Right now The Muddy Pig* has a pretty amazing list of Oktoberfest-style beers (and even more Oktoberfest-in-name-only beers). I had a chance to stop by and ordered a flight which included Hartmann Festbier, Gunther Marzen, and Goller Fasten Bier**.
The Gunther (pictured front, center) was very light in color being very light yellow, almost like a pilsner. I was told this came from a German Brewpub which simply does not distribute in the US. My connotation of brewpub beer is that it tends to be full and high in body as compared to perhaps commercial examples and that was definitely the case with the Gunther. It was really good. With the body came some sweetness in the Gunther which was balanced by a slightly higher hop bitterness than in the other two. The key here is that the sweetness wasn't overpowering and it wasn't even the first thing that hits you.
The Hartmann was most like what I might have expected as compared to Hacker Pschorr or Spaten but probably preferable to either. It was very easy drinking but full of flavor. This one seemed to have a grassy hop flavor which with the light body and malty foundation worked really well. Again, not sweet at all, slightly alcoholic, but balanced more than anything.
For sure, my favorite was the Goller (pictured right). If there is any way I can find this in the US, I will do so. It was absolutely what I'd hoped it would be. The initial flavor is bready-malty and very dry. I wondered if some toasted or roasted malts were used (or maybe just a high percentage of Munich or Vienna malt). After the initial impression of toastiness and malt hit you, the hop bitterness and faint lager-like alcohol comes in and blends with that cracker-like maltiness again in the finish. Great beer. This is one, like a great album, where as soon as you process all the flavor from one sip, you're ready to start again, and you notice something new and great each time.
Here's to Oktoberfest! Prost!
*herein referred to as "the best bar in America"
**A note on Oktoberfest lingo: Those three beers are all essentially the same style of beer. Oktoberfests are brewed in March and stored until October, so they will sometimes be called Marzen (Marz = German for March) or something involving the word "fest". A lot of this is regional. Some of it is brand differentiation (so to speak) but it's not really quite as confusing as it might seem