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Since the real Oktoberfest begins today, here is the long awaited Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beer rankings for the 2015 season! I have been ranking Oktoberfest, Pumpkin, and Autumn beers since 2010. I noticed that there has been a little trend during my years of review- some of the quality has gone downhill over the years due to perhaps mass production, skimming on ingredients in an effort to curb production expenses, and/or rushing these beers out of the door too quickly. I remain extremely peeved that Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers hit the shelves prematurely – drinking a Fall-based seasonal beer in late summer is the last thing on my mind. Premium shelf space, my ass! Do it right. Anyway, take some time to read through this and make a run to your nearest bottle shop and celebrate one of the world’s longest running parties. These Germans do it right year after year hence the German Oktoberfests sitting nicely (and deservedly so) atop of my rankings this year again.
Oh, before we go ahead to the rankings, I have to say my biggest two disappointments lie with Beck’s largely due to allegations that Anheuser-Busch fooled customers into thinking Beck’s beer was from Germany when it’s actually made in St. Louis, Missouri. That is a big no-no in my book. That’s totally messed up! So they get the boot entirely, in fact, Beck’s will not be mentioned in these rankings. Such as shame as the Beck’s Oktoberfest was always my top 3 go-to beers. Now, the other disappointment is how malty the Great Lakes Oktoberfest was this season. I am not going to even list a top 5 this year, but rather do a top 3. Do me a favor, save yourself the time and money – most of your local beer or even food stores will carry these top 3 brands almost with 100% certainty.
Note: The focus here are the Oktoberfest and Pumpkin brews only. Other harvest/autumn beers are not considered as there are many, many of them out there especially excellent ones to include Founders Harvest; Great Lakes Nosferatu; Sierra Nevada Northern Hempishere Harvest and Tumbler; Abita Pecan Harvest; Ommegang Scythe & Sickle; Troegs Dead Reckoning; Fordham Dopplebock; Red Hook Late Harvest; and Avery the Kaiser to name several.
3 – excellent – a must try!
2.5 – very good
2 – satisfactory
1.5 – could be better
1 – don’t bother
0- avoid at all costs!
Top 3 Rated Overall Oktoberfest
1. Spaten Oktoberfest
2. Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen
3. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Märzen
Top 3 US-Brewed Oktoberfest
1. Left Hand Oktoberfest-Märzen
2. Live Oak Oaktoberfest
3. Leinenkugel Oktoberfest
Top 3 Pumpkin Beers
1. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
2. Cigar City Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale
3. St. Arnold Pumpkinator
3 – Excellent: A must try!
Spaten Oktoberfest – Created in 1872, is the world’s first Oktoberfest beer, brewed for the greatest folk festival in the world. Amber in color. This medium bodied beer has achieved its impeccable taste by balancing the roasted malt flavor with the perfect amount of hops. After five years of doing the rankings, this beer remains my top Oktoberfest choice!
Paulaner Oktoberfest – Another Oktoberfest favorite! Minim friars founded Paulaner in 1634 and named the beer in honor of the patron saint of their own order, Saint Francis of Paola.The taste is not that of a dark, robust Märzen, but rather like a German pils with a slightly sweet, bready, and a crisp, hop finish. Smooth and well-balanced. Paired very well with my grilled brats and sauerkraut.
Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest – Another one of the Märzen versions of oktoberfestbiers from the Munich brewers. This is a change-up type of beer. Deep copper-red color with a big light beige head. The flavor has a rich toasty and darker character with a touch of caramel sweetness. Hops are mellow. Pretty clean and drinkable.
Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen – I just had to include this beer here – solid performers season after season. Showed a deep caramel orange/brown with a thick white head with tremendous retention and lacing. Smell was sweet with bready malts, caramel and brown sugar. Some faint earthy hops as well. Perhaps a lighter and sweeter version of the Paulaner? This is a class within itself.
Schlafly Pumpkin Ale – A St. Louis brew brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Henry David Thoreau said it best, “I rather sit on a pumpkin and have it to all myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion”. This brew just jumped to near the top of my list for the 2012 season – I appreciate its consistency in flavor season after season.
St. Arnold Pumpkinator – A great surprise from the Houston, Texas brewery – very difficult to acquire as soon as it hits the shelves due to its popularity. Full of pumpkin spices, nutmeg, caraway, and vanilla. The taste starts with chocolate malt with a hint of spice and rolls into a warm spicy alcohol taste which has the effect of creating the balance that usually comes from the hop bitter. Great pumpkin beer!
Cigar City Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale – I actually tried this late last year as this beer is tough to come by from Cigar City in Tampa. Aromas are crisp toast and caramel, vanilla and toffee, biscuits, and pumpkin puree, a bit sweeter with decent pie spice. Flavors of allspice, nutmeg, mild vanilla, and some caramel. Some crispness. Fairly balanced for a sweeter beer, spice and vanilla, sweet malts.
Live Oak Oaktoberfest– A rich malted Oktoberfest with nice roasty and oaky flavors underneath. I tried this one at the Flying Saucer in Texas and was surprisingly impressed with this one. Sure wish they distributed this one outside of Texas. A go-to whenever I head down to Texas in the Fall.
Left Hand Oktoberfest – One of the more pronounced domestic Oktoberfests from this Colorado brewery in terms of flavor. It certainly beats out most of the pale-malted, noble-hopped, domestic excuses for the genre that turn up too frequently. Nice Märzen-lager and copper type of flavor.
Leinenkugel Oktoberfest – An old-school Oktoberfest lager from Wisconsin, satisfying and refreshing when you’ve been wanting a beer all week, or you’ve already had your fill of the richer more expensive beers and just want another. It’s moderately fizzy, faintly fruity, and just a great autumn beverage. Blend of pale, caramel, and Munich malts.
Avery Pump[KY]n – Bourbon barrel-aged pumpkin porter, spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, and aged in fresh Bourbon barrels for 6 months. One of my favorites! I have yet to see it on the shelves in 2015. TBC…
Avery Rumpkin – This first member of the Avery Annual Barrel-Aged Series was brewed with roasted pumpkins from a local Boulder County farm, and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Another favorite from Avery of mine – was torn between this one and the St. Arnold Pumpkinator (oh and the Avery PumpKYn too).
2.5 – Very good
Williamsburg Alewerks Pumpkin Ale– This amber colored ale is loaded with Pumpkin pie aroma and flavor. At 7.3% ABV, it will keep you warm on a cool Autumn eve.
Dogfish Punkin Ale – One of my first favorite seasonal brews from Dogfish Head when it first debuted several years ago. Sweet, roasty, and subtle pumpkin spices. A go-to pumpkin beer that seems abundant in supply.
Elysian The Great Pumpkin – Pretty heavy on the spices on this one with cinnamon and nutmeg standing out, but it is balanced by a nice sweetness.
Warsteiner Premium Oktoberfest – Is not as associated with the familiar Märzen Oktoberfest style. Caramel malt with some tart fruit flavors. Spicy bitterness with some nuttiness on the tongue. Easy to drink and not too complicated.
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale – This pumpkin ale claims to be the mother of all pumpkin ales. It is heartier, spicier, and more “caramelly” and “pumpkiny” than its faint brethren! They have added lots of pumpkin along with Cinnamon, Nutmeg and a touch of cardamom and clove giving this beer a spicy, full-bodied flavor.
Hardywood Farmhouse Pumpkin – Brewed in the style of the farmhouse ales of Belgium’s southern countryside, Hardywood Farmhouse Pumpkin utilizes a blend of rye, wheat and barley in the grain bill, earthy flavoring hops and a classic saison yeast. Ripe, flame roasted Virginia sugar pumpkins and brown sugar provide a hearty backbone to this 8.5% ABV beer. Freshly ground Ceylon cinnamon, whole Grenada nutmeg, whole Madagascar clove and whole allspice harmonize with pounds of freshly sliced organic ginger root.
Post Road Pumpkin – A Brooklyn Brewing product that is subdued, while there is pumpkin, spice, & sweetness all present. It is still an ale at the core and not overdone in its flavor profile with too much of anything. Mouthfeel is medium-bodied, decent carbonation. This is one pumpkin ale, that one could drink a couple of, it very much has a more relaxed character compared with its peers.
Southern Tier Imperial Pumking – Pour Pumking into a goblet and allow it’s alluring spirit to overflow. As spicy aromas present themselves, let its deep copper color entrance you as your journey into this mystical brew has just begun. Only as of the past year, this beer has become a tad too sweet for my liking. I just don’t see the appeal anymore…
Heavy Seas Great Pumpkin: Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Another local favorite. Heavy Seas adds the pumpkin during the mash at precisely the right time to create just the perfect balance of malt, hops, pumpkin and spice. 2015 update: I think this brew is made anymore… I’ll keep my eyes peeled. If not, this goes off the list in 2016.
Victory Festbier – A Pennsylvania-brew favorite of mine. Seductively smooth, this medium-bodied amber beauty is akin to the great Oktoberfest beers of Munich. All German malts and whole flower European hops make this lager true to style.
Weihenstephaner Festbier – This German brew is sweet, malty, a bit of grain, good flavor. Feels medium bodied in the mouth and has good drinkability.
Würzburger Oktoberfest – Had this draft beer at a local German beer garden. The taste consisted of soft malts, a light caramel and fresh baked bread. Noble hops cleaned the flavor a bit. The mouthfeel was toward the lighter side of the style. Overall a tasty and light bodied Octoberfest. Very quaffable.
Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout – This Massachusetts brew is surprisingly drinkable. No thick feeling is identified; the flavor is reminiscent of pumpkin. Mostly cloves and spices. The only seasonal stout I actually enjoyed thus far.
Bells Oktoberfest – Caramel malts come through first and even add some nice sweetness to the normal grainy flavor. Hops are present but subdued and have a floral taste. There is a nice kick of spice in the finish that helps mix up the flavors. It finishes crisp and clean that makes this easy to drink.
Mad Fox Punkinator – A Mad Fox Brewing pumpkin ale made with 250lbs of heirloom Cinderella varietal pumpkins. Spiced with pumpkin pie spice from Penzeys of Falls Church, right across from the brewery. Medium bodied and very low hopped so the spiced pumpkin flavors are forward. Only available on draft at the brewpub.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest – Sierra Nevada, one of America’s craft beer forerunners (founded in 1980), turned to Augsburg-based Brauhaus Riegele, a family-owned German brewery with even more history (1386), to launch a collaborative Oktoberfest beer series. The flavor profile is rooted in Bavarian tradition, benefiting from German Magnum hops and a host of malts, including Munich and Pilsner, which unite to deliver a caramel finish.
Great Lakes Oktoberfest – Way malty and too sweet – kind of Spaten on sugar steroids. What happened to you!? You’re going down the list quick. I hope to see better results in 2016 otherwise you’re going to the next tier below…
2 – Satisfactory
Harpoon Oktoberfest – A top choice in this category. The overall character of this Boston-brewed beer is a rich, full-bodied, maltiness whose sweetness is balanced by generous use of hops.
Hofbrau Oktoberfest – I might get booed on this one here, but I feel the purpose of this very popular Oktoberfest beer is for drinkability over quality. However, I will gladly drink this on any day; it is just not my top Oktoberfest selections.
Erdinger Oktoberfest – A nice light golden German ale beer.
New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest – Balanced beer – upfront malt, caramel, and just decent missing the mark barely. I need to try this again.
SurlyFest – Malted Rye, Flaked Rye, and Crystal Rye impart a distinctive biscuit flavor to the Vienna Malt body, but could be slightly better. Need to try this again as well.
Duck-Rabbit Märzen– Toasted malts, rich nutty character, crisp red apple, caramel, toffee, woody notes. A solid Oktoberfest.
Elysian Dark O’ The Moon – Stout brewed with pumpkin, and pumpkin seeds with cinnamon added. Spookily smooth and chocolatey with a hint of cinnamon.
Kuhnhenn All Hallows Ale – Extremely spiced. Cinnamon, nutmeg. Pumpkin still light. Not a heavy pumpkin at all. More pumpkin in the finish than anywhere else.
Legend’s Oktoberfest – Was disappointing as I like the beers from Legend’s Brewing Company in Richmond, Virginia.
Schlafly Oktoberfest– Solid festive beer. Bready malts with a hint of a caramel sweetness throughout.
Kulmbacher Mönchshof Festbier – Also had this draft beer at a local German beer garden. Pours clear orange with a thin, white head. Aroma of hay, sugar, spice, and citrus. Weak body with a clean finish. Average at best.
Hoppin’ Frog: Frog’s Hallow Double Pumpkin Ale – Soooo disappointed! I was hoping to get more out of this one as I love their Frosted Frog (Winter) brew bc of it’s intensive taste. This is a 8.4% ale brewed with pumpkin and a bunch of spices.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin – 9% ABV is quite strong for a pumpkin centric beer. Big-bodied, yet bitter for the style largely due to the spiciness of the Willamette and Hallertau Hops.
Woodchuck Hard Cider Pumpkin – A great choice for Woodchuck Cider fans however!
DC Brau/Epic Brewing Fermentation Without Representation – I am hard pressed to call this a Pumpkin porter, but more of a Fall beer. Nutmeg and vanilla notes are two of the more pleasant spice flavors in this beer.
Original Hochzeitsbier Von 1810 – An Austrian hoffstetten hochzei bier created to celebrate the royal couple’s 200th anniversary. It had a bland aftertaste – just like a rollercoaster, you enjoy the beginning, the middle, and then scream “not fair” as you reach the platform knowing the ride has come to an end.
Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest
Southern Tier Warlock
Harpoon UFO Pumpkin
Traveler’s Jack-O Traveler Shandy
Okto Widmer Brothers
Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
Gordon Biersch Festibeer
New Holland Ichabad Pumpkin Ale
Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale
Heavy Seas Pumpkin Cask
Otto Creek Oktoberfest
Joseph Brau Dunkelweizen
1.5 – Could be better
Heavy Seas – The Great’er Pumpkin – Too boozy for my liking. Was quite a disappointment as I really liked its younger sibling – The Great Pumpkin.
Southern Tier Harvest – Too hoppy even more so than the Sierra Nevada Harvest.
Cambridge Great Pumpkin Ale – Pumpkin & spices too tame for me.
Dominion Oktoberfest – The brewpub should have never moved out of Virginia.
Weissenohe Monk Fest
Trader Joe’s Hobfrau Bock
Magic Hat Hex Oktoberfest
1 – Don’t bother
Brooklyn Oktoberfest – Disappointing despite rave reviews and other good flagship brews by this Brooklyn Brewing. Desired taste was not there.
Wolaver’s Organic Pumpkin Ale
Joseph Brau Brewing Oktoberfest
Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale
0 – Avoid at all costs!
Sam Adams Oktoberfest – I am still baffled at its popularity and how it is available at almost every bar across the country. I can understand it might be because of the strong brand, but the beer quality and taste is nowhere near the German beers in regard to drinkability.
Buffalo Bills Pumpkin Ale – Despite it’s claimed natural spices, this does not do for me at all. It confirmed my assumption that Trader Joe’s does not sport a very good beer collection. Leave that to rival Whole Foods.
Shmaltz Coney Island Freaktoberfest – More of a freakish red beer novelty idea.
Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale – Stick to your Belgium White flagship.
BluePoint Oktoberfest – Should be taken off the shelves.
Hoffmann Oktoberfest – Avoid this New Jersey beer at all costs- flat and falls in the “wanna-be” category. Not going to waste more time talking about this one.
And as always, if I may have missed a “you must try” beer or if you disagree with my rankings or want to sing praise, you are more than welcome to post comments as I am always eager to hear from readers like you.