Pete Rolls Out the Barrel for Oktoberfest
By Belly Buddy Mark Stevens
At a Glance:
Beer: Pete’s Wicked Oktoberfest
Pros: Robust malt character with a somewhat sweet balance
Cons: Seasonal beer only — get it while you can!
The Bottom Line: I like Pete’s. It’s a good, smooth, soft, malty tasting beer that brings a bit of the flavor of Oktoberfest to everyday drinking.
Hey, hey, hey! Don’t turn that calendar page just yet! I’m not quite done with this year’s series of Oktoberfest beer reviews. Still need to sneak in a couple more, especially this one for Pete’s Wicked Oktoberfest, which I think a lot of people will be familiar with, given the brand’s nationwide distribution. But before I pop the lid and commence to drinking, let’s pause for a sec to mull over just exactly what it is that an Oktoberfest beer represents in terms of flavor and overall drinking pleasure…
What I Expect in a Good Oktoberfest…
Malt is the key to a good Oktoberfest or maerzen beer. Not just any malt will do though, it should really be the firm toasty nutty dry character that you get from good Vienna malt (or Munich malt).
I expect a copper colored or brownish-red colored beer that has a somewhat toasty aroma with maybe just a little edge of sharpness. This is a lager style and as such, should not have any of the complex esters or other yeast by-product aromas that you might find in ales.
A good Oktoberfest beer is smooth and soft with a sweet malty flavor that’s reminiscent of roast nuts or maybe the slightly browned edge of a pie crust. The trick to making a good Oktoberfest is in getting this malt character just right, and as a brewer, you do that by using real Vienna malts and mashing them using the decoction method, then you ferment using a lager yeast at cool temperatures, and you slowly drop the temperature to lagering levels over a period of days.
Making a good Oktoberfest (maerzen) beer is a technically demanding process, and quite a few U.S. craft brewers take shortcuts or they adapt ingredients and processes to suit their own brewing practices and equipment. Some brewers use recipes based on easily available pale malt with caramel or crystal malt added to give the beer the right color and sweetness. Some use inappropriate hop varieties at inappropriate levels. Others ferment with house yeast strains, or sidestep the lagering process, or mash using infusion methods. Some commit all these sins. As a result, more than a few American made “Oktoberfest” beers come up a little short in the malt complexity and character, at least compared to German classics. Not all American Oktoberfests, but enough to make me look carefully whenever I hoist one. And on that note, let’s go ahead and hoist some Pete’s!
Hoisting a Mug of Pete’s Oktoberfest…
Oktoberfest is a style that begs to be sampled from a glass mug, and while the rounded dimpled glass mugs might be the preferred vessel in Munich, I have at hand a smooth sided glass mug with a Pete’s logo on it — I think it will make a fine glass for sampling for this fest beer! So on with the pour…
Amber colored lager with a definite reddish-orange tinge to it. Brilliant clarity with a somewhat slight head. An attractive glass of beer!
I get quite a bit of caramel on this one, which has a decidedly sweet smelling malt signature. It reminds me more of the smell of some brewpub amber ales though than it does of the nutty toasty Munich malt scent of an Oktoberfest like Paulaner or Hacker-Pschorr. As the beer warms, I think I’m picking up on a light earthy hop scent, but it stays subdued, as it should with this style of beer.
Nice rounded malt flavor with some definite caramel flavor and a nice biscuit like edge that reminds me of sweetbread. But I’m not sure I’d really call this a “nutty” malt character. It’s close, but it’s not quite the same kind of nuttiness that you find in the Oktoberfests from Munich. If I had to hazard a guess (and mind you, this is only a guess), I’d bet that the difference is malt selection — Munich brewers use Munich and Vienna malts for these beers whereas a lot of U.S. brewers try to duplicate the color and malt flavor using a blend of pale malts and crystal, and the flavor just isn’t quite the same. Malt would be my first guess, but if I’m wrong about that, then the culprit could also be lagering technique. Oktoberfests are carefully lagered (with slow temperature changes), generally for at least 3 months.
I like the firm body on this beer and the way it feels slightly dry on the palate. It has a very nice mouthfeel and never strikes me as excessively big or cloying. This is a very well-balanced beer, but tilting towards sweet.
This is really a very nice, highly drinkable beer. It’s got some good malt depth for a beer of its size and heft. I like the flavor of this one and could easily drink several of ’em (good thing too, since I bought a six-pack).
While I still think there’s a bit of room for the malt character to be more fully developed if this brew were to be a serious contender against German Oktoberfests, this is a perfectly serviceable brew for most Americans. It is certainly smoother and maltier tasting, and better balanced, than most of the “fest” ale clone attempts that I’ve tasted over the years from craft ale breweries.
Very good. Give it a try!
Until next time, see you at the pub. I’ll be the obnoxious guy quaffing mugs of Oktoberfest beer as I shout, “Eins, zwei, g’suffa!”