With the wider affinity for craft beer among the drinking populace, seasonal brews are starting to jump the gun almost as much as Hallmark cards or Christmas trees at Lowe’s. One seasonal though can’t be debated: Oktoberfest. It’s in the name, perennially tied to the eighth month on the Roman calendar, beloved by everyone from Octavian to Octo-Mom. But before you call shenanigans on brewers releasing their offerings early, these Oktoberfest/Märzen beers (brewed in March and stored until late summer) are traditionally consumed during the Oktoberfest festival in Munich, the majority of which actually takes place in September, concluding on the first weekend of October. Therefore, on my beer calendar, pumpkin beers come after Oktoberfest beers, but I doubt my niggling objections will prevent Dogfish Head from releasing their Punkin in August. But I digress.
As one of Houston’s most anticipated new brewpubs, City Acre Brewing has given patrons a sneak peak at their operations with invitation-only events until they’re officially open and recognized by the TABC. They held their 2nd annual CABtoberfest event this past Saturday, and while last year’s visitors sampled 4 versions of a planned IPA, this year brewmaster and owners Matt Schlabach and Meredith Borders rolled out an actual Oktoberfestbier called Leaf Drop, along with Bayouwulf India Black Ale and Vexation Weizenbock. While the black ale went the fastest – there was none left when I rolled up about an hour after the gates opened – it was the Leaf Drop Oktoberfest that won the crowds over, taking over 50% of the votes for favorite according to the brewery. Rich and malty, I very much enjoyed this darker version of a style I don’t always care for, and I can easily see myself making this a regular tipple in the future as the summer wanes into fall. I’ve also noted previously that I don’t normally go for wheat beers – unless it’s refreshing on a hot day or a particularly good rendition – but City Acre’s Vexation could make a convert out of me. Basically, if you start with a Hefeweizen and brew it darker you get a Dunkelweizen, then up the alcohol to Bock strength and you get a Weizenbock. Typically ranging anywhere from 7-10% ABV, some sources clock Vexation at 7.8% – a heady and potent brew that could certainly pique and goad and otherwise vex consumers, or, more likely, the spouses of those consumers after a few too many. But this one certainly had a stronger malt backbone than other wheat beers, some subtle spice and fruit esters, and while probably a bit heavy for a hot summer day, it’s definitely one I’ll come back to. With these styles, Schlabach is a bold young Turk entering an arena teeming with Teutonic titans like Schneider Weisse, Weihenstephaner, and Franziskaner – but holds his own. Houston has a solid new brewery to look forward to.
But it wasn’t just the beer that had the crowds buzzing. City Acre had a spread of quintessentially German fare (with perhaps a Texas twist) to sate the hunger of patrons already eagerly slaking their thirst. A spread of savory German sausage smoked in corn husks, traditional, slightly malty rolls called Broetchen, along with sauerkraut, grilled onions, and brown mustard. As a brewpub, City Acre plans to sell both beer and food, and they’re proving that they’ve got both sides of the equation balanced. Utilizing local ingredients, many of them from their own garden, City Acre demonstrated that with a name like Schlabach at the helm and a number of German beer styles in the works, an Oktoberfest mittagessen is right in their wheelhouse. In the year since the last CABtoberfest there have been a number of events at City Acre that scheduling has conspired to prevent me from attending. If there was any uncertainty in those early days, they weren’t apparent this weekend, and City Acre looks poised to open with a practiced hand. So much the better for the Houston craft beer scene.