Ein Prosit, Der Gemütlichkeit! Oktoberfest ist da!
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish
In Munich, you can almost smell it in the air.
As the summer wanes and cooler breezes blow through the cobbled streets, the restaurateurs and hoteliers of this old Bavarian capital brace for their busiest time of the year. Over by the main train station, on a flat plaza called the Theresienwiese, workers will erect tents that dwarf anything the circus could bring to town. Soon, these tents will house the largest beer event — indeed the largest public celebration — in the entire world: Oktoberfest.
First held in 1810 as an extravagant horse race to commemorate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen (pause for breath), Oktoberfest has come to embody that part of the German national character that doesn’t involve being punctual, cleaning obsessively, and occasionally taking over Europe. Nowadays, the festival hosts over 6 million visitors from around the globe.
Anyway, the main festival has spawned hundreds of knockoffs around the world, so most everyone is familiar with the rituals. Link your arms. Sway back and forth. Wait for the world’s drunkest band to yell “Zicki-zacki! Zicki-zacki!” and respond with a hearty “Heu! Heu! Heu!”
But what many folks outside of Germany might not get to experience is the Oktoberfest beer. It’s a style all its own, brewed every fall and spring (in spring, however, it’s called “Märzen”).
Oktoberfest is darker than most lagers; a rich amber color. It’s also considerably sweeter, the malt producing most of the flavor with just enough hops to bring the beer in balance, leaving no residual bitterness. After a few of them, you’ll probably notice a slightly higher alcoholic content (in the neighborhood of 6.5% alcohol by volume). We recommend serving it in the traditional Mass glass. It’s one liter of pure liquid deliciousness.
Unsurprisingly, the best Oktoberfest beers are brewed by the big Munich breweries: Spaten, Paulaner, Löwenbrau, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräuhaus. These are the only beers allowed for sale at the big Fest in Munich, and each brewery has its own ridiculously huge tent.
All of these beers are available in the US during the fall, but they tend to go quickly and aren’t always restocked. Check with your favorite specialty beer store and buy by the case.
The Germans, of course, would argue that a festival beer is meant to be enjoyed socially, not in the isolation of one’s own home. Fortunately the 19th annual Irondequoit Oktoberfest is coming up on September 15. Also, you can find the brews on tap in many bars, pubs and restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, you’ll be hard pressed to get anyone to serve you the beer in the proper one-liter glass.
The Oktoberfest beer style has caught on among American microbreweries as well, and throughout the fall it’s easy to find some very good examples. Examples by Saranac, Custom Brewcrafters, and the Ithaca Brewing company are available in the area. American producers may not have the authenticity of the multiple century-old Munich breweries, but they’re usually excellent beers in their own right, often a bit more bold than their Teutonic counterparts.
So let’s all give a hearty toast and enjoy the coming of Autumn in the Bavarian way- not by wearing comical leather shorts, but by raising our glasses high and giving the traditional Oktoberfest toast: “Oins! Zwoa! Drei! G’suffa!” This is how beer is meant to be enjoyed.
In other beers:
The High Falls Brewery continues to re-introduce Genesee Cream Ale to Rochester. Vice President of Marketing Gregg Stacy has held tastings of the old stalwart at Monty’s Korner and Johnny’s Irish Pub, and surely there are more on the way. It’s nice to see the brewery fostering interest in one of its classic brands.
Dundee’s IPA, also from High Falls, is out and available around Rochester, and it’s very good. If you’re not a fan of floral, bitter beers, this probably isn’t the brew for you. But hopheads can rest assured that the IPA holds its own.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.