Harpoon Octoberfest

Review Date 9/21/2003  Last Updated   By John Staradumsky


Earlier tonight, my beloved Barbara was surfing the web when one of those little AOL mini-polls caught her attention. It asked what your favorite part about fall is. She thought about it for a moment, and then decided that hers was raking a big pile of leaves into which your children promptly jump, scattering the whole effort back all over the yard again. She then asked me what mine was. To which, of course, I replied “Beer.”

And that’s very true. Because fall is a great time to be a beer enthusiast, with so many wonderful seasonal beers hitting store shelves. One of the Octoberfest beers I have been drinking the longest is Harpoon Octoberfest. It’s a New England classic, and to me and so many other beer lovers across New England, it just would not be fall without it.

Harpoon holds an Octoberfest party each year, the last weekend of September at its breweries in Boston and Vermont... I have been to this event and it is a lot of fun, though a bit expensive. There's a $10 fee to get in, which includes a cup and one pint. Additional pints are $4 each; German food is available at additional cost too. Of course, there is German music. Harpoon does go out of their way to promote safety, and is to be saluted for their designated driver program: the DD in your group gets free non-alcoholic drinks and a free meal to boot. If you can make either event, I highly recommend them.

Harpoon Octoberfest is not a truly authentic Oktoberfest beer. Nowadays the beers you’re likely to be served at the festival in Munich are in the style of Munich Helles. Still, even though it is styled after the classic Vienna-Marzen Oktoberfest style, Harpoon’s version is an ale. Still, it has the feel of an Oktoberfest to it, with plenty of nutty Munich malt flavor, though perhaps it is a bit more bitter than is the norm for the style.

Three years ago I took these notes:
Harpoon Octoberfest Beer pours to a deep mahogany color with a thick foamy head and a nutty-malty nose. The palate is very rich and malty, lots of chocolate, caramel and nutty flavors leading into a slightly bitter, tea-like aromatic hop finish. This is however an ale, not a lager, and that makes it less than authentic. The chocolate flavors predominate over the nutty notes that should be more apparent in an Octoberfest beer. I still rate the brew highly however because it is delicious and well made. Hey, this is America, we can make any Octoberfest we want.

For 2003, Harpoon has once again released its wonderful Octoberfest beer. And though I’m no longer in New England, I can still get a taste of it in every sip of this beer. Harpoon ales are distributed widely in Atlanta, as well as in many other parts of the country.

This year’s version seems different from the above, with the caramel and chocolate notes and tea finish diminished, leaving a more toasty-nutty maltiness and a slightly grassy lingering bitterness. They’re still there, but they don’t dominate the Munich malt flavors quite so much as I seem to recall them doing in the past. Overall, the beer seems to be cleaner than it has been before. In many respects it seems better than ever, a more authentic Marzen.

A perfect beer to match with your favorite football game, I love it with roast pork or chicken.

Update: September 15th, 2011: I have yet to see Harpoon Octoberfest in six-packs yet this fall, though I know it's out there. I was lucky enough, however, to enjoy a mug on draft tonight at my local Taco Mac. Perhaps more caramel malt came through than nutty-malty Munich malt flavor, but this is still a perennial favorite and a really great beer for fall.

Update: October 5th, 2013: Harpoon Octoberfest has a new label this year, and while I am sad to see the classic label depart, I must say the beer seems a bit better to me than it has in the past few years. This year the beer has more  toasty, nutty malt and less caramel. I have enjoyed it on tap at Taco Mac where it was featured as a beer of the month and in the bottle as well. The beer is slightly lower in alcohol content as well at 5.3% by volume (having been 5.5% in the past). A good deal, too, at $5.50 a pint and $8.99 a six-pack.

Update 10/12/2017: Yet another new label for Harpoon Octoberfest, but same malty goodness. Perhaps a tad less toasty nutty than my last notes indicate, but a classic fall brew for about the same price as then. This year I picked it up for $9.49 a six-pack.

Update 10/02/2022: Harpoon Octoberfest-in cans! Truth be told, I have not seen Harpoon Octoberfest here in Georgia for a few years now. I generally pick up a six-pack each fall, but this year I had to be content with a pint can from Half Time Beverage. The beer seemed off slightly, with a distracting dark fruit note that I should not find in the style. It remains a malty brew, and I will leave it at 4 stars in case I got an off can. It is stamped on the bottom pkg 7/18/22, so age is not an issue here. I paid $3.49 for my can from Half Time, not a bad price at all. Total Wine sells it for $8.49 for a 4-pack of those pint cans in Norwalk, CT.

Glad I tried it?  T

Would I rebuy it??


*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.

(B)=Bottled, Canned