Oktoberfest is Back!
We know you’ve been enjoying summer so far, but there’s something that we here at Cape May Brewing Company look forward to all year long. Something that helps herald in fall, and just might be a more momentous release than the PSL.
Unearth your festival fare and break out the pretzels: Oktoberfest is back!
We’ve been busy making batches of Oktoberfest for the past month, and when we mentioned to Lab Manager Lauren Appleman that we were looking forward to chatting with her about beer again, there was one beer she’s been really stoked for. Yep, you guessed it!
When we stopped by production, Lauren poured out a small sampling straight off the centrifuge.
“This is currently transferring,” she says. “We have one batch that’s already in the bright tank, more being brewed, and then a bunch in fermenters and different stages of fermentation.”
We’re trying this first batch just before canning day, which means that fall is so close.
“Usually when we do carb checks prior to packaging to sign off on it, we have about three people check the sample, but for this beer, almost every person is going to taste it. Everyone wants to get a taste of this one,” Lauren says.
“It’s an easy drinking beer. Slightly sweet, a little bit bitter. No frills about it. You can drink a lot of it and not get burnt out on it,” she says. “I can drink this all day.”
“It’s subtle. It has color. It’s so fun to work with in the lab,” she shares. “Most things are some shade of yellow, or it’s fruited, but you pull this and it’s amber. It’s one of my favorites that we do.”
Compared to some of our other brews, Oktoberfest provides a darker, malty, delicious alternative that goes great with brats, pretzels, and mustard.
“For me growing up, fall always signified the start of Chex Mix season,” Lauren shares. “My dad would do these big batches. I have a roasting pan, and the most I use my roasting pan for is Chex Mix and roasted vegetables. When it’s fall, you can crack open a beer and make Chex Mix all day. It smells amazing.”
“When it comes time for that, I’m going to make a bunch of it. I usually bring it in and it lasts about two days,” she says with a smile.
(Ed. note: The production team is voracious. Luckily, there’s no shortage of people like Lauren who don’t mind sharing some of their great creations, or vegetables from their gardens!)
“I also had the benefit of growing up in central Pennsylvania, which is like the snack food capital. We had all the local chip and pretzel places,” she says. “For me, there’s this one called Shuey’s and they do pretzels. You go to the place and it’s mostly word of mouth. They’re the big pretzels. There’s a local brewery back there that would do a pretzel beer with their pretzels.”
On the lab side, Oktoberfest goes through the same daily checks as our other brews, although the yeast used is a bit different.
“Lager yeast acts differently than our ale yeast. It’s a little bigger under the microscope. It flocks a bit harder, so when it drops out of suspension, it’s more dense. Ale yeast is almost fluffy, and lager yeast is more peanut buttery in consistency,” she explains.
“Lagers we also ferment a little colder than usual. For this one, we’re fermenting at 55 degrees. Everything else varies from 68 degrees to 74 degrees,” she says.
(Ed. note: One of our beers even ferments at nearly 100 degrees!)
“When it’s nearly done with fermentation, we raise the temperature up to 60 degrees for what we call the diacetyl rest. The warmer temperature allows the yeast to uptake the diacetyl a little better,” she says.
(Ed. note: You may be familiar with diacetyl already, but for those who aren’t, that’s the compound that gives beer a buttery, butterscotch taste.)
“There’s an acceptable range for that,” Lauren explains. “Lager yeast also tends to throw up a bit of sulfur compounds. So, during peak fermentation, if you’re walking around on the floor, you might smell some of that, which is completely normal, but we want to make sure fermentation is finished and that has cleaned itself up before we crash the beer.”
There’s a cup on our tanks that helps to release excess pressure after a certain point, which also helps extra sulfur compounds dissipate, and it tends to go away naturally.
“Once we’re done with fermentation, we’re doing the diacetyl checks and checking for any sulfur and any other off flavors,” she says.
“You find that certain people are way more sensitive to it than others. Sean is super sensitive. He might smell this and be like, no, there’s sulfur in it. If we want to double check that an aroma is gone, we might take it to someone who’s more sensitive to check,” she says.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games smelling and tasting beer all day. Testing for off flavors is serious work, and you have to be trained to pick up on certain notes or flavors.
“I try not to eat or drink anything before I do my samplings. That will always throw off your palate, especially spicy foods or aromatic foods. I drink coffee black here,” she says. “The cream and sugar messes with everything, too.”
If you’re homebrewing and testing your own creations, Lauren recommends sipping water beforehand, and smelling yourself to reset your palate, like your arm or the inside of your wrist.
“After it’s finished being transferred, I run the bright tank samples on Invisible Sentinel, our PCR, to clear them for packaging. We make sure it’s free of bacteria and wild yeast. Once it’s in the package, we do that again to make sure nothing happened between the bright tank and the filler,” she says.
Every pallet of beer gets tested, so a six-pack is pulled from the beginning and end of a run.
“It’s like investigating. We sleuth it out. That’s why we’re so meticulous as far as keeping records of things and knowing what times things happen,” she shares.
“On the brew side, anything that’s living on there is going to be killed in the boil. Once we get past that, there’s less protection,” she says.
That’s where our incredible lab team comes in to make sure that each can of Oktoberfest you crack open is just right.
In order to test cans of Oktoberfest, our lab team actually set them on fire. Yep, you read that right.
“It sterilizes the outside of the can, and tells us if anything comes from the test, it’s the liquid itself, not anything from the top of the can,” Lauren says.
“It’s my favorite beer we make. Since day one,” Brad says with a grin. “Go back to my blog when I first got hired. It was right at Oktoberfest season. It’s perfect.”
“When I started, we only did Oktoberfest on draft,” Lauren says. “I remember it because it came out the weekend that I was getting married. Brian lived down the street from me at the time. He picked up my growlers for me and then we went up for our wedding.”
“I can’t wait to sit by a fire with this,” she says.
“Football Sundays,” Brad says wistfully.
“It’s one of the best smelling brew days,” Lauren says.
“It’s a beautiful reminder that summer is almost over,” Steve says. “It’s one of my top favorite beers that we make. We definitely do the Oktoberfest style justice.”
“There’s nothing like Oktoberfest. It’s kind of separated itself,” he says.
“It’s a cellar favorite,” Steve says with a smile.
“It’s just beer and yeast in the tank,” Lauren explains. “It’s super easy. Easy to clean, great yields.”
We hope that you’re as excited as we are for this release, and if you haven’t had a chance to check out our Oktoberfest yet, we truly envy you. You’re in for a real treat. You can pick up 6-packs to go from our Brewtique starting TODAY, or grab a pint or flight tasting of this brew while you visit.