Ballard Roving Oktoberfest: A Brewery Review
Oktoberfest season is finally back! I've been waiting an entire year for Beer Christmas to roll back around, and now I get to spend the next month hopping from one Oktoberfest celebration to the next as each neighborhood tries to outdo each other in German-ness. Recently my friends and I attended the Roving Ballard Oktoberfest where we followed The Oompa Machine from brewery to brewery in Ballard trying out the seasonal Oktoberfest offerings of Marzens, Vienna Lagers, and Dunkels - that is, the best versions these typically ale specialized breweries can muster. Want to hear what I think about it?
While doubtlessly fun, to call this an Oktoberfest would be somewhat misleading. The breweries all put forth their Oktoberfest themed offerings, but other than that the only thing making this an Oktoberfest was the band, The Oompa Machine, that lead the group from place to place and belted out a couple of oompa songs at each brewery.
While the band was perfectly good, keeping up with them as they led the throng of revelers from brewery to brewery was a sure fire way to land yourself in the thick of the massive lines at each location. With only an hour at each venue, you had just enough time to wait through the line a second time while holding your first beer then chugging it before moving on.
I showed up decked out in my poor man's facsimile of Lederhosen, but I was saddened to see that most people's hearts just weren't in it like mine was - a handful of fedoras and a criminal shortage of dirndls could be counted among the hundreds of attendees. I had no problem being the goofiest looking guy there, but you could tell that most people weren't as excited about playing dress-up as me.
I appreciate the spin on the classic Oktoberfest model that relies heavily on stages and tents though, so I can hardly ding them for not quite nailing it. Plus, it was a free event thanks to Verity credit union. Not really sure what they paid for except some unfortunate folks to carry their sign from brewery to brewery, a sad job that could have been replaced with some string and a post. They may have been responsible for each brewery having it's own commemorative dimpled seidel, a fun collectable for each location. My housemates and I just had to collect all four of them, each bearing the logo of one of the four breweries on the circuit. And now they will be in my house forever... I'll never have to drink beer out of a non-handled vessel again, no matter how full my dishwasher is (as it always is. Someone really should take care of that).
I love taking any chance to do a Ballard brewery crawl, but it's often a reminder that all breweries are not created equal. The popular ones are popular for a reason. This review can't be the last I'll do, since today I was only drinking the handful of beers specially brewed for the Oktoberfest season.
Reuben's is well known in Ballard and sports the largest beer selection of any brewery in the area. Despite that, they didn't have much to present for Oktoberfest. I tried both their specials, the Kolsch and the Marzen, and while both were good, neither of them quite hit the mark on what I was hoping for. Kolsches aren't exactly Oktoberfest beers with too strong of an ale-ish bent. That and their Marzen reflected this brewery's penchant for making great ales while somewhat neglecting the lager side of the house. This is a great brewery though, so hit it up to try some of their multitude of offerings, but skip their "Oktoberfest" beers if you have to make a choice.
Stoup focuses on hoppy Northwest and British styles, so it didn't come as a surprise to me when their German Pilsner didn't stand out. Due to extremely long lines and a late arrival coming off of the Reuben's, I didn't get to work my way through all the beers I would have liked to try as they had a good number of beers that would have been appropriate for an Oktoberfest session. Every time I return to Stoup, I get a different vibe from their beers. On my first visit, I found myself not being particularly impressed, but with each subsequent visit, I like their beers more and more. To me, Stoup is a brewery that is still finding it's style, but as one of the few places that offers a British Bitter, I'm hoping they lock it down sooner than later.
Lucky envelope is my favorite Ballard brewery by far, and possibly my favorite in the Seattle area. It's not often very crowded and that makes it our little secret. Unlike the other breweries in the circuit, Lucky Envelope offers some serious lager beers regularly, with their Helles Lager being one of my favorite beers, and their Schwarzbier being one of the beers I pray for when i beseech the cruel Gods of Rotating Taps. Today they had their Vienna Lager ready to serve up for the Oktoberfest revelers, and it was fantastic, well worth the long lines to get it. While I tried to get only the brewery's Oktoberfest beers on the circuit, I ended up getting a taste of their "Peer Pressure Pumpkin Ale", hilariously named, I imagine, because they had to brew a pumpkin beer since everyone else was doing it. Lucky Envelope is probably sick of my constant fan-boying, but that beer is starting them off at the top of list of best pumpkin beers for the season. Go get some before it runs out.
Populuxe has a brand new, really cool space in the large warehouse behind the brewery and that made it the perfect place to close out the festival. As the last stop on the line, I got to chill with the band in their awesome outdoor area. Being at this place is always a blast. Despite that, this breweries beers seem to continually underwhelm me. They all seem to share a similar characteristic that isn't technically wrong or bad, but that I can't quite place. To call it astringent wouldn't quite be fair, but there is something about the flavor that makes it hard to drink fast and frequent. Not quite my style, and definitely not what I was hoping for in an Oktoberfest beer. I'll keep coming back to this place though as it continues to grow.
Did you enjoy this? Have your own thoughts? Do you think Lucky Envelope is overrated, Tim? Share and comment below