I’ve been wanting to do a head-to-head comparison of my festbier versus commercial examples, and finally got the chance to do so tonight. My buddy Steve stopped by, and I poured out three sampler glasses for each of us. Steve didn’t know which was which, other than that one was homebrew and two were commercial beers.
For my commercial comparison, I chose Ayinger’s October Fest-Märzen and Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest. Both were available at local stores, and are reasonably well regarded. I sampled the beers before and after brewing, to give me a bit of an idea what to expect in a festbier.
Steve and I tasted simultaneously, but I tried to avoid giving him any leading comments or critiques that might sway his opinion. Our observations are below; I transcribed his comments, but wrote down my personal observations without telling him, so as to avoid that avenue of bias.
- We noticed that my beer has an ever so slightly lighter color, as well as a taller and more persistent head. All of the beers are quite clear.
- Steve noted that the Ayinger version had a more prominent malty aroma. We both perceived malty sweetness and a hint of ginger in the flavor (the latter likely from the hops). I think that the maltiness is potentially from mild oxidation, which wouldn’t be a huge surprise for a beer that might have sat on a store shelf for some time after import. The malty character had that slightly cloying aspect from oxidized beers, as I experienced in an excellent seminar at the 2017 Homebrew Con.
- The Sierra Nevada version came across as a little less carbonated to me, and Steve remarked that the flavor was a little flatter on the tongue. We both noted that the taste was less complex, and its head was not very persistent relative to the other two beers.
- Steve described my homebrew as having a more complex taste than the Sierra Nevada version, and he preferred that mine had a less distinct after taste than the other two beers. For me, the hop aroma on mine was a touch more pronounced than in the Sierra Nevada and maybe a shade more than in the Ayinger, which I liked.
- When asked to guess which was the homebrew, Steve guessed mine, based on the slight color difference and some intangibles in flavor. When asked which he preferred, he ranked my homebrew and the Ayinger pretty closely, with the Sierra Nevada in third place. I am biased, but I preferred my homebrew by a slight margin (although perhaps a fresh example of Ayinger would perform better), and agreed that the Sierra Nevada came in third place.
Overall, I think my festbier is definitely a contender against the two commercial varieties I sampled. It captures the style quite well, and in some ways (especially appearance, via head and head retention) exceeds the commercial examples. As I noted in my earlier tasting, I could up the maltiness just a shade. But overall, I’m pretty thrilled with how my version of a fall favorite turned out! This exercise in comparison was really educational–I’ll be trying it again for selected beers.