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by Caitlin Saniga

Cranberry-apple sparkler with dark rum

For a switch from the pear garnish, drop a few frozen green grapes in the glass instead.

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by Caitlin Saniga

Apple cider crackle with spiced rum

One of my biggest pet peeves about fancy mixed drinks is their often ridiculous ingredient requirements. No, I don’t have candied grapefruit peel just lying around. And what the hell would I do with a full jar of it anyway? (Hold up. I’m sure I could think of something.) But this drink is so simple. ‘Tis the season for cider, so pour some in a glass with a dash of spiced rum and get to sipping.


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It’s back!  The first guide we ever undertook for the blog — way back in October 2010 — was our Oktoberfest beer review. We covered a few local beers, some national brews and even an import or two. This year we decided to try a few more Oktoberfests on the market, because who doesn’t want a second round? Prost!

*Note: Our rating system is out of five stars.

Two Brothers Atom Smasher

Two Brothers Atom Smasher

(7.7% alc. by volume)

The Atom Smasher is Two Brothers’ Oktoberfest-style lager. This was the first Oktoberfest beer I had of the season this year. I’m not sure how far the reach is for this brewery, as it’s a local product from Warrenville, Ill. What differs it from the competition? It’s aged in French oak foudres, which are historically used for fermenting and aging beer and wine.

Impressions: This was certainly a pretty smooth Oktoberfest, and pleasantly average. What do I mean by that? I like my Oktoberfests to snap a little more than this did, but it was very easy to put down. I tasted a bit of honey and maybe something along the lines of oak.

Rating: ★★★

— Sarah

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Yuengling Oktoberfest

Yuengling Oktoberfest

(5.4% alc. by volume)

Yuengling’s Oktoberfest is a newbie to the Oktoberfest beer market. It was introduced in 2011. Lucky for me, Yuengling is distributed in Virginia (and a handful of other states, not Illinois. Sorry, Sarah).

Impressions: This was pretty thin for a Märzen-style beer. The flavor was pretty standard, too, with some soft caramel and yeast fragrances. I also found this beer to be a bit sweet, which didn’t bother me.

Rating: ★★★

— Caitlin

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Great Lakes Oktoberfest

Great Lakes Oktoberfest

(6.5% alc. by volume)

Let me start this by saying that somehow we got this all backwards because Caitlin’s from Ohio and I’m from Pennsylvania and she got to drink Yuengling and I, instead, had Great Lakes. What added salt to the wound was seeing Brown’s gear in a picture online of this Cleveland-based brew. So sad.

Impressions: I really enjoyed this and I’ve never found a Great Lakes beer I actually like. You got me, Cleveland! This Oktoberfest (which I also enjoyed on tap) had the crispness I love in a Märzen-style beer. It had a caramel-y, spicy flavor that went great with my cold roast beef sandwich.

Rating: ★★★★

— Sarah

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St. George Brewing Company Oktoberfest

St. George Brewing Company Oktoberfest

(6% alc. by volume)

The St. George Brewing Company is located in Hampton, Va., about four hours from where I live. After trying this beer and deeming it to be my favorite of the Oktoberfest bunch, I’m sad to report that St. George’s beer is only distributed in Virginia and North Carolina.

Impressions: I wasn’t prepared to like this beer so much. It was the last bottle I added to my pick-your-own six-pack. Frankly, I though the label was a little corny. But I took the risk and ended up loving this beer! It poured with a nice thick head and maintained a  sparkly carbonation. I picked up on flavors brown sugar and caramel with just a tinge of bitter hops. Overall, this was a nice, crisp Oktoberfest.

Rating: ★★★★

— Caitlin

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Victory Festbier

Victory Festbier

(5.6% alc. by volume)

I tried Victory’s Summer Love Ale a few months ago, admittedly because I thought the label was cool. This label, on the other hand, I absolutely hate. Had I not been looking specifically for Oktoberfests, I never would have picked this up in a million years. It looks like beer for children.

Impressions: This Philadelphia brewery’s Oktoberfest-style beer fell a bit flat for me (I hadn’t been a fan of its summer ale, either). Definitely the caramel-style notes you look for in a fall beer, but instead of a fuller grain or oak-y flavor, it ended on sort of a green grass note. Certainly not a bad beer at all, but the fact that neither the label nor the taste was impressive made it lose points in my book.

Rating: ★★.5

— Sarah

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Paulaner Oktoberfest Maizen

Paulaner Oktoberfest Maizen

(6% alc. by volume)

Haha. I love the label on this one: rows of women in skirts carrying fistfuls of beer mugs. This is definitely a German beer, and it’s brewed in Munich. Once just a seasonal beer, this Oktoberfest can now be enjoyed year-round.

Impressions: Where the St. George’s Oktoberfest was sparkly and crisp, Paulaner’s is dark and heavy with earthy flavors of nuts, grass and wheat. It’s heavy on the malt taste and left me feeling full.

Rating: ★★

— Caitlin

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Capital Brewery Oktoberfest

Capital Brewery Oktoberfest

(5.5% alc. by volume)

I’d never even heard of Capital Brewery before I picked this beer up. I’ll admit it was sort of a random grab and I almost passed it up entirely. I’m always hearing good things about a lot of Wisconsin breweries, so I figured this was my chance!

Impressions: Another unbelievably average Oktoberfest. This was definitely the first of the bunch where I picked up on the fruity flavors the most (I would definitely say apple). But it wasn’t a very robust flavor profile, and I noticed that I was sipping it almost robotically instead of truly enjoying it. I also realized what was missing most from my Oktoberfest picks this year: No imports. I think my grand lesson is to pick an imported Oktoberfest brew if you have the option!

Rating: ★★.5

— Sarah

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BONUS: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

(7% alc. by volume)

This isn’t an Oktoberfest-style brew, but it’s seasonal, no doubt. True to the description on the label, this brown ale is brewed with pumpkin meat, brown sugar and spices. Dogfish Head is widely available in the U.S. To see if it’s available in your area, consult this distribution list.

Impressions: Everything you need to know about the taste of this pumpkin ale is on the label. It’s got all of the flavors of pumpkin pie: cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, almond and just a touch of yeast. The taste is very smooth and somewhat sweet. This is autumn in a bottle. Delicious!

Rating: ★★★★

— Caitlin

(–% alc. by volume)

Any interesting facts about the beer. Location of brewery, appearance of label if it stands out, etc.

Impressions: appearance, taste. Did you eat anything while you drank the beer? What foods do you think it’d work well with?

Rating: ★★★/5 (copy and paste those stars, they’re not available in wordpress I grabbed it out of microsoft word)

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by Sarah Steimer

I’ve never been a huge Bloody Mary fan, but this may have turned me. You can, of course, leave out various ingredients such as the kale or the bacon.

  • 3/4 cup tomato juice
  • 1 small kale leaf, stem removed and roughly chopped
  • a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • a few dashes hot sauce, to your liking
  • 1-2 shots vodka (or you can cheat like me and use whiskey – I just can’t get into vodka)
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • lemon, optional
  • 1 strip bacon, for garnish
  • cherry tomato, for garnish
  • 1 small kale leaf, for garnish

Add the tomato juice, kale, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and liquor to a food processor. Pulse until the kale is blended into the drink to your preference (you can always strain some out if you choose). Add the ice cubes, crushing a bit before hand if your blender is a little weak like mine.

Season with the salt, pepper and lemon, adjust to your taste (maybe even adding more liquor or hot sauce if you really need it).

For the bacon garnish:

You could crumble the bacon and add it straight into the drink itself, but I really loved the look of this garnish.

Take one piece of raw bacon and arrange in a squiggle or another cool shape it on a wooden skewer — NOT a metal or plastic skewer. Place the skewered bacon between four paper towels, two on the bottom and two on top. Microwave on high for 1-2 minutes.

* Power Trio is our July guide that features BLT recipe ideas — including bacon, leafy greens and tomatoes, minus the two slices of bread. See all of our Power Trio BLT recipes here.

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by Sarah Steimer

An Old Fashioned is such a velvety, old lounge drink and adding spice and warmth plays right into that.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cardamom pods (or a sprinkle of cardamom powder)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 12 ounces sweet bourbon (or whiskey)
  • 1 orange, cut into 8 wedges
  • 8 maraschino cherries

Place the water, sugar, cardamom, star anise and cinnamon in a small sauce pan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, being sure to mix occasionally.

Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, then remove from heat. Strain the whole spices from the simple syrup mixture.

Divide the cherries and oranges between four cups and muddle (no muddler? Just use the end of a wooden spoon or another blunt-ended object). Mix the bourbon into the simple syrup mixture and whisk. Ladle the drink into each cup.

If you want to dress the drink up even a little more, mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar with 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon on a small plate. Wet the edges of you glasses before adding any ingredients and rim with the sugar-cinnamon mix.

Makes four Old Fashioneds.

Recipe adapted from: spoon fork bacon

**For the month of January, we’re offering a few recipes for warm alcoholic drinks to take into cold winter nights. All “Warm and Buzzy” recipes can be found here.

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by Caitlin Saniga

If you're going to skimp on anything in this recipe, don't let it be the cinnamon stick. It adds a burst of flavor.

If you skimp on anything in this recipe, don’t let it be the cinnamon stick. It adds a burst of flavor. Served cold or at room temperature, this drink also makes a great shot.

Correction (Jan. 28,2013): In the original version of this recipe, the wrong type of alcohol was called for. The recipe has been updated to include the correct type of alcohol.

  • 4 cups apple juice
  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup high-proof alcohol, such as Everclear or grain alcohol*
  • 4 cinnamon sticks

I found out about this drink because my mom’s *book club* served it at one of their get-togethers. I’m sure they had very interesting discussions that day.

In a large pot, combine the apple juice, cider and sugar. Bring to a boil and stir, cooking until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add the alcohol. Divide the drink between 4 mason jars or large mugs. Add a cinnamon stick to each glass. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

* Be careful! This drink is so smooth that the high-proof alcohol can sneak up on you. If you want to play it safe, add only 3/4 cup alcohol. In fact, there are two versions of Everclear — a 151 proof and a 190 proof. If you use the 190-proof version, I advise you to use only 1/2 cup-3/4 cup. And if you live in one of the states where it is illegal to sell Everclear, use a high-proof rum instead.

**For the month of January, we’re offering a few recipes for warm alcoholic drinks to take into cold winter nights. All “Warm and Buzzy” recipes can be found here.

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by Sarah Steimer

I served this in a slow cooker set on "warm" at a holiday soiree I threw last month. A white sangria is a nice alternative to a red wine sangria at parties - think of which would show up on a couch when it gets spilled.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • zest of 2 lemons, cut into strips (if you have time)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice from 2 lemons
  • 4 whole star anise*
  • 4 cinnamon sticks*
  • 12 whole cloves*
  • 2 bottles dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • juice from 1 orange
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 pear, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange and 1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker or large saucepan until heated through. If heating in a slow cooker, keep set to “warm” during the party. If using a saucepan, transfer to an insulated container for serving, such as a dutch oven, or sturdy glass bowl. Serve in paper or glass cups, as plastic can give you some problems when using hot liquids.

*Don’t want to purchase a whole jar of spices? Lots of fresh markets and spice stores will offer these ingredients in bulk – meaning you can literally pick out four star anise and not worry about what to do with 30 extra.

Serves 12.

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart

**For the month of January, we’re offering a few recipes for warm alcoholic drinks to take into cold winter nights. All “Warm and Buzzy” recipes can be found here.

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