Craft Beer to Cross the Border For: Karben4 Oaktober Ale

In Cross the Border For by Ben

Road trip for a draft-only Marzen? Really? Yes, really. As you’ll read below Karben4 in Madison is bending — but not breaking — the traditional Oktoberfest style to craft what Ben calls both a “fireside quaffer and leaf-raking slammer.”


Photo Courtesy Karben4 on Facebook

I don’t know about you, but it’s nearing the middle of October and it seems like every time I open the cooler doors of my local beer purveyor, every other seasonal offering starts to look awfully familiar.  Pumpkin-spiced this, Marzen-that.  Yeah, I get it; it’s fall. So when tasked to find the new, interesting and just plain crazy seasonal offerings, I’ve been downright giddy to throw some love towards Oaktober Ale from Karben4 Brewing Company, right here in Madison, Wisconsin.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Karben4 Oaktober Ale since early August when I heard it would be in production again this year. Oaktober Ale is not a proper Oktoberfest, nor is it even trying to be. While the similarities are certainly there, this beer stands on it’s own. Oaktober Ale showcases ale yeast fermented at near-lager temperatures, giving you a strikingly similar experience to a Marzen-style lager, except, you know, it’s an ale. This beer veers way off the Oktoberfest track, as it is then aged on a blend of whiskey soaked French and American oak chips.

It only takes a couple of whiffs before you come to the realization that this ain’t your Grandpappy’s Marzen-Style Oktoberfest. While you certainly get the signature bready and caramelized aromas of an Oktoberfest, this beer is also oozing with complexities. On the front of the nose I pick up a beautiful, lightly charred oak aroma along with the inviting scent of ripe, dark cherries. As well, an intriguing cola-like aroma, like the smell of a freshly popped bottle of Mexican Pepsi, lingers in the background. Unavoidably, a mellow, oaky bourbon scent hangs in toward the end.

In the mouth, this beer is truly unique. The complexities of the aroma gracefully carry through into the mouth. Dark caramel flavors dance with touches of smoky, cherry tobacco and earthy hops. In the finish, you get that classic, crisp, lager-like finish, duking it out with tannic oak and warm bourbon. But don’t let the complexity of this beer fool you. At a modest 5.7% ABV this beer is far from a heavy-weight, striking the perfect balance between fireside quaffer and leaf-raking slammer.

In a market flooded with seasonal Oktoberfests and pumpkin beers, it’s becoming harder to find authenticity. The Karben4 Oaktober successfully executes a truly unique and refreshing expression of an otherwise well-worn style.

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Ben earned his craft beer chops working at West Lakeview Liquors and Galleria Liquors -- both in Chicago -- before taking his knowledge north to Wisconsin. He's now a member of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild and traverses the state looking for craft beer worth crossing the border for.