Sierra Nevada is a craft brewery that was founded in 1980 in Chico, California. The founder, Ken Grossman, had been a homebrewer since he was only a teenager, making his own beer for just over a decade by the time he started Sierra Nevada. He even taught at-home courses on how to brew for yourself in the seventies! Continue reading our Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Review to find out everything you need to know, including its key features, taste profile, pros, cons and more.
The brewery Grossman has been extremely influential in raising the beer market in America and remaining an integral part of spearheading the craft beer movement. Sierra Nevada was putting out micro-produced quality beers in a market saturated with macro, tasteless, cheap, lagers.
This was really important and in 1980 it was extremely risky. But what breweries like Sierra Nevada did help Americans see what else was out there and how good beer could be.
One of the great keys to the success of Sierra Nevada was the innovation of Ken Grossman, and his ability to tinker, tweak, and refine his beer and his brewery. Because the brewery never stopped growing, expanding, and improving, their beer has never gone out of style. This isn’t easy!
In 2015 the brewery expanded all the way over in North Carolina. Why? In order to continue to deliver high-quality, fresh beer! By having one brewery on each coast, Sierra Nevada can continue to stand by the freshness and quality of their beer. Pretty cool customer service if you ask me.
The brewery has grown, adapted, and changed but today, Sierra Nevada is still entirely family owned and operated.
Key Features of the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
- Flavor: Sweet toffee, light coffee notes
- Color: Dark amber, nearly brown
- Aroma: Biscuits, caramel, slight hops
- Mouthfeel: Watery, light-bodied
- Bitterness: Very low
- Alcohol Content: 5.5%
As far as Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest is concerned though, we should start at the name. What exactly makes a beer an Oktoberfest beer?
Oktoberfest beer are unique in that they are not qualified by the ingredients in them but rather the time of year in which they are intended to be consumed. This is of course during Oktoberfest, in Munich, Germany each year.
Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival in the world and it runs for the last two weeks of September, ending on the first of October every year. Fun fact: even though it is centered in Munich, many cities around Germany also celebrates Oktoberfest with festivals and carnivals for the last two weeks of September.
Which means that yes, Oktoberfest beer are intended to be consumed in September. Insert mind-blown emoji!
For this reason, you can bring any style of beer to an Oktoberfest party. Technically . But traditionally, most Oktoberfest beer is lager and interestingly enough, the style of lager varies with the country and cultural traditions.
Yes, even though this is a German tradition adapted to America, we Americans don’t drink the same Oktoberfest beer as most of the Germans do.
Festbiers are similar but have more distinct parameters. They are an Oktoberfest beer but they must be lagers and they require certain malts. All Festbiers are Oktoberfest beers but not all Oktoberfests beers are Festbiers. Got it?
American Oktoberfest Style
America tends to please Marzen beer for their Oktoberfest brew of choice. These beers are reddish or amber in color and sweeter in taste.
Marzen translates to ‘March’ (the month) in German and I know what you’re thinking — I thought this was a beer to drink in the fall! Marzens are meant to act or ‘lager’ through the summer months before consumption, making them an excellent choice for Oktoberfest.
Furthermore, many people brew Marzens throughout the year nowadays to keep up with demand, making the name simply a name nowadays. Kind of like an Oktoberfest!
Germany Oktoberfest Styles
The evolution of what Germans consume at Oktoberfest begins with the festival’s birth in 1810. The beer of choice was a Dunkel, which is a dark, sweet, bready, lager. The beers became lighter over time and by 1872, Marzens: lighter than a Dunkel but darker than a Helles, were very popular for German Oktoberfest.
The progression to choosing lighter beers continued though, and while America grabbed on and stuck with Marzens, Germany celebrated lighter and lighter beers as the years wore on.
Today, the lagers consumed in Germany tend to be light and pale, such as Dortmunder or Helles. Dortmunders were originally brewed for the German industrial working class and due to the water used to brew them, have a high sulfate content which plays well with the bitterness of the hops.
Helles Lagers are simply pale lagers, golden in color, lightly hopped and malty. Of course Festbiers is also very popular for German Oktoberfest.
The funny thing is that German brewers realized that Americans drink Marzens for Oktoberfest, and therefore brew Marzens and beer like them to export to America for the fall season. Meanwhile, many American breweries do what they can do Oktoberfest drinks in the style or image of what German Oktoberfest drinkers are enjoying today.
So it seems like everyone is playing by their own rules to make yummy beer and some money! The options for drinkers are vast.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Process
True to the American tradition of celebrating German Oktoberfest, Sierra Nevada has created a Marzen for their yearly Oktoberfest.
So let’s talk stats. The beer is 5.5% ABV and is available in twelve ounce cans.
Malts used in this beer are black malt, Munich malt, pilsner malt, and special roast malt. Just really quickly, I will discuss what each malt is bringing to the table because I feel it’s really important for the flavor profile I discuss in further depth later.
Black malt is purely for coloring, it brings absolutely no taste. This was probably added to make the beer less pale and more amber, to give the ‘look’ of a Marzen, even though a Marzen doesn’t have to be amber.
The Munich malt brings that honey aroma you are supposed to get on the nose of the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest. It can also bring caramel and bread. Personally, I am only getting a biscuit on the nose and a touch of caramel, not honey, from these malts. Still, they’re bringing a lot to that first aroma as you go in for your first sip.
The pilsner malt, named for the pilsner beer created in Pilsen which uses this malt, is defined as being a “pale lager malt”. And what does it bring to the table? A full-bodied, malty beer with a good head.
This little malt carries a lot of the weight of a tasty beer. And sadly, I feel that this malt is really wasted in this beer. More on that later.
Finally, we have the special roast malt, which are roasted malts that bring biscuity flavors to their beer. As I said earlier, I do get the biscuit on the nose.
These are bringing up all the crisp bitterness that’s balanced out with the sweet maltiness in the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest. They appear in a flash and are gone even faster.
The tradition hop, full name: Hallertau Tradition after the region it originated from, is also German. This hop is known for its floral aroma and herbal notes. I can’t say that any of this comes through in the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest. Though if they had chosen to make this a Helles lager instead, I believe you would get more of these notes.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the yeast used for this beer is lager yeast. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a larger.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Tasting Profile
Tasting wise, the beer is biscuit and caramel on the nose with a little bitter hop as well. Being a Marzen, this is a malt-forward beer so it’s unfair to ask anything else of it. It has light coffee notes, and sweet toffee.
While the beer is sweet, it avoids being syrupy very well. Unfortunately, it also lacks the full mouthfeel you’re supposed to get from the pilsner malts it’s brewed with. For such a hearty-looking beer, it’s very light and not in a good way.
When you get past the caramel, toffee, coffee, and biscuit aromas, the finish is a bit lacking, almost watery, and there is no lingering flavor left once you’ve taken your sip.
The Sierra Nevada website boasts honey and graham cracker, but I don’t get those at all. In fact, I feel the beer sets you up for a journey it can’t actually take you on. The nose is interesting, the first sip is malty goodness, but after that first sip you’re left hanging, waiting for something better to happen. It doesn’t.
When poured into a stein, the carbonation is magnificent. The head is frothy and full, and even overflowed down the glass: just the way it should!
The color is shockingly dark. This is a very, very, dark amber beer. You can definitely see where the choice of adding the flavorless, color additive of black malts to the beer came into play.
I’m not sure why Sierra Nevada chose to do this when Oktoberfests and Marzens don’t need to be any sort of color to qualify as an Oktoberfest. It’s a little baffling.
The Can Packaging
While Sierra Nevada does bottle some of their beer, this seasonal treat is only available in twelve ounce cans.
The packaging is delightfully perfect for the product. It’s bright blue and white checkered in the traditional German style. The classic Sierra Nevada logo sits atop the fanciful font of ‘Oktoberfest’ in white with ‘Amber Marzen’ below it in gold.
The design for this label is simple, to the point, and perfect. Looking for it on the shelf, I had no trouble finding it.
Pros and Cons
- The beer is reasonably priced. I paid $9.69 in Rhode Island for a six pack of twelve ounce cans.
- Seasonal beer are fun to try! Limited releases, no matter what they’re trying, are always fun.
- This is appealing to the American market, which seems to want Marzens for Oktoberfest.
- This beer isn’t strong so having a few won’t get you wasted.
- The overall flavor is lacking here. Everything is subtle, everything is quiet, and once all that is over, you’re left just with blandness.
- The use of pilsner malt and the choice of German hops seems to be wasted, as none of them get a moment to shine in the tasting profile.
Where to Purchase Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest
The Sierra Nevada is available in all fifty states. Even more exciting, the brewer ships beer to California, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Vermont.
Remember that this is a seasonal beer and will only be available for sale during the fall season while supplies last. So in short: get it while you can!
Comparable Oktoberfest Beers
- Jack’s Abby Copper Legend is a solid Octoberfest made from August through October each year.
- Victory Brewing’s Festbier is also really delicious and worth trying.
- Von Trapp Brewing’s Oktoberfest is truly lovely.
Question: How Many Calories Does a Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Have?
Answer: The Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest has 190 calories, 17.2 carbohydrates, and 2.2 grams of protein.
Question: Would You Buy the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Again?
Answer: Not if other Oktoberfests were available. This is for a couple reasons. Firstly, I like to try new things so unless I lost my mind over this, I’d grab something I haven’t tried before. Secondly, I wasn’t in love with this beer and therefore I already know a few Oktoberfests I prefer to this.
Question: Do You Recommend This Beer?
Answer: I do because I think it’s worth trying. Are there better beers out there? Yes. Are some of them different Sierra Nevada products? Also yes.
The Bottom Line
I believe Sierra Nevada makes quality beer well, and they have been for decades. Their Oktoberfest is a well-priced option for the fun of celebrating all things beer for a few weeks.
And while this might not be my favorite Oktoberfest, I consider this seasonal beer worth trying. It won’t break the bank of you dislike it, and if you completely disagree with me then that’s okay too!
No matter what you think though, I hope you have a wonderful Oktoberfest, no matter where you are or what you’re drinking!
Check out more reviews of fellow Oktoberfest beers