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A Whiz-Bang Oktoberfest Lager

In conjunction with Germany’s historic Brauhaus Riegele brewery, Sierra Nevada has crafted the perfect autumnal brew.

It’s not that I hate people, per se, but there’s an excellent reason why I’ve freelanced for 14 years, working alone in the pants-less comfort of my apartment.

My job consists of gathering raw information, discarding useless data and cooking choice bits into a compelling, illuminating word stew. Creation requires hermetic seclusion, a single-minded navigation of my brains depths and narrows. Modern office life, with its open floor plans and chats about the weather and whether or not you have weekend plans, is kryptonite to creativity. In short, I would rather bong Bud Light than collaborate on your project.

It made perfect sense for the mirror-image brewing families to collaborate ... on a ... märzen, or Oktoberfest lager, done better than anyone else.

Brewers, they’re a different breed. A signature move of modern American zymurgy is collaboration, with collegial brewers combining intellect, talent and resources to create tasteful new expressions. Like Play-Doh, such alliances take many forms, with cideries and breweries creating category-defying liquids; hop-focused brewing houses devising delicious new double IPAs; and American brewers partnering with their European counterparts, the New World and Old World meeting before a brew kettle.

Which arrives us at the story of Sierra Nevada. Last year, the venerable California brewery—creator of Pale Ale, Torpedo Extra IPA, Kellerweis hefeweizen and too many medal-winners to recount—successfully pulled off America’s most dazzling high-wire act of collaboration. For Beer Camp Across America, Sierra Nevada teamed up with a dozen of the brightest bulbs in U.S. brewing, including Firestone Walker to Bell’s, Oskar Blues, Victory and Ballast Point, to create a 12-pack of collaborative beer and a cross-country beer festival. (Full disclosure: I covered the trip’s West Coast leg for Men’s Journal, riding aboard the tour bus and drinking double IPAs at 9 a.m. I survived. Barely.)

Image courtesy of Sierra Nevada.

The undertaking was a top-flight triumph that, dizzying logistics be damned, enhanced Sierra Nevada’s enthusiasm for collaboration. Next year, the brewery will release another 12-pack encompassing liquid alliances with 30 breweries. This fall, though, finds the brewery focusing on a single beer maker, looking outside America, and the 21st century, to join forces with Germany’s Brauhaus Riegele, a Bavarian institution since 1386.

Too often, old-guard German breweries are yoked to tradition, innovation treated like a radical, radioactive notion. Riegele, situated some 70 miles north of Munich, does not pledge allegiance to the Reinheitsgebot. Sure, the brewery’s best-known beer is Privat, a light and elegant lager that was named Germany’s beer of the decade, but Riegele also makes IPAs and imperial stouts, Belgian-style strong ales and American-inspired pale ales chockablock with Pacific Northwest hops.

The innovative streak and impeccable craftsmanship of the German brewery, run by a parent-son pair, resonated with Sierra Nevada—also steered by a father-son duo, Ken and Brian Grossman. It made perfect sense for the mirror-image brewing families to collaborate, not on a next-generation beer but rather a throwback, a märzen, or Oktoberfest lager, done better than anyone else. (It’s the first in an annual series of Oktoberfest collaborations with German breweries.)

Brisk yet rich, lightly sweet yet finishing dry, malt-forward with a nose of toast, the fall-friendly lager is a whiz-bang of structure and balance ...

Brisk yet rich, lightly sweet yet finishing dry, malt-forward with a nose of toast, the fall-friendly lager is a whiz-bang of structure and balance—that is, when American brewers resist the urge to go overboard. To honor and tweak tradition, the breweries opted to use Steffi, a pricey heirloom barley grain, and a yeast strain plucked from Riegele’s deep microbial library. The hops are German through and through, varieties typically deployed for sweetness-regulating bitterness, not aroma.

And that’s where this collaboration steers off the style’s well-worn road. Glugged into a stein, the lager is a gorgeous golden tint, like a jewelry store in liquid form. The scent is toasty and lightly sweet, blended with boosted-up floral, spicy aromatics—that American affinity for dry-hopping. Repeated sips reveal nuttiness and sweet bread, plus a bit of warming alcohol to fight early fall’s chill. On the back end there’s a slight bumblebee sting of bitterness, and a curt, drying conclusion that keeps you grabbing for the glass, repeatedly wetting your whistle till the beer pulls a vanishing act.

This is a beer that’s meant to be drunk by the multiples, not deeply contemplated, and surrounded by good friends, a glowing fire and a few fat bratwursts.

You know, with such stupendous results, perhaps it’s time I gave this collaboration thing a go.

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