight its “rich caramel notes,” but oddly, the flavor we all immediately picked up on here was coffee. Of course, that’s a little unusual for an Oktoberfest, but even if you ignore the fact that it doesn’t taste true to style, there’s a lack of boldness here that we don’t typically associate with coffee-flavored beers either. One taster noted it was a little thin, while another summed it up with “I taste nothing.”
15. Widmer Brothers Okto
Widmer Brothers’ Marzen was a little thin. One taster picked up on its bitter finish but noted that overall, there was “not much flavor.” Another picked up on a bit of a soapy flavor, while one who ranked it more favorably liked that it had a “light taste but still was festive.” The good news is you could easily toss back a bunch of these; the bad news is that you probably won’t want to.
14. Narragansett Fest
There’s an interesting, spicy nose on Narragansett’s Fest beer, but the most common comment it received during our tasting had nothing to do with that. Four out of five of us who tried it noted that it tasted like “what you would drink at a frat party” — whether or not you see that as a good thing depends entirely on you and your college experience.
13. Brooklyn Oktoberfest
We’re typically fans of Brooklyn Brewery’s Oktoberfest, but when we tasted it, we wondered if we had somehow received a bad batch. It pours a lovely amber color and you can pick up hints of caramel on the nose, but for whatever reason, this time around, the flavor didn’t deliver on its promise. Most still ranked it towards the middle, but one especially disappointed taster ranked it last, writing, “It just tastes like a bad lager.”
12. Victory Festbier
Victory’s Festbier is brewed with traditional German malts, and though it racked up some respectable, middle-of-the-road scores from our tasters, it failed to truly stand out from the rest of the pack. It received lots of less-than-enthusiastic notes like “fine,” “average” and “meh” — something no one should find themselves uttering about their beer on a festive occasion like Oktoberfest.
11. Devils Backbone O’Fest
We all agreed that Devils Backbone’s O’Fest was a good beer, but we had to dock it a few points for not being very true to style. Every taster pounced on the fact that it tasted more hop-forward than a traditional Oktoberfest — “classic Oktoberfest notes not very prominent,” one wrote — with several of them even noting that it simply tasted like a pilsner. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but it doesn’t exactly make you want to strap on some lederhosen.
10. Bell’s Octoberfest
We tend to associate this beloved Michigan brewery with warm-weather offerings like their Oberon or their year-round classic Two Hearted Ale, but their Oktoberfest (spelled, annoyingly, as “Octoberfest”) was still solid enough to crack our top 10. It’s got a nice biscuit aroma, and the beer itself is a fairly straightforward Marzen that it’d be tough to turn down when you’re hanging by a campfire.
9. Von Trapp Oktoberfest
Before you ask: yes, Sound of Music fans, this brewery is owned by that von Trapp family. Their Oktoberfest Marzen is brewed with a blend of light and dark Munich malts, giving it a nice, sweet caramel flavor that our tasters singled out among a few of their favorite things.
8. Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier
Paulaner has brewed its bottom-fermented Oktoberfest Bier during every Oktoberfest since 1818, and it’s proof that there’s no need to mess with a good thing. It’s a medium-bodied, extremely easy-drinking beer with a malty flavor that eventually gives way to a grassy hop finish. As one taster wrote, “I could see myself drinking a boot of this.”
7. Tröegs Oktoberfest
This Pennsylvania brewery’s Oktoberfest is an extremely well-balanced beer that manages to offer a bit of a twist on the traditional style without straying too far away from it. Its kettle addition of Hallertau Tradition hops gives it some nice floral and herbal flavors — and a very pleasant nose — that aren’t typically present in an Oktoberfest. It’s still sufficiently malty, but those hops give it a subtle way of standing out.
6. Breckenridge Brewery Oktoberfest
“Classic” was the word most commonly used to describe Breckenridge’s offering. This German amber lager is pretty much what we all imagine when we think of an Oktoberfest, and it deservedly earned points for being true to the style. It’s got a nice nose, full of bready aromas, and a smooth, malty flavor profile that’ll have you craving one of those giant Bavarian pretzels.
5. Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest
Firestone Walker’s aptly named Oktoberfest brew is aged on French oak barrels, but maintains a smooth, light quality in spite of that. (“Doesn’t taste barrel-aged, but I could drink a lot of these,” one taster admitted.) The majority of our group loved it, picking up on its sessionability and some pleasant citrus flavors, but one nay-sayer dismissed it as “thin cream soda.”
4. Two Roads Ok2berfest
The majority of our tasters described this smooth lager, which is modeled after the traditional Marzenbier served at the Munich Oktoberfest, as “sweet,” which is interesting given how present the Noble hops it’s brewed with are. But this is not at all a beer you’d call hoppy; instead, it’s smooth, malty and biscuity with the hops delivering a subtle, dry finish for balance.
3. Flying Dog Dogtoberfest
This Maryland brewery’s Marzen is brewed entirely with ingredients imported from Germany, and it’s got a nice, malty flavor profile that features hints of caramel and graham cracker. One taster picked up on a “nice smokey flavor,” while another flagged it as being significantly heavier-tasting than the other beers we sampled but still rated it highly.
2. Weihenstephaner Festbier
It makes sense that a German brewery would be responsible for one of our favorite festbiers. This one in particular is a perfect, classic example of the style — crisp, bready and well-balanced — that pours a lovely gold color and has a dry finish. Because it’s light and drinkable, it pairs perfectly with your German sausage of choice.
1. Founders Ultimate Oktoberfest
This bourbon barrel-aged Marzen is, admittedly, an outlier here. At 10% ABV, it’s almost twice as boozy as the rest of the Oktoberfest brews we tasted. But if you’re going to call yourself the Ultimate Oktoberfest, you better be able to back it up, and this one was overwhelmingly our tasters’ favorite. The bourbon flavor comes through, adding hints of vanilla to the traditional, toasty Oktoberfest profile, but it’s still smooth — meaning it’s easy to toss back more of these than you should. And isn’t that, ultimately, what Oktoberfest is all about?
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