The last two times I spoke with my mom, she raved about Sierra Nevada’s new, special-release Oktoberfest, and she badgered me to try it. I love a well-made Oktoberfest or Festbier as much as the next beer lover, such as Chuckanut’s delicious Festbier for example, but so many breweries these days seem to produce yawn-inducing versions, I often overlook them. But I’m a big Sierra Nevada fan and my mom was convincing, so it didn’t take much arm twisting to get me to buy a 12-pack and give it a try.
After my first sip, I immediately realized that Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest is not your average Oktoberfest. It has an authenticity and a breadth and depth that exceeds most. And it goes way beyond so many of the bland, amber-lager “Oktoberfest” beers that are pumped into the market every fall.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest pours with a deep golden hue and it wafts with hop aromatics. Its malt side offers rich, wholesome notes of toasted bread, crackers and nuts, along with a gentle, honey-like sweetness. Its hop side is very spicy and aromatic, and it has the perfect amount of bitterness to balance things out. A faint, curiously fruity nip in the background just adds to its depth. Call me impressed.
What I found most interesting about this beer, however, is that it perfectly exemplifies how you can make a highly quaffable yet flavorful and complex beer with only a handful of ingredients. Of course, the techniques you employ and the quality and type of ingredients you use make all the difference, and it surely shows in this beer.
One such ingredient is German Steffi barley, which contributes an authentic and unique flavor into this Oktoberfest. Steffi is mentioned in the book, “Malt: A practical guide from field to brewhouse,” by John Mallett:
Older varieties (of barley) that have seen greater adoption in continental production, and thus are more likely to be present in German malts, include Steffi … which often comes up when speaking to flavor-focused German brewers. Eric Toft, the American-born, Wyoming-raised brewmaster of Private Landbrauerei Schonram in rural Bavaria chooses Steffi for his beers. According to him, although it has a higher cost and is only about one percent of German production, it gives his beers superior qualities in flavor and foam.
To make this limited-release, one-time-only beer, Sierra Nevada Brewing of Chico, California, collaborated with 600-year-old Brauhause Riegele of Augsburg, Germany (in the heart of Bavaria). Founded in 1386, Riegele is acknowledged as one of Germany’s leading breweries in respect to quality and beer culture.
This was Sierra Nevada’s inaugural German-American collaboration, and it plans to partner with a different German brewery every year.
“We’re honored that Brauhaus Riegele, a real cornerstone of German craft brewing, is kicking off this Oktoberfest collaboration with us,” said Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada’s founder. “We’re both family owned, our children are hands on, and we share a passion for great beer. We’re aligned in so many ways, and we’re excited about the outstanding beer that’s emerged.”
“For years we’ve followed the great development of Sierra Nevada and we are really impressed by Ken and Brian’s fantastic beer culture,” said Sebastian Priller-Riegele, Brauhaus Riegele’s marketing manager. “We are really looking forward to sharing this outstanding beer together that shows our passion and dedication to the art of brewing. It’s an honor to work with Sierra Nevada.”
The Sierra Nevada and Brauhaus Riegele collaboration Oktoberfest is only being distributed in North America, although the two breweries are also collaborating on a separate barrel-aged beer to be brewed and aged at Brauhaus Riegele.
This beer was released earlier this fall, and you can still find it around Bellingham. But once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. So if you haven’t tried it yet, get it while you can. And if you like it, just thank my mom for the heads up.