Autumn breezes are always a welcomed relief to the sweltering Oklahoma summers, and while it's tough to relinquish some of the popular summer brews that helped cool those long summer months, it's now time to sample a few new malted, distilled and finely fermented beverages to celebrate the coming brisk months.
Each autumn, Urban Tulsa Weekly takes on the daunting task of sampling some new (and returning) beers, wines and spirits in an effort to recommend some new drink choices to our readers.
As the Tulsa liquor market welcomed a fresh line of inventory geared toward the season, our tasting took us through more than 30 beers, exquisite wines, rums, vodkas, whiskeys, coffee liqueurs and more.
As always, I handpicked my sampling audience in order to provide varied levels of expertise. The group included veteran drinkers (those discerning drinkers who got their start in college), moderate drinkers (those who know a good beer when they taste it), beginning drinkers (those who enjoy a good beer every now and then), and a few levelers who generally don't opt for beer.
This expert panel evaluated the following beers for appearance, aroma, palate and flavor. Individual comments were encouraged. Judging ranged from 1 to 5, on each of the four aforementioned categories, with 20 points totaling a perfect beer. From the 30-plus beer contenders, the highest ranked earn a spot on the top 20 list, followed by honorable mentions.
Sidle Up to the Table
So, grab your beer stein, loosen your lederhosen and let's get going-- first the beers.
Number 20 on the list is Samuel Smith Organically Produced Lager. The malted barley and hops used to make this beer have been grown without the use of chemical sprays or artificial fertilizer. Our tasters said this is a good drinking beer for cooler weather. While the smell is reminiscent of college frat party aftermath, the taste is a pleasant surprise. One said, "It's a lot like Tulsa. There is more there than first appears." A few commented that it is clean and clear; one commented that it made him feel healthy. It's a good, full-bodied lager.
Coming in at number 19 is Left Hand Brewing Company's Oktoberfest Märzen Lager. Märzen is a German style beer with a full body, malty flavor, and clean, dry finish. This sweet, almost fruity beer has a deep amber color. One commented that it tasted like the "Britney Spears of beers. It looks great, but a little crazy when you get to know it." Overall, samplers agreed that it had a good, smooth taste.
It has a short head when pouring with some lacing.
At 18 is Abita Fall Fest, a full-bodied copper lager. This beer is just a solid autumn brew pick, the group said. The color is striking amber. This beer is available through November and is brewed with German Hersbrucker hops and pale, crystal and chocolate malts. The lager is full-bodied and malty with strong hops. While the aroma might not be a winner, the taste is crafted for the seasonal brew aficionado.
Next at 17 is Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest. This Märzen has a caramel finish and is always a fun beer to sample, if nothing else for the bold and fanciful label, which samplers described as sweety, awesome, very creative and funky. It pours very clear; Oktoberfest at the fire hydrant. A few commented that it has a soft, salty taste and aroma, ending almost sharply.
An Eastern European contender, Zatec ranks at number 16. Hailing from the Czech Republic, the bright lager beer is bottled in an almost pint-sized bottle. Zatec is a region west of Prague known for its fine quality of hops, which result in a beer that tastes like fresh-baked bread. Our judges said this lager is medium-bodied, with a slight herbal aroma; a sweet (yet bitter), smooth-bodied, good drinking beer. It pours with minimal head and has a golden hue.
Number 15 goes to Abita Pecan Harvest, a beer that just screams autumn. Made with real Louisiana pecans, this beer is made with the nuts' oils to produce a light pecan finish and aroma. One of our tasters said it had a cheery flavor and would be great on tap. "Save the pecans for the pie," said another, less enthusiastically. This beer should pair well with red meat, seafood and, yes, more nuts.
Stevens Point Oktoberfest Märzen comes in at 14. Tulsa distributor, Jarboe Sales Company, supplied us with a number of samples of the Stevens Point (and Great Divide Brewing Co.) beers. One drinker called it a decent beer, perhaps a workman's beer for lunch. It is highly carbonated with a sweet smell. At the same time, the flavor, said one, is flat without much taste. It's a light lager beer crafted using Hallertauer hops and sweet Vienna roasted malts. One taster thought this lager would go great with pizza.
Next, at 13, is Great Divide Brewing Company's Titan IPA. This beer can aptly be described as an aggressively hopped India Pale Ale that "starts out with piney hop aromas and citrus hop flavors and finishes with a rich, malty sweetness that is balanced with crisp hop bitterness." Oh yeah. The appearance is a dark, golden autumnal color with a slight cloudiness. One said it tasted soapy at first with too strong an aftertaste. One thought it was a weak effort for an IPA, saying it stings the nostrils like mild bleach. Others found it smooth, yet strong, with a soil of the earth taste. IPAs always make for a tasty autumn brew, but this isn't one of the best.
Always a favorite among our tasters is Samuel Smith's (Contractors to Her Majesty's Forces) Imperial Stout, which earns seat number 12. This dark chocolate colored stout has a "tire rubber" taste: very rich, full of flavor, and complex hops, alcohol and yeast. Drink with caution!
Beck's Oktoberfest earned the number 11 spot. This beer was a hit among the tasters, with one saying "it is what I would expect for Beck's." Still, the results were divided. One said it was "one of my favorites," while another said "it was an insult to German beer." The seasonal brew has a reddish, gold hue and pours with a not-too-full head. Overall, the taste is sweet and malty, smooth and spicy.
Getting Close to the Top
Breaking into the Top 10 is Stevens Point Brewery's Point Special Lager, which had a strange, slightly metallic, iron taste intially. But overall, our tasters thought it had a pleasant, hoppy aroma that was better than the actual taste. The lager is hearty and probably pairs well with a decent hamburger or other grilled item.
Boulevard Brewing Company's Bob's 47 Oktoberfest is number nine (this beer is a tribute to Bob Werkowitch, master brewer and graduate of U.S. Brewers' Academy class of 1947). "Good love," as described by one sample who rated it 17.5 out of 20. This is a medium-bodied beer of a dark amber color; it begins well and ends with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Our friends in Krebs always supply us with samples of their fine, Oklahoma-crafted beers. Choc's Choctoberfest, a Vienna style lager, slips in at number eight. Our drinkers said that Choc does justice to the world of Oktoberfest beers with this batch. It pours a thick head with a deep, reddish-orange hue. It has a sweet, roasted flavor almost of caramel.
Number seven is Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale, brewed at Yorkshire's oldest brewing company. The Brits can do beer! Served in a large pint bottle, the label for this beer is fun -- a man is fishing with his best friend, his dog, on a cold, snowy day. This Winter Ale has what it take to warm the body and spirit. "This brew packs a punch," said one female taster. Another said that it would be nice, warm and delicious on a cold winter's night -- possibly with a thick steak. The yellow-amber color pours to a creamy head (with few bubbles) and a slight floral aroma with noticeably malty flavors.
Another of the ubiquitous Stevens Point products comes in at number six, Cascade Pale Ale. The Point beers are certainly up and coming in this region, having already conquered the upper Midwest. This one was described as a full-bodied pour, with weak aroma, but surprisingly big flavor. And at the finish, a smooth taste and pleasant memory. An almost perfect blend of hops and grains. Good from the keg, perhaps? One said she would buy this beer again and again. Others said it would be a perfect companion for cozying up on the couch for an afternoon of football.
Another contender from across the big pond, claiming to be the "finest Bavarian doublebock beer," Ayinger Brewery's Celebrator Double Bock breaks into our top five. Imported and donated to our tasting by Merchant du Vin Corporation, this thick, almost chewy beer delighted our tasters. The deep coffee color is inviting. "Almost smoky, a tobacco taste," said one. Early flavors are mild with coffee tones that build toward a dominant crescendo finish. Some of the ladies commented on the label, which had cute little goats hanging onto a large glass of this beer.
The term "Double Bock" is a Bavarian beer that is typically extremely rich and malty. It was first brewed by the good monks of St. Francis of Paula, who coined the apt terminology "liquid bread" for good beer.
Number four is Warsteiner Oktoberfest. Another amber-colored beer, it poured to a full head. This beer, according to one drinker, had the deepest, most rich aroma of the lot. It met that challenge by beginning with a full body taste and ending with a sweet aftertaste. Truly a loaf of liquid.
Always a favorite among our tasters is the Samuel Adams Octoberfest annual seasonal brew, coming in at number three. We've never been disappointed with this one. Someone commented that it was the best beer he tasted all night, and some other marks indicated it as near perfect. Sam Adams has this autumn recipe down.
Runner-up is Paulaner Oktoberfest Amber, brewed and bottled in München. This beer boasted a beautiful, copper- amber color. It poured clear, not cloudy. It had good quilting and a slightly hoppy aroma. One commented that it had a sweet aftertaste with no bitterness. Smooth, almost dangerous because it goes down so easily. With only a slightly spicy aftertaste, the amber is ideal for all beer drinkers -- even the novice. It's a refreshing Oktoberfest beer. Job well done. Love it!
The drum roll please . . .
Number one for this year's autumn tasting was universally described by the audience as "one of the best all-around beers in the tasting." Stevens Point Amber Classic takes the blue ribbon in this year's autumn brews contest. As the name implies, this beer has a rustic hue and full, amber-style lager flavor. Roasted caramel malts give this first place winner its subtle character. It combines four distinctive hops that call for a longer brewing and aging process. All the scrupulous goodness leads to its fabulously smooth flavor. This is an ideal beer to sip around the fire with friends on a chilly autumn night.
The following beers garnered compliments from our experts and ranked high in certain areas, but fell short in others--thus, they became outsiders looking in.
Ranked high in drinkability, Michelob Pale Ale Dry Hopped, an English-style pale ale dry hopped from the Yakima Valley, did command some attention at the table. The new Anheuser Busch supplied our group with its new beer and our tasters found it favorable with a good look--its dark gold color--not to mention its spicy, hoppy flavor.
Most tasters enjoyed Stevens Point Oktoberfest Märzen Style's carbonated beginning and smooth aftertaste. Most said it went down easy for a great seasonal beverage choice. Unprecedented in the annuls of our Spring Autumn brews that one brewery has come in with so many beers ranked in the top 20 and mentioned honorably.
Great Divide DPA (Denver Pale Ale) is a classic pale ale style with a malty middle and an equally hearty complement of hop aroma, flavor and bitterness. A crisp bitterness grabs the attention of the consumer.
Michelob Dunkel Weisse Dark Wheat Ale is an all-malt, unfiltered, dark wheat ale featuring Michelob's unique yeast strain and malted wheat. One taster said that it tasted strangely earthy, but was a step up from regular Michelob. Some said there were clove and fruity (banana?) aromas. The rich roasted malt flavor is accented by the caramel undertones.
Stevens Point Horizon Wheat, an unfiltered wheat ale, received a number of high marks. But what what kept it out of the top 20 was its inability to excite the tastebuds with the classic freshness incumbent with a good wheat beer. It left one a bit disap-Point-ed.
There they go again . . . another favorite of our tasters yet another Stevens Point product, the Belgian White Belgian Style Wheat Ale. This savory ale is brewed with coriander spice and orange peel. Coriander, in Greek koris for "stinky bug," is a strong spice with citrus overtones. It dates back to 5000 B.C. and is even referenced in the Bible. One taster said it reminded him of Belgian chocolate.
Choc Beer Kuehner Weisse, bottled in a large dark bottle, is fresh like a field of wheat . . . at least that is what one sampler said. It has a pronounced wheaty smell and was better than the Choc Signature, said one. It had a fruity, but slightly soapy taste to it, but not altogether distracting. Yet another said it was the "best wheat I've tasted. I'm proud it's an Okie." Comments were all over the place, thus keeping it out of the top 20.
Shipyard Brewing Company Pumpkinhead Ale stood out against many others. The fanciful label sports a scene of a pumpkinheaded, statued horseman straight out of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. A few found this beer just so-so, saying the pumpkins should stay in the field. It's a full-bodied ale with a hint of sweetness up front and a clean finish. For a specialty beer, it is not so bad for a quintessential seasonal. Better pumpkin ales are out there around the nation's brewpubs, but good luck finding them anywhere in Tulsa.
Anheuser-Busch's Shock Top Belgian White Wheat Ale made an appearance on the table, but failed in the taste category among our experts. It is brewed with spices and a defined lemon flavor. The label seemed to garner most of the attention: a slice of orange wearing sun glasses with wheat shocks on top of the peel depicting a Mohawk. This beer should hold out for warmer weather.
Green's Endeavour All Natural Dubbel Dark Ale, product of Belgium, was . . . hmmm . . . different. It has a coffee color and pours with a thick head. The flavor, one said, was almost of licorice, a bit too strong for her liking. "Next time, endeavor to make a good beer instead of this one," one sampler said snidely.
An interesting brew was Great Divide Brewing Company's Wild Raspberry Ale. This ale is fermented with real red and black raspberries and manages a balance of malt and fruit flavors. If you can imagine, the ladies love it.
Two Choc beers complete this category. Pietro Piegari Amber Ale, named after the immigrant boy who moved here from Italy and later founded Choc Beer. Choc's version of this amber is deep red in color with a rich, malty flavor from Victory and CaraMunich malts.
Choc Brewmaster's Signature Belgian-Style Amber ends this party. Unfortunately, this beer was not enjoyed by our tasters. One described it as too citrusy; another said it tasted like a bad high school science experiment. Try it, if you dare . . .
Our appreciation goes to Merchant de Vin Corp., Choc Brewery, Jarboe Sales, Anheuser-Busch of Oklahoma, Republic Beverage Co., Glazer's, Select Wine and Spirits and Marshall Brewing Co. for their contributions to the annual Autumn Brews review.
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