Widmer v. Left Hand: Oktober-Off
The second match up in the very close Oktoberfest line-up is between Widmer Okto Festival Ale and Left Hand Oktoberfest! It is no secret that I love Left Hand, but I have recently come to enjoy Widmer, too, and this is a close match. I had the pleasure of tasting the Oktoberfests with two fellow beer lovers and homebrewers, my friend Lisa and co-worker Kari.
The aroma was very mild but pleasant with malty and green apple notes coming through. The tart green apple flavor was also present in the taste with Vienna malts dominating. The hops truncate the finish somewhat, and I agree that it is fairly crisp.
One strength of the Okto is the finish – it is very true to style. The light-medium body was also spot on with appropriate carbonation, as well.
Left Hand displayed some intriguing flavors, but whether we enjoyed it more that the Okto is up for debate.
The brew is described by Left Hand as a journey from upfront malts to a “noble pedigree” hop finish. We found this to be somewhat true, but the hops are actually sustained throughout. The aroma is great with some vanilla and maybe even clove present. It pours a dark orange-amber. The first taste is bready and complex with brilliant vanilla notes along with Munich malt. There is a VERY faint banana note, too, which is generally not acceptable for an Oktoberfest.
If there is one thing the three of us learned while tasting these beers, it is that the interpretation of Oktoberfest is exceedingly wide. The Left Hand example has over 1% more ABV than the guideline states and although the Victory Festbier is listed by the BJCP as an classic example of the style, the beer directly contradicts the guideline.
These issues are fine with me; brewing is not a hard science. When searching for an Oktoberfest, however, a consumer could be quite confused at what lies in some of these bottles.
And the verdict? Left hand won in somewhat of a photo finish. Neither of these beers shocked us in a good or bad way, and both were very pleasant to drink.