2010 is the 200th anniversary of the most well known drinking party in history, Oktoberfest. I won't bore you with all the details, because if you're reading a review of an Oktoberfest beer you should really already know the store of Oktoberfest... Suffice it to say, Oktoberfest is the annual remembrance of a wedding that took place on the Theresienwiese in Munich 200 years ago. People have been returning every year to get drunk and ogle dirndl-clad frauleins ever since. Paulaner, one of Munich's big six breweries, is commemorating the bicentennial with a liter sized can of their Wiesn Bier that comes with the iconic Maßkrug. O'zapft is!
Oh the vaunted German Helles, the beer that shattered so many of my misconceptions about light bodied beer. It's is a style I'm very well acquainted with, having spent a good deal of my 24th summer emptying as many pints of Franconian Helles as I could. I've enjoyed many summertime Helles beers because they are nice and light while being very full flavored. While a Pilsner is crisp and lighter in malt, Helles beers tend to be much more well balanced and deliciously malty. While I've had my fair share of Helles pints in Germany, I haven't had many Hacker-Pschorr beers.
I'm not real sure about this beer... Spaten is a brand I don't drink too often and I've never really been able to explain why in a meaningful way. I don't hate Spaten, but I don't love their beers either. Generally speaking, their beers are about 80% of the way there. They taste vaguely German, kinda how unsauced sweet and sour chicken pieces taste vaguely like chicken nuggets. All of the ingredients are there but something's just... off. Spaten's Oktoberfest plays right into all of my preconceived notions of what a Spaten is, or isn't. This beer follows the Oktoberfest archetype pretty well, it looks and smells like a Märzen style beer. It tastes, however, like someone was meaning to make an Oktoberfest but cut as many corners as possible to do it.
My first run in with the Maximator was in 2006 during a short stay in Munich. It was right before I moved to Bamberg, thus before I knew anything about beer at all. So there I was, in Augustinerbräu's Bierhalle on Landsberger Straße, having just spent the last 6+ hours walking around Munich. I was hungry and exhausted from all the walking so I decided to stop into the brewery for a bite to eat and a beer before walking back to the hostel. I ordered a plate of brats and their seasonal Easter beer, the Maximator. It sounded pretty cool and it was the special so I figured 'When in Rome' ...or 'When in Munich' might have been more appropriate. What I didn't realize was that Easter seasonal Doppelbocks were especially strong beers that were brewed to tide over the monks who had to fast all day. What I came to learn is that those old monks had a much higher tolerance than a half-starved American tourist.
Hofbräu, for many people, isn't just THE Munich beer but the quintessential German beer. This isn't without reason, they make a stellar product. Hofbräu isn't exactly a paragon of German purity, at least not since a Hard Rock Cafe and Seattle's Best coffee shop opened right next door to the Hofbräuhaus (..not to say anything about the Hofbräuhaus in Las Vegas). Remember though, the Hofbräuhaus became a tourist trap for a reason. Tourists didn't start flocking there for the lederhosen alone. Without a solid line-up of world class beers there simply wouldn't be a Hofbräuhaus and, one could agrue, no Oktoberfest. But I'm going off on a bit of tangent... back to the beer. Simple put, the Hofbräu Hefeweizen is the beer which all other Hefeweizens look up to. That isn't to say other beers can't be better, but this one has been top dog in Münich for the better part of 400 years. When you think about what comes to mind for most people when think about the quintessential American beer... usually it isn't something you'd equate with quality...
I still remember my first Augustiner beer, it was in Munich at the Augustinerbräu brewery in 2006. Augustiner was actually the first beer I had on tap in Germany so for that, and many other reasons, it will always have a special place in my heart. About a month ago I was at Gomer's in midtown and saw a couple funny looking bottles in the singles section and was surprised to see that they were actually from Augustiner in Munich. I didn't recognize these new labels, they're a tri-colored picture of an old monk with a look of approval on his face. I hope the packaging is local and the squat bottles are still in circulation elsewhere. But, whatever... the label doesn't change the way the beer tastes. So how was it? Well, it tastes just like I remember... which is to say, it tastes like Germany.