Sam Adams Octoberfest is one of the better-known seasonal offerings from the country’s most prolific craft brewery. But while the beer embraces classic malt-forward flavors, a caramel sweetness that lingers through the finish makes it less drinkable than other Märzens.
Company Boston Beer Company
Brewery Location Boston
MSRP $10 per 6-pack
Affordable take on a Märzen
Robust caramel flavors that make it easy to pair with food
Relatively low ABV
A sweeter take on the style
Lacks the drier finish that makes the style so drinkable
Some who prefer lighter beers may consider it cloying or heavy.
Vegetal and cardboard notes are apparent on the nose and palate.
Lacks typical foamy head and lacing
Color: This beer pours deep red amber in the glass with a thinner head that slowly dissipates.
Nose: Rich notes of caramel, roasted malts, and dark bread are bolder on the nose than you’d find in most beers of this style. Subtle hints of baked sweet potato and nutmeg are also detectable.
Palate: Luscious caramel immediately washes across the palate. It has a slightly fuller body and is noticeably sweet for the style, with sweet bread flavors and roasted malts apparent.
Finish: A ripe, fruity sweetness lingers on the finish, with flavors of caramel sticking to the back of the palate along with hints of vanilla, clove, and baking spice. This robs the beer of the crisp, drier finish that’s typical of the style.
It’s not hyperbole to say the American craft beer movement likely wouldn’t be where it is today without Boston Beer Company. After setting up shop in 1984, founder Jim Koch turned a family recipe into a household name with Sam Adams Boston Lager. Since then, the brewery has firmly established itself as the preeminent craft brewery in the country—and the second-largest by volume only to D.G. Yuengling and Son—thanks to its wide availability, devotion to quality control, and adherence to core values that have often seen the company push relatively obscure traditional styles instead of chasing trends.
Such commitment to Old World beers is what made Octoberfest one of the company’s core seasonal offerings. For many in the industry, the arrival of kegs and cases of the beer in the waning days of summer is what really signals fall’s approach. Historically speaking, the style became popular in the early 19th century when a beloved Bavarian prince turned his wedding celebration into a weeks-long celebration for all the public to enjoy. Since the party was taking place in late September, organizers tapped into their supply of Märzen, which translates to “March,” the month when the beer was brewed and stored in lagering caves. Since bacterial infection was more likely while the beer was resting during the warmer summer months, a slightly higher ABV of 6% was typical to help keep it preserved, but also led to a higher attenuation that makes the style relatively crisp and easy to drink.
Of course, today Oktoberfest is now observed well beyond the Munich limits where it was first conceived. Sam Adams Octoberfest can certainly be considered a trailblazer as one of the first widely available Märzens in the domestic market—and an American-brewed one at that. This position has helped the beer cement its nostalgic status among many beer fans: While some might see their pumpkin spice latte order as the first sign leaves are about to change color, others count their first sip of the dazzlingly amber-hued Märzen as the true indicator of autumn’s arrival.
But in an ironic twist of fate, the very craft movement that Boston Beer Company helped create has birthed scores of breweries that release their own Oktoberfest-style beers annually, opening Sam Adams up to new comparisons. While it may be slightly cheaper than imported options and much cheaper than small-batch craft releases, Sam Adams Octoberfest is also much sweeter than other beers made in this style. A malty richness forms the backbone of a typical Märzen, but the caramel-kissed flavors in Sam Adams are more aggressive, creating a girthier beer that sticks to the palate long after each sip. This richness makes the beer a particularly good option for pairing with food, as it cuts through fattier dishes like sausage. But ultimately, it lacks a refreshing crisp, dry finish you’d expect from a beer that was once downed by the steinful at a raucous festival.
Ultimately, fans of the style can shell out a little more money for a German-brewed Oktoberfest-style beer if they’re really looking for that medium-bodied brew with malt-driven bread flavors and a refreshing finish. Drinkers who still appreciate the seasonal novelty of Sam Adams Octoberfest might order one in homage. And those still familiarizing themselves with the bolder flavors of craft beer will likely find something to appreciate in the bottle, whether or not they’re surrounded by jovial, stein-swinging masses.
American breweries may slap “Oktoberfest” across their labels, but it’s not so easy in Germany. A set of strict rules only allows the six breweries that operate within Munich city limits to call their product “Oktoberfestbier” and serve it at one of the many festival tents. All other breweries must label their Märzens as “festbiers.”