Thursday, September 23, 2010

Märzen chronicles, Book III (or yet again)

Oktoberfest is a short season, but the beer that distinguishes it from other fall observances deserves a lot of mention.

So here's some more, specifically, a spotlight on a couple of interpretations of the style that are worth your stein and leisure time.

It just went on tap at Uno Chicago Grill & Brewery in Metuchen a few days ago, and the Oktoberfest that brewer Mike Sella turned in this season is richer than Warren Buffet and more enjoyable than watching Jon Stewart riff on Glenn Beck's chalkboard, kabuki histrionics.

In fact, it's also a taste of two seasons: Clocking in at over 7% ABV, the beer has all the signatures of Oktoberfest but a middle flavor and coppery color that hints at doppelbock.

Mike's brew is also proof that you can take an ale yeast and bend it to a lager will. He used an American ale yeast and fermented at 58 degrees. If you didn't hear him cop to that, you'd never know it. (Yeah, other brewers have done this, too, but sometimes you still get that ale nose in the beer. Not here, Mike's is malty and lager-clean.)

Not quite a hundred miles down the Garden State Parkway from Uno, Tim Kelly set up the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City with some of his finest work since taking over as the brewer there in 2007.

Like Mike's fest beer, Tim's 6.6% ABV, noble-hopped Oktoberfest will have you time-traveling to March. By your second round, you'll swear you've poured a Maßkrug of doppelbock. (Honestly, that second glass will feature a middle flavor quite reminiscent of Salvator. And by the way, Tim did use a lager yeast.)

Tim's an ambitious brewer and has turned in some interesting Belgian styles for the Tun (a brown he made a couple Christmases ago tasted great at yuletide, but a filled-to-the-rim growler of it we aged until February became a really superior beer). For his first try at an Oktoberfest at the Tun, Tim reached for toasty melanoidin signatures and attempted a decoction mash.

"I'll never do that again," he says, with some self-deprecating humor.

The beer was fine. But problem was the Tun's brewing system isn't set up to do decoctions. Tim (with the help of Flying Fish head brewer Casey Hughes, as we recall) used buckets to ladel a portion of the grist from the mash tun into the kettle to be boiled, then back into the mash.

A regular five- or six-hour brew day thus grew by more than a couple of hours, a noble effort for a payoff that could still be attained by infusion mash means and some Munich and aromatic malts, as his efforts this season ably demonstrate. (That's not a swipe at decoction; try High Point's Ramstein fest beer to taste what decoction can do.)

Look for Tim's Oktoberfest at the Central Jersey Beer Fest on Saturday. Or better yet, head to the Tun. And Uno.

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