Throughout the course of human history there have been some really great parties. I even like to think I might have attended a few of them, but none of those parties have had the popularity or cultural significance of Oktoberfest.
Sure, in terms of wildness the things the Romans got into would make Oktoberfest look like your average Wednesday night down at the local Baptist church, but those debaucherous affairs aren’t recreated and celebrated every year around the world. (Maybe somewhere, but I’m not invited to those.)
So for all of those people who get dressed up in their favorite German regalia and do a good deal of day drinking, eating, and dancing, let's talk about why we have this celebration.
The original Oktoberfest began in Munich in 1810 as a wedding reception for King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The royals invited all the people of Bavaria to enjoy the festivities and everyone had such a good time they decided they should do it again. Since nobody important was getting married the next year, the party committee decided to add an agricultural show to the affair to promote the local farmers. Essentially this thing was like a giant state fair with more emphasis on beer instead of frying all the foods. This party has pretty much been held every year since (except for during wars and cholera outbreaks, of course) and it is the single largest beer festival in the world.
When we think of the beer that gets served at Oktoberfest we generally think of one-liter dimpled steins full of märzenbier, but in the beginning those beers didn't exist. The party originally got started with the darker dunkels that were popular throughout Germany at the time. Märzens did eventually get rolled out and dominated the tents and beer halls for a long time—they’re also the beers most Americans drink at Oktoberfest—but they aren’t the most popular beer served at the yearly party in Munich.
Today most folks at the Wiesn (German for "the meadow") are drinking what is simply called festbier. In fact, the current worldwide leader in märzen production isn’t even a German brewery—it’s the Boston Beer Company, aka Samuel Adams.
What differentiates a festbier from a märzen? It’s the heft of the ingredients. Festbiers are intended to be lighter versions of the märzen style, as the people of Munich felt they needed something less filling for their 16-day bender.
Festbiers are lighter in color and have less body and richness when compared to their märzen counterparts, thanks to brewers using less Munich and Vienna malt in the grain bill. These are still very malt-forward beers and are generally brewed to be the same strength, in terms of alcohol, as märzens.
Stonecloud’s Festival Pants comes in at a reasonable 5.3 percent ABV, which is under the recommended range from the BJCP guidelines of 5.8-6.3 percent. Again, I feel like this is a good thing for a beer that is designed to be imbibed all day.
The strength of the beers at Oktoberfest are all over the map, even going as high as about 8 percent ABV, which probably had to be lowered the next year, I’ll bet.
Stonecloud does not list the IBUs for Festival Pants, but I have seen it listed online as being at 20, which is pretty much right in the middle of the range the BJCP recommends.
Aroma and Appearance
The nose on this beer is still full of rich malt sweetness, but certainly not as intense as a märzenbier. There is also a slight floral note from the hops used, but I’d never refer to this as a hoppy beer. The color leans more toward a deep gold rather than the usual dark amber of a märzen, and the beer has a good deal of clarity. The head is white and there is a fair amount of retention.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
Festival Pants opens up with a light toasty malt sweetness that has an almost bread dough-like quality. The body is medium and there is a creamy texture to the beer. The finish is fairly crisp, enticing you to have another drink. I get very little hop flavor at all in this thing, which is to be expected as the hops are only there to prop up all the malt flavor.
In full disclosure, I am a much bigger fan of the märzen style compared to the festbier style. Märzens were actually one style of beer that helped get me to try other styles and get out of the habit of just buying the cheapest light macro lager available. Having said that, I do enjoy this Festbier by Stonecloud and I think a lot of you would like it as well. One thing I really like about the Oktoberfest time of year is that we have a lot of different breweries all putting out a generally similar beer. As a beer judge, it is fun for me to try them all and then rank them accordingly. Beer tasting is still a somewhat subjective thing, so I would encourage you to go out and do the same and see which one you put as your No. 1 for the season. A word of advice: start out on the lighter side and work your way up to darker beers. And there’s no better beer to start with than Stonecloud’s Festival Pants.