Oktoberfest was in September. Of course it was. I’m always late for the party. So, what did we miss? Smiling German dirndle-whirling women spilling beer on hefty mens’ lederhosen. Sixteen days of beer-drenched merriment punctuated with gutteral vowels. (Eighteen days in bonus years) What’s not to like?
Since 1950, the traditional festival opening in Munich features a twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at noon by the Mayor of Munich with everyone shouting, “O’ zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”) The Mayor serves the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria. The festival ends with the Mayor of Munich yelling at the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria. “Oh, machen das Kotzen aufhören!” **
What makes Oktoberfest beer special? In Munich, the beer must be brewed in Munich. It’s a “local thing.” Kinda like eating cheese steaks. In Philly, only Pat’s & Geno’s count. In Delaware, it’s the Claymont Steakhouse, Benjamin’s on 10th Street in Wilmington, Capriotti’s & Casapulla’s. Outside of Munich, these beers are actually brewed like the traditional, strong spring brews, called March beers or Märzen, that were stored in ice-filled caves or cellars for summer drinking. The left-over Märzen was usually finished off… in October, when the fresh beers made with the grain and hops from the new harvest season needed to be put into the casks. So that’s why Oktoberfestbiers are well-aged, sometimes for three to four months. They are usually deep amber in color and have an alcohol content of 5 to 6.2%.
According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, “Marzen is a rich, slightly malty beer with a slight hint of toasted character from Vienna malt. No roasted or caramel flavors are present, and the beer has a fairly dry finish. Noble hops are present though should be only lightly perceived in the finished beer which is decidedly malty.” So if you missed all that, don’t worry! Here come the Pumpkins!! Pumpkin ale is one of the world’s greatest beer recipes. Some brewers use real pumpkin pulp, others use puree or flavoring and some use more spice than others and it’s only through the exhaustive tasting of different brands that you’ll discover your favorite. So, put away the beer-stained lederhosen and put these on your shopping list: Dogfish Head (the quality varies from year to year, making the annual tasting a fun event), Southern Tier (one of the very best!), Weyerbacher Imperial, Smuttynose and Saranac. There’s really not much to say about pumpkin beers except whether or not you like the style and, if so, which is the best brew this year. Again, drink well, not a lot, or you’ll redefine what we in Delaware call, “Punkin’ Chunkin’!”
** Go ahead and google translate this line. It’s fun for the whole family