As much as I love the Oktoberfest style of beer, it isn’t an everyday beverage. Pilsners, pales, most IPAs—those are everyday beers, but the Oktoberfest, aka the marzen lager, with is sweet malty flavor and rich body, is a beer that’s best suited for a certain time and place. Back in the day, Oktoberfests were brewed early in the spring, then rested until it was time to party in October. They were pretty high ABV for the day and really quite sweet compared to most other lagers. So yeah, they were special. Like, wear your finest lederhosen special. Ballast Point’s Dead Ringer is a traditional take on the marzen and feels like something you should drink the first time you light up your fireplace for the season.
It pours dark brown with just a hint of red around the edges, like a deep chocolate cherry. There’s a thin white head that forms a ring around the side of the glass, but disappears immediately in the middle. It smells sweet, but also with a little barnyard funk. Basically, it smells like caramel apples at the state fair.
Dead Ringer has a deeper, richer body than some of the more common Oktoberfests out there (Sam Adams comes to mind), but true to the style, it’s not as full-bodied as a porter. But it’s hellaciously malty, with big notes of caramel and a nice layer of fresh baked bread. Hops are wispy, almost ethereal—basically an afterthought. It’s text book “Oktoberfest,” maybe a littler more malty than some American versions, but unmistakably a fall celebration beer.
I really like Dead Ringer, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I just pulled my hamstring playing softball and I’m sitting on the couch watching college football. I’m primed to like any beer. This may not be the special occasion that the Germans originally brewed Oktoberfests for, but it feels right. Even without the personal baggage that I’m bringing to this review, the Marzen is the perfect style for this particular season (did I mention I’m watching college football?), and Dead Ringer is an excellent example of that style. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think it’s cool to see Ballast Point, a brewery best known for getting crazy with IPAs, tackle an old-world style with a traditional approach. In the words of Todd Snider, “now that’s alternative. That’s alternative to alternative.”
Could I drink this beer every day? Absolutely not. But put a six pack of Dead Ringer in front of me with an SEC rivalry playing out on the tube, and I could spend an evening losing myself in that sweet, caramel body.
Brewery: Ballast Point
City: San Diego, California
Availability: Seasonal, 12-ounce bottles