September 30, 2012 marked my second visit to the fairgrounds in the quaint town of Vankleek Hill to partake in the annual Oktoberfest event presented by Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company. I was on the fence about going this year because I had a six month old baby at home and the prospect of spending the day that far away from my small family seemed daunting.
When I received an invitation to attend as a member of the media, I convinced myself (and the wife) that I should go and the next thing I know I was squeezed onto a yellow school bus hurtling east on highway 17 through the rain on a Sunday morning. I only had about 5 hours to spend at the festival, so after checking in I got down to business, promptly buying some beer tokens, a souvenir shirt and keychain and then placing an order for the commemorative Oktoberfest 6-Pack through the BYBO team.
After sampling a few of the new Beau’s-brewed beers and watching the King of Polka himself Walter Ostanek roll out the commemorative first cask that was tapped by Beau’s co-owner Steve Beauschesne, I headed to the Beer School where I attended a session on writing about beer and another on beer tasting and proper glassware use.
I got to meet some of my beer writing contemporaries and also had the pleasure of chatting with a quirky, unassuming brewer named Anders Kissmeyer, who was there for an International Brewers Panel and to brew a new collaboration with Beau’s.
There was a ton of great food to be had. I devoured a “Beauswurst” sausage from The Piggy Market much too fast and there were no less than a dozen other great looking and smelling booths operated by area eateries. There was a homebrewing competition, alpine dance demonstrations, dunk tanking for charity and a series of contests such as sausage eating and stein holding that I simply didn’t have time to check out this time around.
You can read more about the Vankleek Hill Oktoberfest experience at some other great beer blogs, but this year I was all about checking out the six brand new Wild Oats Series beers Beau’s was serving at the event in addition to favourites Lug Tread Lagered Ale, Night Märzen and Weiss O’ Lantern. I’ll briefly review all six in alphabetical order.
…And Boom Gose the Dynamite (Gose, 4.6%)
This rarely-brewed style of ale that originated in Leipzig, Germany is made using sea salt and coriander. It is a hazy golden colour with orange tinges. The head dissipates quickly, leaving a thin ring and film as a cap. Citrus rind and wheat aromas are accented by spice and banana tones.
The taste of …And Boom Gose The Dynamite is very interesting. It’s sweet, grainy, salty and mildly sour with hints of citrus and spice. The ale is quite thin with lots of carbonation. It is very easygoing, with a mildly bitter finish and a salty aftertaste.
This is a nice little ale that could use a stronger sour bite to match the salty character and feels more like an early summer beer than one designed for a fall celebration.
Dark Helmüt (Schwarzbier, 7.3%)
I’d never tried an imperial/double schwarzbier before Dark Helmüt, but I will again if I come across another one. This lager is very dark to the point of being opaque, with a frothy beige head that has great retention. Thick roasted grain, chocolate and coffee aromas are brightened up by fruity notes of prune, cherry and grape.
The fruit tones really shine in the taste of Dark Helmüt against the dark malt backing. The mouthfeel is surprisingly thin, but also very creamy. There is a slight sourness on the tongue that gives way to a bitter finish and a rich aftertaste. This beer was very popular at the festival and is extraordinarily quaffable given its strength.
Koru (Belgian Pale Ale, 6.0%)
If you like Belgian yeast, you will love Koru. This cloudy golden coloured ale has a thick, frothy head with great retention and heavy lace. Koru smells of yeast, grains, citrus rind, overripe crab apples and dry spices.
The ale has a thick, sharp bite in the taste you would expect to find in a dubbel or tripel. There is a very lively mouthfeel and a medium body. The finish is quite dry and the aftertaste moderately sour with an earthy character.
I had more glasses and samples of Koru than I did any other beer at Vankleek Hill Oktoberfest. It is dangerously easygoing, yet also very satisfying and happens to pair well with soft cheeses.
Oktobok (Maibock, 7.0%)
A traditionally springtime beer style also known as a helles bock. This lager pours a very light golden colour with orange tinges and a frothy, but loose white head that settles as a thin ring. Sweet toasted malts dominate the smell of Oktobock, with a wet grain character behind that. There is also a strong butterscotch character.
The taste of Oktobock has a pleasantly warm toffee profile, with a well-balanced sharp bitterness. The mouthfeel is fairly thick with an earthiness that Beau’s fans will find familiar. The aftertaste is thick with syrup and grain notes, along with a punchy, boozy bite.
Oktobock reminded me of the popular maibock Dead Guy Ale, but with a paired back caramel/toffee character. It’s on the heavy side of the style, which makes sense because it was brewed for fall consumption.
Vassar (Heirloom Ale, 6.7%)
From a beer nerd standpoint, this was the most interesting brew made for Oktoberfest. Aided by a lost recipe from upstate New York created in the early 1800s, Vassar was brewed using malts sourced from our Empire State neighbors and whole leaf Cluster hops.
This ale pours a hazy pencil yellow colour with a scant head that burns off in seconds, reminiscent of a cask-conditioned ale. There is a strong wheat character to the smell, with citrus and bubble gum notes, but also sturdy biscuit and cracker aromas.
Like the other beers in this article, Vassar is very easy to drink given its relative strength. The taste is very wheat forward with a citrus rind flavour, mild pepper and mango tones and a malty, biscuit-like backing. The mouthfeel is full of life despite a mild carbonation, with a slightly bitter finish and lingering sourness in the aftertaste.
Zins Jo Kokot! (Kotbusser, 5.6%)
The Kotbusser (often spelled with two t’s) style is so rare I had a difficult time even finding information on it. Attempting to brew and revive “dead” styles like this is one of the many reasons I became an avid fan of Beau’s.
Zins Jo Kokot! pours a hazy golden colour, with a soapy white head that settles as a thick cap. This ale, traditionally brewed with wheat, oats and molasses (in this case honey as well) has an aroma so sweet it’s sharp. Honey, grains, floral hops, raw oats and alcohol all come through.
Zins Jo Kokot! has a tart, grainy taste with a nice yeast profile and the thick, sweet flavour of molasses. The mouthfeel is creamy, with a medium body and fine carbonation. The finish has a nice dryness, but the molasses flavour takes on a more corn syrup-like quality in the aftertaste
This beer was my least favourite of the bunch. That’s not to say it’s bad or even mediocre, but more a testament to just how strong Beau’s Wild Oats Series lineup was at Vankleek Hill Oktoberfest this year.
Beau’s creative director Jordan Bamforth did an unsurprisingly great job coming up with packaging for these unique beers. Rather than including an individual art and description card with each beer, the Oktoberfest 6-Pack contains a singular enlarged card. I’ve mentioned this a few times on Twitter, but if Beau’s put these Wild Oats Series designs on t-shirts I’d have no choice but to buy most of them.
I was very happy to see Beau’s offer a commemorative Oktoberfest 6-Pack because frankly trying to take notes outside on beer that is usually served too cold in a corn-based Solo-style cup is frustrating at best. I’ve been told they’ll be doing the Oktoberfest 6-Pack again next year and you can be sure I’ll get one for review. Heck, I’ll probably even get another one of the 2012 packs while I still can. The sheer variety represents a great value in my eyes.
At the time of publication, the six packs were still available at the brewery or through BYBO for $36. Individual bottles were also available at a cost of $7.85.
Bar Volo’s Cask Days also returned to Vankleek Hill Oktoberfest for the third time, with dozens of cask ales from more than 20 Ontario and Quebec breweries on offer when the even started on Friday afternoon.
By the time I got to the Cask Days tent midway through Sunday afternoon the remaining selection was sparse, but I knew this would be the case going in. If you plan on attending Vankleek Hill Oktoberfest (or any other event really) in the future for the casks, get there early. Beer nerds love these little metal bundles of joy.
Though my time at Vankleek Hill Oktoberfest was brief this year, I had a great time and I can’t thank the team at Beau’s enough for inviting me to come and experience some great beers in their intended setting when I may not have been able to otherwise. Next year I’m bringing my wife and daughter, so in addition to working (if you can really call it that), I’ll check out the children’s Kinderfest area for the first time.