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Summer is unofficially over with Labor Day past us. Ahead are the cooler autumn days filled with preparations for the winter and its full accompaniment of holidays. Beer-minded folk look forward to this time of year for the heartier seasonal beers that it brings like Marzen, Pumpkin Ales, Oktoberfest, Dunkelweizen, and other spiced brews.
Perhaps the most famous of the list is Oktoberfest. Many have heard of the festival held in Munich, Germany every year from the end of September until the first weekend in October. But, few know that there is a style of beer named for the event nor do they know the reason or history of the celebration. The story is about a Prince, a Princess, a weddings, a horse race, and, of course, beer.
Once again, as I enjoy doing so often, it is time to take you on a fantastical trip into European history to discover the origin of not only a great beer, but also a great celebration. Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1810.
The party was a rousing success and as word traveled far and wide, Bavarians began to think that making this into a yearly event to boost the Bavarian agricultural show might be a pretty good thing. So, in 1811 Oktoberfest was held in conjunction with the first agricultural show. By 1816, carnival booths began to appear at the ‘Fest and the party grew. In 1819 festival management was assumed by the founding citizens of Munich and the things really started to take off.
But, Oktoberfest was still rather tame for the first 100 years or so. It was more agriculture than party and the only entertainment was the horse race and the few carnival tents and food vendors that set up there each year. Several times during these years the festival was cancelled due to cholera outbreaks and wars.
Beer tents first began to appear in 1896 to quench the thirst of parched festival attendees. Little did these first revelers know that in the coming years the tents would grow to hold as many as 5,000 visitors and the festival would expand to host an estimated six to seven million partiers.
After the end of World War II, Oktoberfest kicked into high gear. In 1950 the festival began its long tradition of a twelve gun salute and ceremonial tapping of the first keg by the incumbent Mayor of Munich as its official opening. The tapping is followed by a cry of “O’ zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”). The first beer of the ‘Fest is then drawn and given to the Minister-President of Bavaria and the drinking commences.
By 1960, Oktoberfest had grown into the monumental world-famous festival depicted by German men in lederhosen and tirolerhute hats and women in dirndls. The beer tents and halls turn into seas of humanity all consuming massive steins of German beers brewed specifically for the event.
Today, Oktoberfest is known as the Largest Volksfest (People’s Fair) in the World. In 2010 the festival attracted 6.4 million visitors, only 72% of these visitors are from Bavaria. The rest are from other EU countries, the United States, Asia, and the rest of the world. While we are on the topic of statistics, a look at the astounding numbers that come out of this yearly beer blast are in order. For the most part, the drinking at Oktoberfest is done in the huge beer tents erected specifically for the event. In all there are fourteen large tents and twenty smaller tents. The largest of the tents, the Winzerer-Fahndl tent, can seat nearly 8,500 partiers inside and another 2,500 outside. When you combine the capacity of all the tents, there are in excess of over 100,000 seats available. During the run of the festival, attendees will consume nearly 2 million gallons of beer generally served one liter at a time, this equates to over 7 million liters. Hungry drinkers eat more than 500,000 chicken dinners, 240,000 sausages, and 70,000 pork knuckles.
Oktoberfest beer is of a variety called Märzen. Darker and stronger than traditional beer, Märzen contains up to 6% alcohol, is bottom-fermented, and is lagered for at least 30 days. The style is characterized by a medium to full body, a malty flavour and a clean dry finish. In Germany, the term covers beers which vary in color from pale (Helles Märzen), through amber to dark brown (Dunkles Märzen). Before the advent of modern refrigeration techniques, this type of beer was brewed in March (as its name suggests) and allowed to age through the summer, so that it was ready to drink by late summer or early fall. Like all German beer, the Oktoberfest beer is brewed according to strict German standards (called the Reinheitsgebot and in effect since 1516) that precisely define the four ingredients allowed in the brewing of beer: barley, hops, malt, and yeast.
Just 6 Munich breweries – Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten – are permitted to serve beer at the festival. Beer is served by the Maß, a one-liter mug, and costs about 8 euros. Beer maids and waiters must be able to carry 10 of these beer-filled mugs at a time.
Oktoberfest Beers to Try
Ayinger Oktoberfest Marzen
Tis tasty brew was served last year at the Springfield Brew Crew Oktoberfest party and was a big hit. Its malty and clean hop profile was refreshing and satisfying. Many described the beer as having a slight apple flavor to it. It is well worth seeking out at your local beer purveyor.
Once brewed as only a seasonal beer, Paulaner’s Oktoberfest is now available year-round. It has a caramelized, barely malty nose and a rich, creamy full-flavored finish.
Spaten Oktoberfest Beer
Created in 1872, Oktoberfest Beer by Spaten is the first true Oktoberfest beer. This is a medium-bodied beer with rich, roasted malt flavor and perfectly balanced hops. With rich mouth feel and underlying malty sweetness, this is one of the most popular beers at Oktoberfest each year.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest
Pours a rich, clear amber with a two fingered off white/light tan head that drops slowly. Aromas of caramelly malt grain and toast. No hop aroma. There are flavors of deep caramel malt, biscuit and toast, with a balancing bitterness, but very malt forward. Mouth feel is medium to light.
Harpoon Octoberfest Beer
Pours burnt orange to reddish copper in color with a nice off-white, frothy head. Aromas present are of malt, slight fruit — maybe orange – slight hops. The flavor is a bit spicy with nice malts and medium body.
Local Jacksonville Oktoberfest Celebrations
Intuition Ale Works – September 24, 1:00 PM – 9:00 PM
All the stops are being pulled out for the mother of all Oktoberfest celebrations here in Jacksonville at Intuition this year. The brewers are preparing two special edition brews for the occasion – a traditional Oktpberfest Marzen and a hefeweizen. There will be all-you-can-eat German wursts and other German foods, beer games, commemorative mugs, and a German costume contest.
Tickets are available now online at http://www.intuitionaleworks.com or at the Tap Room during regular business hours, Wednesday to Saturday, 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Prices are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. There are a limited number of tickets available.
Foodies USA – October 14
The Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel is the host for FoodiesUSA’s Jacksonville Oktoberfest 2011. At 5:00 PM there will be a Beer Pairing Dinner at Bold City Grill including a complete 5 course dinner perfectly paired with Bold City Beers. Afterwards, starting at 7:00 PM, explore the Bier Garden & Food Festival, where top beer and food vendors will bring their best for you to taste.
Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.foodiesusa.com. The price for the Beer Dinner is $40, the Bier Garden is $25, or you can purchase both for $50.
Riverside Art Market Oktoberfest – October 21- 22
Come out Friday night after work, or anytime Saturday as RAM celebrates the cooler weather with some great German food, music, and fun!
Oktoberfest through the years has been a celebration of the end of the year harvest. Its raucous fun and revelry is matched only by the spring St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Enjoy the season with a stein of your favorite German beer and bratwurst.
Until next time,
Long Live the Brewers!