“O zapft is!”
by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence
Starting to see the leaves drop and change color? Notice that you may be tempted to turn off the A/C and open a window? The fire pit out back calling your name? Looking for those boots, scarves and lederhosen you put away last spring? And, of course, football is on every Saturday and Sunday for the next 5 months. You obviously know that fall is upon us and with it, many occasions to meet with friend’s present opportunities to grab a cold one and root for your team. Sidebar 1- did anyone see very unranked Old Dominion embarass #13 Va. Tech a couple of weekends ago? I did. Just sayin, Hokie Nation. But more importantly, Octoberfest (which should be a National Holiday here in the States), is the largest hops extravaganza in the world, occurring at the end of September and beginning of October every year. I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents worth of useless malted material to enlighten you on how I spent my time as a bierleichen (beer corpse named for those who overestimate their drinking prowess) during this most hallowed time of year.
According to Bing (do you think that Wiki knows I’m cheating on her?), ‘Oktoberfest is the world's largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair). Held annually in Munich, Germany - Bavaria; it is a 16-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. This year marks the 182nd Oktoberfest, which runs Sept.19 through Oct. 4. Locally, it is often simply called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name of the fairgrounds (Theresienwiese) themselves. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations, modeled after the original Munich event.’
Here in the States, we not only like to party but we will make any excuse to do just that, and, if you’re looking for that over the top experience this week, here are the Top 10 Octoberfest parties you don’t have to go to Munich to enjoy! Sidebar 2- Just to be clear, bustle.com states, ‘Oktoberfest regulations say that the only beer that can be served for the celebration must be from one of Munich's six breweries — Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu, and Löwenbräu. And, like all other German brews, Oktoberfest beers must pass the "purity" law or Reinheitsgebot, which was passed in 1516 to ensure the beer's quality. Yeah, Germany doesn't mess around when it comes to brewing’. Start your jaw juice journey here…
10. Las Vegas, Nevada - Hofsbrauhaus in Las Vegas advertises that visitors will ‘party like they are in Bavaria’ and it’s certainly true that those dropping in might think they’ve wandered into Germany by mistake. The Vegas beer hall which opened in 2004, is a perfect copy of Munich’s Hofbrauhaus and serves its Hefes, Dunkels and Oktoberfests, brewed in the U.S. using the same recipes as they do in Bavaria. By the way, I have tilted back a few huge pints of Deutschland’s best here and have a funny story that involves spanking. Swear.
9. Frankenmuth, Michigan - Say what? It’s no wonder Frankenmuth, with its distinctive half-timbered architecture, its brewery, and its German-themed restaurants and shops, is often called “Little Bavaria.” In fact, it’s the only one in the U.S. to have been officially sanctioned by the mayor of Munich. Bring your gold and myrrh.
8. New Braunfels, Texas - Originally settled by Germans in 1845, the town of New Braunfels near San Antonio, revels in the opportunity to celebrate its heritage each year. “Sprechen die Fun (Do you speak fun)?” is the theme of Wurstfest, which opens its 10-day celebration not with a tapping of the keg, but a ceremonial biting of the sausage. I’m sure I know quite a few of you who are achin’ to get to this festival (wink wink).
7. Leavenworth, Washington - Las Vegas might have created a replica Hofsbrauhaus, but this town in central Washington has gone ahead and replicated an entire Bavarian village. For the first three weekends in October, the majority of the main drag is devoted to the festival. The parade, followed by the traditional keg tapping, isn’t just for opening day, but occurs each Saturday.
6. New Ulm, Minnesota - “Germans have more fun” insist the organizers of New Ulm’s Oktoberfest, but it’s not necessary to have German blood to enjoy the celebrations. Be sure not to miss the 45-foot tall Glockenspiel, with its rotating characters and chiming bells that ring throughout the day. New Ulm’s German heritage is further showcased in its Schnell Brewery, the second oldest in the country, which visitors can tour daily. Besides pro football, these Minnesotans are doing something right!
5. San Francisco, California - Those who love fantastic views should prioritize Oktoberfest By the Bay, held on San Francisco’s Pier 48 overlooking Mission Bay. Hosted by the city’s German American Society and sponsored by German brewery Spaten, this is quite the traditional Oktoberfest. The organizers of Oktoberfest by the Bay strongly encourage the wearing of dirndls and lederhosen, and of course the typical pretzels and sausages are on offer to help soak up all the beer. Really nice along the bay front…kind of feels like a sanctuary.
4. Denver, Colorado - Denver’s Oktoberfest is the perfect fit for those who just want to drink beer and not take themselves too seriously. The city’s festival runs for two weekends, admission is free, pets are allowed (unless they’re snakes; the organizers hate snakes) and buying Oktoberfest steins is encouraged because “you will look awesome carrying it around.” That sense of humor runs through the entire Oktoberfest, from the “Keg Bowling National Championships” to the “Stein Hoisting Competition,” an event which rewards those who hold a full 1.5 liter stein at shoulder height the longest. Denver’s Oktoberfest goes through twice as many kegs as any other in the U.S., so be sure to come thirsty. This sounds like my kind of Octoberfest!
3. La Crosse, Wisconsin - This Wisconsin festival, which calls itself “Oktoberfest USA,” is famous for combining the Midwest’s German heritage with the region’s own unique culture and customs. While the “Lederhosen Luncheon” serves up the traditional Bavarian sausages and potato salad, other food vendors sell things like deep fried cookie dough and Wisconsin cheese curds. Ever had a cheese curd? It's just fried cheese but don’t ever say that to someone from Wisconsin. They take it serious.
2. Mount Angel, Oregon - Perhaps one of the lesser known Oktoberfest’s on our list, Mount Angel’s festival is nonetheless famous in the Northwest, attracting more than 450,000 people over a four-day period. It makes perfect sense for Mount Angel to host Oktoberfest: Not only was the small town settled by primarily Bavarian immigrants, but the hilltop abbey nearby is now brewing its own beer. The Swiss order has created an Oregon take on Trappist beers, which will now be served at the German festival. If supplies run out, Mount Angel will also be serving Weihenstephaner limited-edition Hefe-Weissbier.
1. Cincinnati, Ohio “America’s Oktoberfest” might be one of the shortest on our list, taking place over one quick weekend in September, but it’s the biggest in the country as it brings in more than half a million each year. And no wonder, as Cincinnati packs a lot of party into the festival’s three days. It all kicks off with the “Running of the Wieners,” in which 100 daschunds wearing hot dog costumes run to their owners. How fun is this?!? I bet this happens after the festival as well! Sam Adams is the main sponsor, but the beer tents will also boast German beers like Erdinger and Weihenstephan.
Because my travel budget for Spirited Table® is less than my belt size, I’ve decided to offer you insight into some of the local and national varietals of ‘das beste Oktoberfest biers est ich’ (for those of you not as fluent in Deutsch as I, the translation means ‘the best Octoberfest beers I could find’). True but I just went to the local Whole Foods and picked up what they had. Most expensive 6 pack I ever bought but enjoyed the hell out of it! Sidebar 3- with all this hoopla over beer being woven into the Octoberfest fabric, did you know that the original beer festival was non-alcoholic? bustle.com reports that ‘in the festival’s early days, beer was only sold outside of the fairgrounds, but it didn’t take long to incorporate kegs into the celebration. Now, more than 7.5 Million liters are consumed each year. That’s a lot of beer’. And I’m of German descent. Imagine Dragons that…here’s my take on the fire waters I slammed.
O’Connor Brewing Co.- Punkelweisse
6.5%. 20 IBU
Taste is refreshing. Low IBU but didn’t expect anything outrageous anyway. Can definitely taste the spices and I’m sure there’s pumpkin juice in there somewhere. Punkelweisse is a German style Dunkelweisse (Dark Wheat Beer), brewed with pumpkin and spices. What spices, you do inquire? Ahhh...let me taste them. Cinnamon? Check. Nutmeg? Maybe? I just like saying it! Ginger? Not sure. Pumping this thing is really delightful even though wheat beers, as the 8 of you know, aren’t typically in my wheelhouse. But El Marteen, “can you taste the pumpkin”? Well, that reminds me of a joke. What is a West Virginia residents favorite time of year? Message me for the answer! Definitely a good beer from a great brewery. Stop by if you are ever in Norfolk, VA!
Dogfish Head Brewing Co.- Punkin Ale
7% ABV 28 IBU
Founded in 1995, the brewery takes its name from a vacation destination the founder went to as a child (it’s in Maine if you’re wondering). Based in Milton, DE., Dogfish Head is available in 31 states. This offering did not disappoint even though I was a little hesitant to dive in. Ha! It was very tasty as the Punkin Ale is a Brown Ale so it is nice and filling but I only have experienced the Legend Brown from RVA (Richmond, VA for those out of the Commonwealth) and this was a chance to find out if I dig this style. Guess what? Delish. What makes it special is that it is very smooth and not tart at all. As a matter of fact, due to it’s smattering of brown sugar, I’d say that it was a little sweet, like me. Add in a good dose of pumpkin meat (yes, it’s a real thing as it’s not just the juice but actual pulp added in the brau making process) in addition to the typical fall seasonal spices. I have to believe the spices include nutmeg (yea) and cinnamon because it’s got a nice aroma and finishes clean. As a matter of fact, the warmer it gets, well, never mind. I didn’t find out. Hey, by the way, it is a really good pairing with Sharp Cheddar. Serve this puppy in an ice cold pint glass, sit by the fire and put on a little Tame Impala (Currents is my vinyl of choice here) and enjoy! Released around September 1 of every year, grab it while you can because it’s usually gone by Thanksgiving. If you want to impress your uppity craft bottle heads, bring a 6 of this and let‘em go at it. Both of them.
Alewerks Brewing Company- Pumpkin Seasonal Selection
Wow. Williamsburg’s favorite brewery. That first slurp was great. Like the bottle says, ‘Pumpkin Pie in a Bottle’. No kiddin. It is really flavorful and a little sweet with robust spices on the finish. Produced August through October, this seasonal slurpee is made from natural ingredients, including cinnamon, brown sugar, and, you guessed it, nutmeg, before getting baked pumpkin added to the potion. Because it’s an Amber Ale, I feel the hint of maltiness but it is quickly evaporated before the spices and alcohol kick in. At 7.3%, this really is one of those you start off with, maybe have 1 or 2 and then switch to something more mainstream. You, not me. The flavor is really good and after 3, I’m ready for dessert. But remember, you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!
Rogue Ales- Pumpkin Patch Ale
6.1% ABV 21 IBU
Man, I’m here to tell ya. This thing is made from 15 ingredients and you can taste every one! Cinnamon, Cloves and maybe a little vanilla but the one that sticks out to me is, you guessed it, nutmeg. Now, in addition to those typical seasonal elements, these are Rogue Farms Dream Pumpkins, taken directly from the fields and travel 77 miles to the brewery where the meat is quickly roasted (I get it) and pitched into the brew kettle. The ingredient I am not sure about is Cardamon. Anybody? Anybody? Wiki? Sidebar 4- ‘Cardamon is a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the genera Elettaria and Amomum in the family Zingiberaceae. Both genera are native to the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia. They are recognized by their small seed pods: triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin, papery outer shell and small, black seeds. Cardamom is the world's third-most expensive spice, surpassed in price per weight only by vanilla and saffron’. Whatever. All I know is that I poured it from a bottle and, as you can see, produced almost no frothy white cone initially until the 3rd pour, when I started to go through the second seven fitty. Brewed for a limited time engagement, September through October, this brain pugilist is only available in 750ml and draft…smooth drinking and a relatively reasonable alcohol content make this a formidable foe for your frontal lobe.
Hardywood Brewing Company- Farmhouse Pumpkin
8.5 ABV 21 IBU
Well, both of you may remember when I wrote about the service and killer brews at Richmond, VA’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery several months back. Well, this time, I probably should have read the label a little better. Farmhouse Pumpkin is noted as a ’wallonian-style farmhouse ale’ so how could it be different? Well, you may all believe all this beer wizardry and knowledge I possess is as home grown as the pumpkins to make this libation but, it’s true, I rely on outside influence for some of it. In this case, when researching this seasonal sud, I found out that this is a saison…cue the wah wah. I knew something was up when I popped the top and gobbled the first quaff. I was still looking at the 8.5% potency and just thought that I’d be drinkin’ a little mind bender but this caught me by surprise. Yes, it’s a saison because of the yeast and no, it’s not bad! Sidebar 5- ‘Member me saying something about wallonia earlier? Here’s your answer and a little knowledge. On the house. Bing tells me ‘Saison is a pale ale that is generally around 7% abv, highly carbonated, fruity, spicy, and often bottle conditioned. As a beer style, saison began as a pale ale brewed in the cooler, less active months in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, and stored for drinking in the summer months’. From Pale Ale, huh? Maybe this will grow on me like this buzzzzzz….Produced from local growers and suppliers (label on back lists 4 vendors across the Commonwealth), this soft mouthfeel contains the usual suspects like clove, allspice and, say what? NUTMEG? Ha. Better than I thought it would be and surprised at the kick after the first 6, uh, I mean 2. Hardywood has been rated Virginia’s Top Rated Brewery for 3 years straight and with gulpables like this, there’s a liquid lobotomy for everyone.
Legend Brewing Company—Oktoberfest
5.4 ABV 0 IBU
Ok. Another local brewery. Started in Richmond and opened up recently in PTown. How good can it be? I previously mentioned that I enjoyed another Legend product while conducting my research on Oktoberfest and found that Amber delish. Not tasting a lot of pumpkin, spices or NUTMEG. A little sweet. Kind of bland only because I expected a bigger punch on the buds. Malty, reddish-brown in color and straight shooting. If you are familiar with Vienna Lager, this is a close relative. Legend claims that this is a recipe based on Vienna malt and generous helpings of Munich and Caramel varieties. I get the caramelness but shouldn’t I be enjoying more field melon? Would think Oktoberfest would appreciate a heartier chug instead of the lack of a party in the mouth.
Well, I hope I’ve given you a little taste of the season. Do your own research and try a few different ones. Most will give you what you expected from the taste of the season. If I had to pick a fav, let’s say that I’d go with Rogue’s Pumpkin Patch Ale. 8/10.
Sidebar 6- Oktoberfest officially starts when the mayor taps the first keg, declaring "O' zapft is!" or "It's tapped!" in English. The first person to get a beer is traditionally the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria, but after that, you're free to "Prost!" (toast) the day away. Go ahead and start the festivities. Consider me the mayor of Brautown and hear me slur, ‘O’ zapft is!’. Drink up! Party on!