Samuel Adams Octoberfest

Review Date 9/12/2000  Last Updated 8/17/2017  By John Staradumsky

Fall is the second most wonderful time of the year. The Christmas season may be my favorite season, but fall runs a close second, especially when Oktoberfest is in session. Imported and domestic Oktoberfest beers, German band music, food, and Oktoberfest celebrations really get my Teutonic blood in a fever. One of my favorite beers this time of year has always been Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

This is the first year in my recollection that Samuel Adams Octoberfest has been brewed with Munich malt. In the past, crystal malt imparted a rich, candyish flavor to the beer, and though it's still used the Munich lends the beer more authenticity. To be sure, Boston Beer has always done a great job with the malts they've used in the past.

Many German Oktoberfest-Maerzen beers use a process called decoction to get the nutty-toasty character that Oktoberfest beers are famous for. This is a process in which part of the mash is removed and boiled then returned to the tun to raise the overall temperature. This imparts a nutty-toasty type flavor to the beer overall, and most German brewers swear by it for Oktoberfest-Maerzen beers, bocks, and doppelbocks.

Others maintain that certain high quality malts available today (Munich especially) can produce beers of equal quality. Massachusetts brewer Horst Dornbusch, a German immigrant, is on record with such an opinion. Samuel Adams Oktoberfest is not decocted, but does use Munich malt, as well as Harrington, Caramel, and two-row Moravian. Tettnang hops are used as well.

In fact, I enjoyed a pint of Spaten Oktoberfest alongside a pint of Samuel Adams Oktoberfest at the Mews Tavern on September 23rd, 1997:

The month of September can never come fast enough for me. It generally brings, in addition to relief from the hot humid summer weather, a steady parade of Oktoberfest beers. Among my favorites are Spaten and Paulaner from Germany, and few American brews can equal them. At least until now. This evening I had the pleasure of dining out at the Mews Tavern, a Rhode Island establishment famous for a wide selection of draught beers (in spite of our dismal beer history).

Noticing a Spaten Oktoberfest tap handle, I ordered a pint, and it arrived in all it's glory, if a bit overchilled. Being to cold to appreciate it's delicate malt flavor, I asked that it be zapped in the microwave for ten seconds, and it came back in a state of perfection, truly a model for Oktoberfest beers to attain. In any rate, the night progressed, and I quaffed many a pint, including Sam Adams version of the Oktoberfest brew. Damned if it wasn't the spitting image of the Spaten, toasty-malty with a touch of molasses that I usually find present in the better examples of the style, and plenty of Munich malt character.

Until now, I hadn't done a credible side-by-side of Sam Adams and a good German Ofest. After tonight, to those who say that Sam Adams Octoberfet falls a bit short of the style, I can only say that they haven't sampled this years version. Anyway, I ordered another pint of the Spaten at the end of the night, and to my dismay found they were out (which explains the overly cold pint I first received). The Sam Adams made a fine substitute. I daresay the pints of SAOfest I enjoyed this evening were easily the best marzen beer I've yet sampled in the states, easily outdistancing my previous favorites, last year's Full Sail version and Victory's Fest Beer. I still favor the Spaten, but just by a notch.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest pours to a brownish-amber color with a huge head formation and a generous stream of carbonation that cascades up the glass. The nose is nutty and slightly sweet, the palate even more laden with those nutty-malty melanoidin flavors imparted by the Munich malt. There's a touch of chocolate too, a slightly thinner than desired body, and a finish that is balanced between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. This is actually a very good Octoberfest beer, and one of my favorite Samuel Adams beers. I look forward to it's release every September.

Obviously, this beer matches well with wursts and sauerkraut, schnitzels and spaetzels, pork roasts and hot potato salad with bacon. Tonight I paired it with Mexican food: homemade gorditas and tacos bursting with peppers and onions. It was a great pairing, but the Mexicans have known this for a long time: Mexican brewers have been producing Vienna lagers ( an extremely close relative of the Octoberfest beer) for a long time.

UPDATE 2003: Samuel Adams Octoberfest now comes in a once-again updated bottle that is festooned with bright orange borders. Halloween and Octoberfest all wrapped up in one, one might say. The beer, however, is the same, almost exactly as I described it three years ago. Nutty, chocolatey, and delicious. The body seems richer, however, and the finish a tad less hoppy. If anything, it may be better than ever.

Update 2006: It's fall (well almost) and once again one of the most welcome signs of the season is Samuel Adams Octoberfest hitting store shelves. As always, it's a real treat: the nose is packed with toasty nutty Munich malt notes, and the palate really delivers them with a hint of choclate to boot. You should get a hint of caramel, too. The body is rich, the finish slightly grassy with Noble hop bitterness.

To fully appreciate, allow it to warm in your glass until it's cool, not cold, so that all of the delicious malt flavors can emerge to their fullest. I'm moving it up a notch to four and a half stars this year.

And it should be noted that, per Boston Beer, "Samuel Adams Octoberfest won a gold medal at the 2005 European Beer Star-a beer tasting competition held annually in Munich, Germany."


Update, 9/16/2012: It just wouldn't be fall without Sam Adams Octoberfest, and this year I've stocked my fridge with the usual bottles but I'm also enjoying a brimming mug at Taco Mac as I type. The beer has delightfully smooth mouthfeel, toasty nuttiness and decided Munich malt kick. Once again, a treat not to be missed, and a real bargain at $8.49 a six-pack or $4.75 a pint on tap.

Specs from the brewery:

Alcohol by Vol/Wt: 5.3%ABV - 4.1%ABW

Calories/12 oz.: 187

IBUs: 15

Malt Varieties: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Munich-10, and Caramel 60
Hop Varieties: Tettnang Tettnanger and Hallertau Mittelfrueh Noble hops
Yeast Strain:
Samuel Adams lager yeast
Availability: Seasonal (August - October)
First Brewed: 1989


Update 10/18/2014:  After drinking countless Oktoberfest beers this fall, Samuel Adams Octoberfest still remains one of my favorite domestic examples. It really has the toasty nutty malt oomph I want in the style, with perhaps a bit more chewy caramel than others, but only a bit. A great example of the style that is ubiquitous and still only about $8.49 a six-pack.


Update 9/13/2015: Fall is in the air, and that means Samuel Adams Octoberfest is in my glass. This year, though, I'm enjoying a fresh draft mug with all of that delightfully toasty nutty melanoidin goodness back in Samuel Adams home turf. In Andover, Massachusetts on business, I enjoyed a $4.50 pint of Samuel Adams Octoberfest at the Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub (bonus: when I ordered up a pint the bartender accidentally gave me a 22-ounce glass instead, and let me keep the glass too!). You'll forgive me if I think the beer tastes better than ever here. Still, I'll be enjoying it when I get back to Georgia, too. It's actually gone down in price to $7.59 a six-pack here at Canton's Target.


Update 8/17/2017: Samuel Adams Octoberfest remains an amazing bargain. I enjoyed a 23-ounce draft mug at Taco Mac for $5.50, and the 2017 Beers of Fall 12-pack is still just $13.29 at Target. The beer was amazingly nutty malty with subtle chocolate as well. A real delight friends and my favorite Samuel Adams beer in the regular lineup.


Update 8/18/2019: Samuel Adams Octoberfest remains one of my very favorite fall seasonal brews. I pick some up in bottles every year (it's canned now too!), and I look forward to it on draft, too. Still very reasonable at $9.99 a six-pack. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the brew, and I've been drinking it since the very beginning.




And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

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