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Blind Taste-Testing Bavaria’s Lagers For Oktoberfest

Fall has arrived in the northern hemisphere and Oktoberfest is in full swing. That means that German lagers are in season around the world. Which also means it’s taste test time at UPROXX. Not simply because we like beer (we do), but also because a good German import is going to run you a solid $3.50 or more. Better to know what you’re getting into.

German lagers — “Lagerbier” or “Hell” or “Helles” — are beers that dial in the hops malts and hops to create a refreshing balance that’s meant to be drunk en masse. These aren’t sipping brews; there’s nary a hop bomb among them. These are party beers, light by German standards. And they’re a major part of why seven million people go to Munich to sing and prost this month.

A quick note on my methodology. “Blind” should probably go in asterisks here. Sure, I ranked these beers without knowing their labels, but I know most of them inside and out. I drink a lot of Augustiner, for example, and I bartended in Berlin for the better part of a decade. Lastly, these are Bavarian lagers that are available year-round, not just Munich lagers (which is all you’ll find in Oktoberfest’s tents). So don’t be a stickler in the comments.

Zach Johnston

TEGERNSEER HELL

Rank: 1/6

Initial Thoughts:

I see this beer a lot but rarely drink it. It’s very cheap in corner shops. And the college-aged crowd loves it. In fact, it’s usually €1.50 per .5l bottle. That’s about $1.65 for 16.9 ounces at retail. Still, the labeling always made this bottle feel like a knock-off of better Bavarian beers.

Blind Tasting Notes:

This is straight-up seltzer on the first sip. There’s no “there” there. You get very little sense of hops ever being present in all that wateriness. You do get a sense that this is beer with a hint of malty sweetness underpinning. But, in the end, this is a light beer that barely registers. There’s no grassiness, no grain, no bitterness.

HACKER-PSCHORR MÜNCHNER HELL

Rank: 2/6

Initial Thoughts:

I love sitting in the Hacker-Pschorr beer hall. It’s right off the famed Viktualienmarkt in Munich — which is all beer gardens and dope food stalls. So, in essence, I have fond memories of this beer going in. The thing is, drinking these beers from the source and drinking them from a manufactured bottle is not the same thing.

Blind Tasting Notes:

This opens on a nice malty note. You get a sense of a bready nature with a slightly sweet edge. Then a metallic pang disrupts everything. That’s broken by the arrival of a light hop bitterness that echoes in the distance. The finish is watery to the point of losing all body. This is perfectly serviceable as a lager beer but doesn’t reach any level of greatness.

AUGUSTINERBRÄU LAGERBIER HELL

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Rank: 3/6

Initial Thoughts:

Augustiner Hell is probably my favorite beer from the tap, especially if we’re talking a wooden cask in a beer garden. I drink an inordinate amount of this stuff … from beer gardens that is. The fact that it ranked so low for me on a blind bottle test is a bit of a disappointment. That being said, all the beers from here on up are pretty tasty.

Blind Tasting Notes:

Mellow is the first thing that comes to mind. A mild melon fruit note comes through with a slight grassy nature from the hops. The malts offer a plain cookie-like grainy sweetness to counter those hops. There’s a crisp dryness at play that makes this very easy-drinking. This is the sort of beer that I’d drink a lot of and not really care about taste or depth or any other bullshit.

GIESINGER UNTERGIESINGER ERHELLUNG

Rank: 4/6

Initial Thoughts:

This is a bit unfair as this is an “unfiltered” lager (kellerbier if we’re being hyper-technical). So it’s already an outlier and obviously so. Still, Giesinger is a quality brewery that puts out great beer worth seeking out. This is a sort of specialty brewer in Munich that’s hyperlocal.

Blind Tasting Notes:

You get a sense of a dank cellar right away. There’s an easy malt depth with an edge of sweetness that leads straight into a dry hoppiness. There’s a grassiness to the hops that are less dank and more flowery fresh which is a great counterpoint to the creamy finish. This one is almost too easy to drink while also giving you something to think about.

PAULANER MÜNCHNER HELL

Rank: 5/6

Initial Thoughts:

Paulaner is a heavy-hitter and pretty iconic. This is the sort of beer I rarely reach for at the grocery store and even more rarely order at a beer bar. That being said, I have spent a day drinking in the Paulaner tent at an Oktoberfest and left very happy.

Blind Tasting Notes:

I’m shocked how well this beer transfers to a bottled format. Sweet, bready malts are front-and-center. It’s rich yet 100 percent quaffable. There’s a sense of a chestnut tree full of leaves after a heavy summer rain. There’s a fatty nuttiness that’s cut by a mild grassy hoppiness. It’s dry on the end making this one a very easy sip.

WEIHENSTEPHANER ORIGINAL HELLES

Rank: 6/6

Initial Thoughts:

Weihenstephaner is world-renowned for their Hefeweissbier (wheat beer) and also having been around since 1040. That’s a long time. In all honesty, I’m a big fan of their Hefe but rarely reach for their Original Helles. So this was a revelation.

Blind Tasting Notes:

The malts greet you before you even sip the beer. There’s a deep maltiness at play here that almost touches on a Scotch whisky note without the intense alcohol burn of a spirit. The hops echo through the sip with a dank bitterness that feels like a freshly threshed field of straw. All of this fades together as the sip edges towards a creamy, lush end. I could drink this all damn day.

AMERICAN RINGER: SIERRA NEVADA OKTOBERFEST

Rank: 4/6

Initial Thoughts:

As mentioned above, some of these beers are going to be hard to find stateside this season. Or, if you can find them, they’ll not be cheap. So I decided to add a ringer that you can get pretty much coast-to-coast.

Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest is a collaboration between the Chico, California brewery and Bitburger Brewery which is in West Germany near the Luxembourg border, so nowhere near Bavaria. Still, this is a quality beer from a great American craft brewery and German icon.

Blind Tasting Notes:

I have to say, I dig this beer. It’s thin in the initial sip but there’s a real sense of cereal malts present with a nice hint of sweet bread fresh out of the oven. It’s very clear immediately that this is a California beer as the hops come in fast. There’s a sense of a high plains wild grassiness with a distant echo of dankness. It’s shockingly well balanced and very easy-drinking with a light, creamy edge on the finish.

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