This is the penultimate match-up, the last step before the final contest. Brian Brown has narrowed his imported and “offbeat” choices down to the two best representatives, along with some color commentary from the Observer’s Jesse Hughey. Now let’s see who comes out on top in the domestic divisions.
As a preface, let me state that this round of judging indulges in very particular shades of grey. This is debating Staubach versus Marino, Sunflowers versus the Mona Lisa, Parmigiano-Reggiano versus a cave-aged Gruyere. Any of these beers could represent well their included divisions without a moment of hesitation. However, it is our job to choose just one winner.
Round 3: Texas Division
Real Ale Oktoberfest vs. Humperdinks Über Brau
This meeting presents us with a tough choice—not in just which beer but in how we interpret the festbier style itself. Humperdink’s Über Brau is brewed perfectly as an interpretation of the lower end of the style guidelines. It is bright, lighter in alcohol, slightly sweet and with just enough hops to keep it drinkable for hours upon hours of festive imbibing. (And lest anyone level accusations of homerism for the choice of this Dallas-area brewpub, kudos to Dink’s for winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival last weekend for this very beer.)
Conversely, Real Ale takes the opposite end of the style spectrum for their Oktoberfest. It is heavier, darker, more roasty, more malty and pushes the envelope of the guidelines with its 5.7% ABV. It is certainly not something to be swilled by the liter for hours in a tent but it is undeniably a great-tasting beer. So which path should we choose: the product that most closely adheres to idealized published standards or the product that wins over our palate simply with its own unique character?
Division 2 Winner: Real Ale Oktoberfest
Round 4: American Division
Harpoon Octoberfest vs. Boulevard Bob’s No. 47 Oktoberfest
At first, this was the pairing I was most anxious about as both of these beers are just fantastic examples of the style. The Harpoon version (which is getting a little difficult to find with the Harpoon IPA replacing it on shelves) has a character that lies somewhere between Humperdink’s and Real Ale’s beers. It is a perfectly balanced festbier that is just a shade on the darker, malty side that remains a truly wonderful drinker.
However, as the research progressed and pint after pint of each beer was analyzed a winner became amazingly clear. I found myself actually craving the Boulevard ’47, so much so that I bought an extra six-pack for myself. It is light and caramel with a clean malty sweetness that is accompanied by a faint, crisp bite of bitterness at the end that leaves the palate clean and keeps this beer eminently drinkable. What was anticipated as the game to watch became instead a satisfying blowout (and my personal fave going into the finals).
Division 1 Winner: Boulevard Bob’s No. 47 Oktoberfest
Next up: The Final Pour