It’s that time of year again. The weather is cooler, leaves are changing colour and tables are filled with comfort food. For the third year, the folks at Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company in Vankleek Hill, Ontario have put together a mix pack of beers to celebrate and promote their famous Oktoberfest event that sees thousands of beer lovers from far and wide descend on the quaint eastern Ontario town in search of revelry, great food, big name musical acts and, of course, beer.
This year we see the return of some favourites from years past in Dark Helmut (complete with a new label) and Happy Pilsner, while Dial “Z” for Zwickel and Rauchstack represent the newest entries in Beau’s Wild Oats Series. I briefly reviewed the four beers, which are presented in alphabetical order.
Dark Helmut (Schwarzbier, 7.3%)
A huge, billowy tan head sits atop this opaque black brew, leaves some sparse spots of lace and hangs around as a small collar. Dark Helmut has a woody smell, with notes of coffee and chocolate as well as a hints of smoke and tree nuts along with a vague fruity tone.
The taste of Dark Helmut is quite dry in general thick with coffee and dark chocolate flavours. A moderate sweetness rolls over the tongue leading to a finish that reminds me of chocolate covered cherries. A bitter coffee flavour lingers in the aftertaste of this surprisingly light-bodied lager.
Dark Helmut pairs well with creamy cheeses, particularly Edelweiss blue cheese and also went nicely with dark chocolate that had almonds and raisins in it.
Dial “Z” for Zwickel (Zwickelbier / Kellerbier, 5.7%)
Light amber in colour, this lager has a soapy off-white head that leaves waves of lace and settles into a small bumpy cap. The smell of Dial “Z” for Zwickel is caramel-based with a heavy mineral presence and a hint of pine needles or spruce tips.
The sharp mineral and sweet camel characteristics carry over to the taste and the flavours contrast each other nicely. There’s a noticeable tree nut tone in the background and a dry red wine tone can be found in the finish before a metallic bitterness takes over in the aftertaste of the medium-bodied and mildly carbonated beer.
Dial “Z” for Zwickel reminds me of a light maibock and would be fantastic alongside bratwurst, sauerkraut, roasted potatoes or hot nuts.
Happy Pilsner (Czech Pilsner, 5.3%)
This chill hazed pilsner is a bright golden straw colour and produces a large soapy head that is retained as a thin cap. It smells of freshly cut grain and honey, with an ample noble hop presence providing floral, perfume and pepper notes.
Happy Pilsner has a surprisingly complex taste profile for the style. It’s earthy, lightly toasted malt base has a light, fruity sweetness and a umami character that I perceived as lightly salted sun dried tomato. There is a distinct sharpness in the finish that comes from the use of acidulated malt and the beer carries a suitable bitterness.
I really enjoyed Happy Pilsner with pizza. You should try it with pizza. Vegetarian or chock full of meat is irrelevant. Seriously…try this beer with pizza.
Rauchstack (Dunkelweizen / Rauchbier, 6.9%)
This dark and smoky wheat ale is a steely brown colour and yields a creamy tan head that leaves large waves of lace and settles as a stringy collar. Though quite prevalent and fairly sharp, the aroma of wood smoked German malts isn’t too acrid or overpowering and is complimented by the hearty and slightly sweet smell of baker’s chocolate.
Rauchstack tastes moderately dry and has a strong cedar-like wood tone on top of a dark chocolate flavoured base. Aside from a slight tartness, there is almost no palatable indication of this being a wheat-based ale, even after it gets warm. A gelatinous note of strawberry jam comes forward in the finish and the aftertaste is surprisingly clean, though I found the wood character stuck to my tongue a bit.
Mild cigars are an obvious choice to pair with smoked beers. Cured ham, a dry sausage such as landjaeger or a smoked gouda would all work nicely with Rauchstack as well.
Happy Pilsner is my favourite beer in the 2014 Oktoberfest Mix Pack. People often exclude lagers and pilsners from craft beer discussions, but in my opinion they’re some of the hardest styles to nail down. Dial “Z” For Zwickel will likely be my go-to beer at the festival this year, everything about this one lends itself to the cool weather and food options that will be available. I think that Rauchstack may convert a few skeptical drinkers on the idea of a smoked beer and Dark Helmut is sure to be a hit once again.
I found that Rauchstack and Dark Helmut were a bit “samey” in the sense that they’re both dark and woody. Out of curiosity, I blended them together into what I call “Smoke My Helmut” (innuendo intended) and it worked out really well, with smoke and chocolate notes intertwining in harmony.
The beers of the 2014 Oktoberfest Mix Pack are housed in a sturdy cardboard box. There is a large card included that describes each beer in English and French, as well as a coaster promoting this year’s festival and some of the associated musical acts. Each bottle has a list of ingredients and its bottling date on the back label.
The 2014 Oktoberfest Mix Pack costs $24.00 and is available in select LCBO stores, at the brewery and for home delivery through the BYBO service. This year’s festival takes place on October 3rd and 4th at the Vankleek Hill fairgrounds. Details and tickets can be found here and there are several volunteer opportunities available including this one.