3AROMA 6/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 6/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 11/20
UPDATED: SEP 29, 2012 As a critic I often find myself not knowing what rating to give a certain product. However, in these instances I find that being mixed means that product is only average at best since good items are obvious in their quality. This is how I view Harpoon Octoberfest, another American take on the wholly German style. It has its attributes, but it has its flaws as well.
POUR, COLOR AND AROMA
Having sampled a few different Octoberfest-style beers the one thing I like about all of them is their appearance. Harpoon’s entry is much like many others: a dark amber/reddish-orange, crystal-clear body with lots of carbonation. It pours to a fairly large, off-white, foamy head that lingers throughout the life of the drink and leaves a lot of lacing on the glass.
The aroma is fairly standard for a beer of this type – malty, but more dry than sweet. Other brews have a bit of sweet scent, but Harpoon’s is surprisingly bland.
In my experience of sampling Octoberfest beers I notice I find their taste to be malty and slightly sweet but with a dry finish. But with Harpoon the most noticeable aspect to its taste is its bitterness. Although it’s only a 30 on the IBU scale, only about 5 higher than typical Octoberfest beers, there seems to be a dry, salty, bitter taste to this brew (even at colder temperatures).
I decided to let the beer warm a little but the taste stayed essentially the same. There definitely is a strong mixture of various malts here, including chocolate and possibly caramel, but the beer doesn’t drink like liquid candy. This is most unusual since Harpoon Octoberfest is technically an ale, not a lager, so I was expecting more of robust taste. But what I got was a mostly dry-tasting beer that wasn’t nearly as flavorful as it could be.
I wouldn’t call Harpoon Octoberfest a strong beer by any means, but it definitely has an edge to its finish. Since this beer is quite bitter in its taste, it’s not surprising it finishes with a significant amount of bite.
If you drink the beer quickly its finish will seem much smoother but you’ll likely miss the flavor combination. If you drink it slowly you’ll be able to appreciate the craftwork but it will not finish cleanly at all. Not that this is bargain beer, but for a seasonal niche beer by a microbrewery you’d expect an easier finish.
The funny thing about Octoberfest beers is that they’re almost always lighter in body than you might expect. After all, these are dark beers based on a Germany style which leads the average Joe Six Pack to assume they’re a meal in and of themselves. While it’s true some are more potent (and Harpoon is no exception at 5.5% ABV), they are not packed with calories. This probably explains why it would be easy to down several servings of Harpoon without feeling overwhelmed.
It doesn’t surprise me Harpoon Octoberfest would seem like only an average beer to me. I have found their other beers to be only average at best and the same is true of other American Octoberfest beers I have tried. Only the most dedicated, diehard beer connoisseurs will likely enjoy this brew, and it’s easy to understand why lightweights would not.