by Suds Sister
There’s a chill in the air, and with it, the predictable Portland rains have started. While we are not quite ready for winter warmers yet, we can ease into the season with Oktoberfest beers.
Oktoberfest in Munich started last Saturday and will run until October 3rd. Six million people attend this beer festival every autumn. It originally began on October 12, 1810 as a public wedding celebration for Bavarian crown Prince Ludwig. It’s held each year on the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow)-the actual site of the wedding. In most places, including Munich, Oktoberfest begins mid-September (and is Munich’s is over by the beginning October).
Munich (in German, München) translates to “monks”. Monastic breweries are very common in Europe, so it goes without saying that they are the origin of several of today’s well-regarded German brands. Paulaner, Weihenstephan and Franziskaner (note the monk on the label) all began as monastic breweries, with Weihenstephan laying claim as the world’s oldest brewery (c.1040). Franziskaner and Paulaner are two of the six beers served at Oktoberfest. The first Oktoberfest brewer was Spaten in 1872, with the big beer tents following in 1896, but it’s likely that the beer that Ludwig and the peasants drank at his wedding was Oktoberfest in style.
Oktoberfest is more than just a festival, it’s also a style of beer. This seasonal brew, also known as Märzen or March, was originally the last beer brewed in the spring before the summer heat and lagered in cold caves until the yeast matured in the fall. Märzen or Oktoberfest beers (terms used interchangeably here) are lagers and can range in color from amber, tawny copper to dark gold, and 4.8 to 5.7% ABV. When the leaves change color, your beer should match them. They often have a comforting bready or malty aroma. That maltiness is backed up by a bit of hops bitterness, usually 20-28 IBUs. Round and full, Oktoberfest beers will have thick, light heads looking up at you like a harvest moon. These are medium-bodied beers that have a full malt taste. Imported Oktoberfest beers usually are lighter in color and body than the ones that are produced in the U.S. The micro-brew versions tend to be higher in alcohol, more reddish-amber in color, and, of course, hoppier. Many micro-brewed Oktoberfest beers aren’t even lagers (they lack that cool lagering stage and use different yeast).
Locally, you can find imported Oktoberfest beers on draft at Rheinlander and Gustav’s, which had both Spaten and Franziskaner Oktoberfests on tap last week; Berlin Inn also has Paulaner Oktoberfest on tap. Edelweiss is hosting an Oktoberfest celebration at Oaks Park this weekend (the 22nd, 23rd and 24th) with all things Paulaner on tap. Oregon’s largest folk festival, the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest, coincides with the first weekend of Munich’s Oktoberfest. Many local breweries also have their own Oktoberfest beers, with Widmer Okto and Portland Brewing’s Uncle Otto’s available in bottles everywhere. Other bottled beer available in stores include: Ayinger Märzen, Beck’s Oktoberfest, Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen, Samuel Adams OktoberFest, Sparten Ur-Märzen.
Recently, I tasted both the Widmer Okto and Spaten Oktoberfest. The Okto is very drinkable and goes great with food. This is an ale that pours deep amber, with a sizeable pearly cap of foam. Oh, yeah, you can smell the malt there, but it only walks like a duck. It’s lacks the complexity of a true Oktoberfest beer. If I hadn’t recently tasted the Spaten Oktoberfest, I would have given the Okto a more favorable review. But Spaten is the big daddy of Oktoberfest beers. Pour a glass and you will see why…you are instantly hit with a super malty aroma. It’s almost screams oompa after the first mouthful. After a few gulps, the roasted maltiness rounds out. Strap on the lederhosen and pour me another ’cause this is a party beer! Prost!
Oktoberfest beers go very well with food, that is if the food happens to be meat. It’s not too late to fire up the grill and cook bratwursts or anything schwein, then add potato pancakes or spätzle and a mixed six of Oktoberfest goodness.
You can enjoy local and imported Oktoberfest beers until the end of, well, October.
Want to learn more? Go to the master