Ahhh, October: the woods are ablaze in color, the air carries the sweet tang of burning leaves, and cheerleaders prance on the sidelines waving pompons and shouting "hold that line!" Above all, Germany celebrates the arrival of Autumn by releasing their luscious Märzen beer. Brewed in March, poured in October, it's a festival in a bottle: an Oktoberfest!
Though often reduced in the States to just another excuse to drink too much pale, watery American lager (e.g., Bud Light), Oktoberfest is actually a celebration of some of Germany's finest; and Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen is certainly worth celebrating. It is, after all, the original Oktoberfest, first brewed in 1872 Spaten in Spaten’s Munich brewhaus. A company that's been in continuous operation since 1397 ought to know what they’re doing, and Spaten does. That's why this is the one beer I seek out every year when fall rolls around.
Baseline: The Oktoberfest style is intended to be a medium-bodied brew, quite malty and relatively sweet; with abundant carbonation. The best examples of these coppery, amber-hued brews are sufficiently hopped to balance out the sweetness, but only enough so that the flavor of toasted malt remains predominant.
The Pour: Spaten Oktoberfest pours up a lovely copper-tinged amber with no trace of haziness. It produces a good, dense, very pale head fed by tiny bubbles rising along the walls of the glass. The head holds for a few moments, and produces copious lace.
The Nose: Sweet, toasty malt dominates with light hints of nut and caramel. The style is different from brown ale in that the nutty nose is much more subdued. A hops aroma hovers quietly in the background.
The Mouth: As expected from the nose, toasted malt predominates with a good balance and a subdued hop note. Much closer to the "sweet" end of the spectrum than the "bitter" (Oktoberfests range from about 20-28 IBU). Well- but not excessively-carbonated, similar to a good bottle-conditioned ale in that respect. This is not an unusually complex beer, but it is one that's beautifully balanced and satisfying. Even at a tad under 6% ABV, it remains eminently drinkable.
The Finish: Smooth, a bit fruity, but ultimately slightly flat. Perhaps the only shortcoming of the brand - and not a particularly "short" one, at that.
Food pairings: Surely you jest: Sausage, of course; bratwurst, especially! Spaten Oktoberfest also goes nicely with many Italian dishes, if you can pry yourself away from the Chianti; and its sweetness sits well with most foods that are spicy (in the garlic and onion sense, not necessarily the capsaicin) or a bit on the greasy side. I'm told it pairs well (naturally) with sauerkraut, but I wouldn't touch the stuff with a ten-foot Bavarian, myself.
Recommendations: Spaten Oktoberfest is the original, the Oktoberfest against which all other Oktoberfests are measured. Buy a couple of cases every fall and ration them... with luck you can make it to January.