For more than 200 years, Munich's Oktoberfest has set the standard for a beer festival. It began in 1810 as a celebration of the wedding of Prince Ludwig (later the king of Bavaria) to Princess Therese, and, with an occasional lapse due to war, it's been going strong ever since. The beer of choice at the fest is a lager brewed in the cool months of spring that's cellared over the hot summer months. Some 6 million people will gather in Munich for Oktoberfest, but if you can't make it, hoist a stein of any of the following. Prost!
Firestone Oaktoberfest Paso Marzen Bier, $1.59-$1.99
Named for the brewery's hometown, Paso Robles, Calif., Spanish for "Pass of the Oaks," this beer pours a light amber topped by a brief, thin head. The aromas include subtle hops, floral herb, grain and a bit of clover. There's a hop component on the palate from start to finish: --nothing overwhelming, but the most overt of the three. The hops mingle with lightly sweet malt, pepper, grain and sweet bread. An interesting take on the style.
Weihenstephaner Oktoberfestbier, $2.09-$2.69
Bright straw gold and crystal clear in the glass, this German entry sports a short-lived, two-finger head. The light, but interesting nose is a mix of fresh-mown hay, citrus oil, biscuit, earth and mineral. The flavors are fresh and clean, dominated by yeasty grain, soft blood orange, smooth malt, very light hops, lemon zest and an unusual kiss of fire-roasted corn.
Widmer Okto Festival Ale, $1.39-$1.69
This brew is a burnt amber in the glass with a modest white head that fades quickly but leaves a nice lacing. Sweet grass and yeasty malt aromas are joined by hints of caramel and spice, and the barest whiff of hops. Light-bodied and with a creamy sweetness that's a bit simple, touches of hazelnut come through on the finish. It's a sessionable Oregon ale in a lager-dominated category.