Tag Archives: Oktoberfest

Tankards Everywhere: Tempest’s Beerscapes of 2016

img_8707

Fermentation in progress, Weihenstephan

I was at Schloss Belvedere a few days back, the famous Viennese museum that houses the even more famous Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Alongside some of his other iconic works such as Judith und Holofernes hung several paintings dating from the year of Klimt’s death in 1918, all containing the word “unvollendet” (incomplete) somewhere in the title. Like Schubert’s 8th Symphony –– Die Unvollendete –– Klimt’s incomplete works gesture tantalizingly toward what would have been.

The same cannot be said for my growing stack of paper and metaphorically bulging computer file filled with work in various stages of incompletion: inchoate thoughts on everything from the German Purity Laws to the perennial debates about canning and canons of taste; travelogues that set out on a journey with no end; and the myriad attempts to turn aroma and flavour sensations into transcriptions of my imbibing pleasures.

One aspect of my attempts to put pen to paper on a regular basis has remained relatively constant since I arrived in Vienna: I get side-tracked too easily by all there is to see and do in Vienna, in Austria, in Central Europe, and elsewhere on this continent. The desire to post regularly has remained just that. I have to admit that I considered putting Tempest on ice on more than a few occasions, but the sheer enjoyment of writing about all things fermentable keeps drawing me back to the keyboard.

img_0961

The Speyside Way in the Scottish Highlands

Almost every one of my trips over the past three years has involved the cultural history and contemporary moment of drinking up. This year alone I walked 15 km from one distillery in Aberlour to another in Ballindalloch along Scotland’s Speyside Way.

img_8352

Kloster Andechs. I suspect that most of the visitors aren’t here to attend mass.

I followed in the footsteps of thirsty pilgrims in search of spiritual and corporeal solace at Kloster Andechs.

img_0001

A local beer from Carinthia’s Loncium at the Dolomitenhütte

I hiked up a mountain for a view of the Austrian Dolomites and a much-deserved local beer at the top, and cycled with friends along the Danube in Austria’s Wachau region during the height of the grape harvest.

And that’s not all. As I began to gather my thoughts for this piece on the occasion of Tempest’s third trip around the orange orb, I realized that it’s been quite the ride since this time last year.

České Budějovice (Budweis), Plzeń (Pilsen).

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Austria’s Innviertel.

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Brussels and Flemish Brabant.

You really can't go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

You really can’t go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

Munich, with its expansive beer gardens and lively beer halls, and Ayinger a half hour away. img_8346

A top-notch hop museum in the Hallertau and several museum exhibitions in Munich commemorating the 500th anniversary of the German Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot).

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

Oktoberfest in Munich, and a hop harvest festival in Freising, home of Germany’s oldest brewery.

You won't go hungry in Bavaria.

You won’t go hungry in Bavaria.

And Scotland! Edinburgh’s majestic pubs.img_0722

The search for a 60 Shilling ale which proved about as fruitless as trying to sight the Loch Ness Monster. And drams of whisky to chase whatever Scottish ale I did find.img_0902

So here we are. Some of the notes and fragments detailing my adventures will see the light of day in due time, but in the meantime I offer you a few words’ worth of images, a visual down payment on writing to come.

Cheers to you, my fellow imbiber, for accompanying me on my journey these past three years! It’s you who keeps me writing.

**

Check back in a few days for my write-up about the outstanding beer I cracked to celebrate three years.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Tempest’s Beer and Travel Highlights from 2015-2016

So much to do, so little time. With all those beers I’m sure you’ve been searching out and drinking over the course of the year, one or two Tempest articles may have slipped you by. Not to worry! On the occasion of Tempest’s third year traveling to far-flung places to bring you the best beer experiences, here’s a short round-up of highlights.img_1258

(Click here for the updated version of my ongoing Index of articles and posts over the years.)

Occasionally I’d manage to find a small sliver of time between friends coming to visit and excursions to far-flung parts of Europe combining hiking, cycling, and the pursuit of all things zymurgical. The result? Much of what I wrote between November 2015 and now came out in bursts and took the form of series. I did set down a handful of stand-alone pieces, a few of which I’ll list before introducing the highlights of the serial articles I wrote:

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend is an exploration of stouts beyond the British Isles that’ll keep you warm on any non-summer night. Rich brews from Japan, Norway, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Sri Lanka.

Beer Travel off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel. Few might think otherwise, but the Central European beer scene encompasses more than Bavaria and Bohemia.img_6917 For the intrepid beer traveler, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution.

Say No to Style Loyalty. We live in an era of unprecedented beer selection, yet a number of venerable styles currently on the books are on the verge of extinction. Mild Ale, anyone? Perhaps the most salient piece I wrote all year. Pour yourself a glass of a beer you’ve never had and give it a read.

Wild-Fermented Beer in Belgium

Of Coolships, Cobwebs, and Cantillon––Need I say more about this iconic brewery? Maybe just one thing: go there at least once in your life. This post was by far my most popular post of 2016, but be sure to check out all the other fermented delights that Belgium has to offer while you’re there. And the chocolate.

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant––Rent a bike just outside of Brussels and follow along to breweries such as Drie Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, and Boon. “Where the Wild Beers Are” also has plenty of suggestions about where to get your sour funk in Brussels when you’re done with your ride.img_7928

The Oktoberfest Series

O’ zapft is! These may well be the only three words of German you need to know beyond bier and prost, but you might also be wondering about the rich history of the world’s largest beer festival. “O’ zapft is!” sets the stage.oktoberfest-hofbrautent-fdh

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810––Did you know that Oktoberfest started its two-hundred year history as a horse race in honour of a royal wedding? It wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that Oktoberfest started to resemble the festival we all know and love today. Learn more about how beer tents supplanted “beer castles,” and how the golden Festbier eventually replaced Märzen on the Theresienwiese in these two articles:

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager

The Vienna Beer Garden Series

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens––Vienna: city of classical music, café culture, and stunning architecture. Vienna is also home to a rich but understated beer garden scene. Learn about the history of Vienna’s beloved Prater before heading to the Schweizerhaus for a beer and roasted pork knuckle.

Vienna, City of Beer Gardens––When you’re done with all the museums and sights that Vienna has to offer, hop on Vienna’s superb public transportation network and head out in search of Vienna’s vibrant shades of green.

Up next: Tempest’s Beerscapes of 2016.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Save

The Colour of Fall Leaves: Tasting Notes on Märzen, Oktoberfestbier, and Vienna Lager

Wondering about the differences between Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager? Check out “Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager” before cracking open your first beer in this four-pack of Central European beers.img_0599

a) Märzen

Märzen is a malt-lover’s dream. Depending on the brewer, the malt character can run the gamut from toast and what I’d describe as a “Munich malt fruit” character (dark cherry-like) to dates, dried figs, autumn honey, malted milk, malt balls, and Swiss milk caramel.* My partner in crime nailed the style: It’s like a Rolo, she said.

*Swiss milk caramel is a descriptor I use often for beers like this, and requires some explanation. When I was a kid, my grandma used to send us a parcel at Christmas that had all kinds of chocolates and sweets that we never saw in Canada. She always sent along a box of caramels that were quite a bit different than the ones we used to get while out trick-or-treating at Halloween. They were much lighter in colour and had a pronounced creamy taste that brought the caramel flavour down a notch. So when I mention Swiss milk caramel, think of a very light caramel aroma and flavour with fresh cream.

Weissenoher Monk’s Fest Traditional Märzen, Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe (5.4%)

Weissenohe’s Märzen is unfiltered and gloriously caramel-amber, with all the fresh milk, bread, toast, and Swiss milk caramel a malt lover could want.Monks Fest USAnew A touch of floral hops and a suggestion of green apple from the yeast only adds to the complexity. The beer is lightly sweet, with plenty of malted milk, toffee, dates, and dried figs swirled together with Munich “malt fruit” (dark fruit/black cherry). A slate-like fermentation character keeps this filling beer on the refreshing side. This one’s almost in Bock territory in terms of hearty richness. A monument to decoction mashing. And just what the doctor ordered for the maltheads in the crowd. Three Tankards

b) Oktoberfestbier

Burnished gold in colour, Oktoberfestbier boasts exquisite honeyed malt and fresh country bread with a touch of light toast, a dash of herbal or spicy hop aroma sometimes reminiscent of lemon tea or cinnamon, and a crisp mineral fermentation character. On the palate, these medium-bodied beers are round, unctuous, and clean. A hint of residual (white nougat) sweetness mingles with just a trace of hop bitterness accented by honey, toast, and even roasted nuts. Drinkability is a hallmark of the style –– dangerously so.

Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier (6.1%)

But for its lingering cap of pearl-hued foam, Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfestbier looks like effervescent golden apple juice bubbling away contentedly in its Maß (1-liter stein).loewenbraeu-oktoberfestbier-flasche An intriguing slate-mineral medley opens the show, joined quickly by a chorus of fruit suggestive of golden apples sprinkled with cinnamon, green grapes with a dash of cardamom, and white peach. Acacia honey, marzipan, and a dusting of light brown sugar sweetness rounds out the ensemble. None of these aromas overpowers the other in this oh-so-slightly malt-forward beer: subtle complexity’s the word. With its moderate but tingly carbonation, Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfestbier is a playful beer that seemingly floats on the palate. Spicy and elegant hop leaf with a touch of musk come together with intriguing flavours of white grape, white peach, and fresh-cut artisanal bread with honey drizzled over it. An unassuming bitter note in the background ensures that this slightly off-dry beer finishes crisply before its lingering aftertaste of white peach and baking spice takes over. Complex enough to contemplate; balanced and refreshing enough to drink for hours. (And yes, Löwenbräu is owned by AB-InBev. But rest assured, Munich breweries like Spaten and Löwenbräu don’t mess around with their Oktoberfest Bier, lest they get laughed off the Weisn.) One Tankard

c) Vienna Lager

Expect a solid bedrock of toast, melanoidin, a touch of bread crust, and light Swiss milk caramel malt supporting spicy hop aromas and flavours heading in the direction of Bohemia.

Ottakringer Wiener Original, Vienna, Austria (5.3%)

Luminescent light amber with orange hues, Ottakringer’s crystal-clear Vienna Lager is a fine-looking beer. Aroma-wise, the Ottakringer is not quite as intense as some of the other Vienna Lagers that have appeared in the past few years, but it delivers complexity to spare. ottakringer_wiener_original_flascheHerbal-pepper-floral hop notes open out onto subtle toast and caramel, and the yeast/fermentation character imparts a note of mineral-peach that gives the beer a certain levity. Ottakringer is slightly fruity on the palate, combining peach, marzipan, toast, and a hint of light caramel. A lighter body compared with many other contemporary Vienna Lagers adds to the perception of bitterness, and the beer finishes slightly drier and more austere than many of its compatriots. But Ottakringer’s offering is still Vienna Lager through and through, and not only because it’s brewed in the heart of Vienna’s sixteenth district. It’s also classically Central European, with a profile melding leafy hops, a hint of pepper, a whisper of sulfur, and a touch of what I’d describe as an earthy cellar note.

d) Austrian Märzen

Austrian Märzen has almost nothing in common with its Bavarian namesake. Occupying the territory between an Export Bier and a Bavarian helles lager, Austrian Märzen is yellow-gold and crystal-clear, with a clean malt expression and slightly more of a hop presence than a helles lager.

Gösser Märzen, Styria, Austria (5.2%)

Gösser’s Märzen looks like a Tuscan countryside in summer. Fruity-floral hop notes and a hint of mineral and stone fruit preside over a bed of white nougat-like bready malt.goesser_sorten_maerzen_6er Pleasant but not intense, Gösser tips the scale in the direction of hops, with a yeasty bread dough note leavened by freshly crushed grains and a touch of grassiness. Gösser starts off on the palate like artisanal white raisin bread, with herbal-fruity hops lending a touch of spice. Light brown sugar mingles with stone fruit and an interesting noble hop spiciness mid-palate (the combination of which is reminiscent of spiced white raisins or spiced peach), and a firm bitterness ensures that the beer finishes crisply and refreshingly. Fairly high levels of carbonation cut through the honeyed malt, which also makes for a slightly prickly and zingy mouthfeel. Not nearly as complex the Budweiser Budvar and Stiegl Pils that share shelf space with Gösser at my local Billa supermarket, it’s still a bracingly refreshing beer that doesn’t require loads of concentration while drinking.

Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Save

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Nearly 40,000 people headed out to the horse race just beyond the Munich gates on that first Oktoberfest day in 1810. Families and groups of friends staked out places to sit on the meadowland heights surrounding the track and began tucking into their bread, sausage, and beer as the races began. The mood was festive at this Olympic-style race, and the event was a resounding success. After all, Munich at the time numbered 40,638 souls, and most of them came out to enjoy the race (Eymold, 327). It wasn’t long before plans were laid to repeat the event annually on what soon became known as the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow), named in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig’s bride, Therese Charlotte Louise von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Try saying that even once after you’ve had a few Maß of beer on today’s Theresienwiese.

From Modest Beer Stall to Opulent Beer Castle to Massive Beer Tent –– Or, How to Keep Tens of Thousands from Going Thirsty

If the horse race was the main attraction during the early years of the festival, the merriment soon spread out along the margins of the track. Bowling was popular, as were wheelbarrow races, swings, shooting galleries, and the first carousel that graced the Wiesn in 1818. Looking back briefly to 1814, the German poet, Achim von Arnim, noted that thirsty travelers could find ample Bretterbuden (simply appointed wooden stalls) in which Munich’s tavern keepers slung beer in half-liter tin-lidded tankards (Dornbusch, 49). At first, the guests sat on benches at tables under the open air. Soon, though, the Bretterbuden expanded to offer indoor seating.oktoberfest-postcard-munchenkindlstein As the festival began to extend over several days, provisioning all the attendees became a necessity, in particular since Oktoberfest had begun attracting festival-goers from all over Bavaria. The Bretterbuden proliferated.

With the enormous rise in prestige of the Munich breweries from the 1880s, their presence at the festival began to grow as well. In 1895, the now-defunct Thomasbrauerei built the first Bierburg (“beer castle”), a hall large enough to accommodate 800 thirsty patrons. A 1907 decision to do away with the Wirtsbudenring (a ring of 18 tavern stalls) fundamentally altered the complexion of the Wiesn, opening the door for other breweries to compete with the splendour of Thomasbrauerei’s beer castle. By 1910, all of Munich’s largest breweries had commissioned leading architects to design impressive festival halls that cited decorative elements from the Baroque and Biedermeier eras.

But even those structures weren’t large enough to accommodate the droves of imbibers who descended upon Munich each year. Breweries soon turned to massive tents to simplify the challenge of seating increasingly large numbers of patrons. In 1913, the last year before the First World War broke out, the Pschorr Brewery erected a tent so large that it could hold 12,000 stein-hoisters –– the largest beer structure that has ever stood on the Oktoberfest grounds. It wasn’t long before the beer tent replaced the beer castle, transforming the physical appearance of the Theresienwiese and shaping our contemporary imagination of Oktoberfest in the process. As of 2005, the entire festival grounds offered seating for 100,000 festival-goers; the largest fest hall is the Hofbräu tent and garden, with 10,000 seats.oktoberfest-hofbrautent-fdh

Roll Out the Barrels! The Changing Fortunes of Oktoberfest Beer Styles

Ever headed to Munich during Oktoberfest and been surprised to see that they serve one beer only –– a burnished golden beer at that? Isn’t Oktoberfest beer supposed to be an amber-coloured and richly malt Märzen beer, you might be thinking? If you’re Central European, you’ve probably never been caught up in this confusion. To many Canadian and American beer enthusiasts, though, Oktoberfest remains synonymous with Märzen.

In case you’re wondering where all the Märzen went, here’s a short explanation.

During the first several decades of the Oktoberfest, breweries brought whatever they had on hand to the festival –– usually some sort of forerunner of today’s Munich Dunkel. It wasn’t until 1872 that Spaten’s Gabriel Sedlmayr began brewing a beer specially for Oktoberfest –– a Märzen beer based loosely on the Vienna Lager first brewed by Sedlmayr’s colleague, Anton Dreher, in 1841. This amber beer was a shade or two lighter than the dark beer typically available in the Bretterbuden, and that much easier to knock back. Märzenbier soon conquered the festival.

Fun facts:

Dial “M” for Märzen: After Sedlmayr introduced the drinking world to his particular brand of Märzen in 1872, the barrels that arrived at Oktoberfest bore an “M” insignia. Each cask –– known as a “Hirsch,” or stag –– contained 200 liters and weighed around 300 kilos (Eymold, 328).

Horses and wagons: Breweries used horse-drawn carts to deliver their casks of beer not only to Oktoberfest, but to the inns and taverns of Munich right down into the 1950s (Eymold, 328).

Parades! The first parade was held in 1835 on the occasion of the silver anniversary of King Ludwig I’s marriage to Queen Therese. The parade was a spectacle of decorated wagons and inhabitants from across Bavaria decked out in the Tracht (lederhosen and dirndl) of their respective regions –– the origins of today’s Trachten- und Schützenzug procession that takes place on the second day of Oktoberfest. Back in the day, the festival parade was meant as an impressive demonstration of Bavaria’s “national” character. Festive parades were also held on the occasion of the 100th and 125th anniversary of Oktoberfest. Since 1949, the festival parade starting in Munich’s center and winding its way through the city to the Theresienwiese has been an annual opening-day tradition.

But even the reign of Märzen would prove to be temporary. In 1953, an even lighter Festbier –– Augustiner’s Wiesnedelstoff –– entered the festival ring. Soon all the major breweries had followed Augustiner’s lead, and began serving this eminently quaffable Wiesn beer alongside their Märzen. Wiesnbier displaced Märzen entirely by the late 1980s, becoming simply Oktoberfestbier.

Nowadays, Oktoberfest is about one beer, and one beer only. And only by the Maß. Which is just fine –– it eliminates the need for ordering so you can concentrate on the festivities.oktoberfest-postcard-augustiner-wiesnedelstoff The servers bring armfulls of 1-liter tankards right to your table. Take one, pay up, and Bob’s your uncle.

Here’s what you can expect:

Brewed to 13.5-14 degrees Plato and lagered for eight weeks at minus one degree Celsius, Oktoberfestbier is now a protected trademark of the Munich breweries. The result is a beer somewhere between a helles Bock and a helles Lager that clocks in somewhere between 6% and 6.3% ABV. Burnished gold in colour, the beer exudes aromas of fresh bread, honeyed malt with a touch of light toast, and a mild herbal or spicy hop fragrance depending on the brewer. Medium- to full-bodied on the palate, Oktoberfestbier has a mild residual (honey nougat) sweetness, flavours of lightly toasted bread, and just a hint of hop bitterness. The beer is reminiscent of Alpine meadows, with a refreshing mineral character. Round, supple, and clean. And the epitome of what German speakers call süffig (quaffable).

Darauf ein Oktoberfestbier!

_____________________________

Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

The MaltHead Manifesto

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Sources:

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum, Munich (visited 17 September 2016).

Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, München und das Bier: Auf großer Biertour durch 850 Jahre Braugeschichte (München: Volk Verlag, 2009).

Horst Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Image Credits:

“Münchner Kindl mit Bierkrug,” Paul Otto Engelhard/München, 1913 (postcard image).

“Augustiner Edelstoff,” Holzfurtner, Plakat, Offsetdruck, 1976 (postcard image).

Hofbräuhaus tent, Theresienwiese, Munich (F.D. Hofer).

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

On 17 October 1810, 40,000 people converged on a field beyond Munich’s Sedlinger Gate to watch a horse race staged by the Citizens’ Militia (Bürgermilitär) in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The numbers were impressive, given that the population of Munich at the time was only 40,338 inhabitants. It seems no one complained when the next edition of the festival rolled around the following year on the Theresienwiese, ushering in what rapidly became a hallowed annual autumn tradition.

Watching horse races was a leisure pursuit much enjoyed by Bavarians in the nineteenth century. Any person who owned a horse could enter the annual race. From 1810 to 1913, the horse race was the main attraction at Oktoberfest, but other forms of entertainment soon put their stamp on the festival.oktoberfest-1810-peter-hess The Munich Rifle Association (Münchener Schützengesellschaft) organized a prize shoot in 1810 that has remained part of Oktoberfest to this day. From 1811, organizers of the agricultural fair aimed to spur peasants and farmers within the kingdom of Bavaria to ever higher quality and efficiency. Makeshift bowling alleys vied with wheel barrow races, and savvy innkeepers began to cater to the culinary needs of festival-goers.

With each passing year, more and more simply-appointed stalls popped up along the race track, provisioning hungry and thirsty guests with beer and food. At first, the guests sat on benches and tables under the sheltering blue sky, but during the 1820s stalls began offering indoor seating for those days when the sky was not so blue.

Today, Oktoberfest and beer tents go together like beer and Weisswurst, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that the current Oktoberfest landscape of architectural structures dedicated to drinking beer began to take shape. With the enormous rise in prestige of the Munich breweries from the 1880s, their presence at the festival began to grow as well. In 1895, the first “beer castle” (Bierburg) was built by the now-defunct Thomasbrauerei. Other breweries followed suit. The Thomasbrauerei’s beer castle was large enough to accommodate 800 thirsty patrons, but even that was not large enough. On the eve of the First World War, the Pschorr Brauerei turned to a simplified tent design to pack in an astounding 12,000 stein hoisters –– a capacity that has not been exceeded since.

Within the space of a mere eighty years in the nineteenth century, Oktoberfest transformed itself from a spectacular Bavarian folk festival into a festival that celebrated beer. Between 1910 and 2010, beer consumption rose from 1.2 million liters to 7.1 million liters.img_0277

Even if the Oktoberfest’s last horse race was held in 1913, the initial festival attraction lives on in Munich’s topography. We may now think of Oktoberfest as massive beer tents given over to the blissful enjoyment of Maß upon Maß of Festbier, but to this day the outlines of the Theresienwiese on city maps recall the oval of the horse-racing track.

Here’s a stein to the horses, folks.

Related Tempest Articles

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

Pinning Down Place

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Sources

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum, Munich (visited 17 September 2016).img_0155

Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, München und das Bier: Auf großer Biertour durch 850 Jahre Braugeschichte (München: Volk Verlag, 2009).

Images

Peter Heß, “Das Pferderennen bey der Vermählungs Feyer Seiner Königlichen Hoheit des Kronprinzen von Bayern, veranstaltet am 17ten Octr 1810 auf der Theresens-Wiese bey München von der Cavallerie der National-Garde 34 Klaße. Ihren Königlichen Majestäten von Bayern Maximilian Joseph und Karoline in tiefster Ehrfurcht gewidmet von den Theilnehmern an den October-Festen,” kolorierter Konturenstich, 1810 (Münchner Stadtmuseum, G-IIIc/8).

Spaten beer tent and Münchener Stadtmuseum: F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Save

O’ zafpt is! Oktoberfest!

Most every beer enthusiast I know has his or her mythical geography of the beer world, a mental landscape dotted with legendary breweries and drink-before-you-die beers. This topography might also consist of wild yeasts residing in the rafters of old farmhouses, or historic hop kilns concealed along country back roads. Cities themselves stand out like beacons: Munich, Portland, Bamberg, Brussels. A large part of what sustains this mental geography is the excitement of the quest. Sometimes we manage to satisfy of our desires relatively quickly; sometimes the quest may take years.

For me, lover of German beer that I am, it took twenty-five years to make it to Oktoberfest.

img_0264

If you want to learn more about the history of Oktoberfest and its beers, check out my other articles about Munich’s favourite festival:

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

I’ve written about my conversion to good beer elsewhere, and I’ve also written about my first visit to a beer garden and my first winter Glühwein. All of these happened way back during my first study year abroad. But why was it so difficult to get myself to Oktoberfest? Well, you see, I thought that Oktoberfest happened in October.

It was the autumn of 1991. I had my bags packed and ready to go. The kindly woman who tended to international exchange students asked what my plans were for that particular weekend, the second in October. “Oktoberfest!” I responded. She slowly shook her head. “Oktoberfest ended last weekend.”

If you, too, happen to be traveling around Europe and are blithely planning a trip to Oktoberfest in mid-October, keep in mind that it ends on 3 October this year.

Which brings us to about ten days ago. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of my disappointment, I headed out not just for Oktoberfest, but for the opening ceremony itself.

The morning dawned gray and wet. Over coffee I read yet another newspaper article about how heightened precautions such as a perimeter fence and security check had all but overshadowed the perennial talk of increasing prices for a Maß (1 liter) of beer.img_0258 But the sheer crush of lederhosen and dirndls on my train from Freising to Munich spoke volumes against the anxiety expressed in certain quarters. Neither the vague threat of terrorism nor the minor deluge seemed capable of holding back the throngs of people streaming from all sides toward the Theresienwiese.

I threaded my way through the crowd and asked a few folks where the opening ceremony would take place. By 11:00 am I had found my way to the Spaten Schottenhamel Festhalle beer tent.

Anticipation grew as the clock approached noon. Screens around the edge of the tent flashed images of the horse-drawn wagons decked out for the occasion and laden with this year’s beer. The procession drew nearer. And then the grand entrance! A marching band, the Münchener Kindl, symbol of the city dressed in traditional brown and yellow-gold, the Bavarian state premier, and the mayor of Munich. The crowd surged forward as the entourage made its way to where the ceremonial wooden kegs had been set up.

Even if you don’t know much German beyond lager and bier, chances are you’ve heard or read the phrase that marks the official beginning of Oktoberfest.img_0244 After the mayor exchanged a few words with the MC, it was game on. Two, maybe three blows with the wooden mallet, and the words everyone had been waiting for: O’ zapft is!

And so, I raise my stein: Ein Prosit, not only to Gemütlichkeit, but also to another place in my beer geography that has gotten that much less mythical, even if Oktoberfest itself remains legendary.

***

From now until the end of Oktoberfest, I’ll be posting a series of short pieces that paints a picture of the history and culture of Oktoberfest. Some questions I’ll seek to answer for you include:

  • How did an annual horse race that first took place in 1810 become the largest beer festival in the world? And why the heck is Oktoberfest celebrated mainly in September?
  • When did all the huge beer tents appear, and what did they replace? (Hint: beer castles!)
  • When did the annual tradition of tapping the keg begin? Where did all the Märzen go?
  • How does Oktoberfest fit into Munich’s rich calendar of beer festivals? How many people show up in any given year, and just how much Festbier do they drink?

Related Tempest Articles

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Six Tips to Help You Get the Most out of the Great American Beer Fest

The trees are starting to don their autumn colours and the kegs have already been tapped for this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich. Today in Vienna the curtain rises on a less well-known festival, but one entirely in keeping with the spirit of the harvest season: the Wiener Wiesn Fest in the broad and leafy expanses of Vienna’s Prater park.

GABF 2014 (TastingGlass-GABF FB) 2On the other side of the Atlantic, beer devotees are beginning to arrive at a different annual pilgrimage site. Yes, it’s that the time of year when thousands of thirsty craft beer enthusiasts converge upon Denver and its environs for the Great American Beer Festival. Equal parts serious beer connoisseurship and street carnival, the GABF may not be as large as Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it boasts a truly impressive cross-section of breweries currently operating in the U.S. and an unrivaled breadth of beer styles to match.

Whether you’re new to the beer fest circuit or a seasoned veteran, I’ve compiled a few tried-and-true tips to make sure you remember at least a portion of your experience and so that you don’t wake up the next day feeling like you’ve gone head-to-head, helmetless, with a Denver Broncos’ lineman.

First, though, some fun facts from 2014:

  • Approximately 49,000 attended
  • Average age of attendees: 34.5 years
  • 76% of attendees were male, 24% were female
  • 1309 breweries entered 5507 beers
  • 222 judges from 10 countries judged in five sessions
  • 90 + beer categories were evaluated, with an average of 61 beers per category
  • 279 American-style IPAs were entered for judging

Now, that’s a lot of beer and plenty of stylistic variation to take in. Add to that the dazzling array of ingredients that find their way into kettles and fermenters –– fruit, herbs, vegetables, flowers, legumes, chiles, and chocolate are all fair game ––, all those cutting-edge hop varieties, numerous sour this and barrel-aged that, and you’ll have plenty of reason to wonder how you’re going to come out on the other end with any lasting impressions of your GABF experience. And we haven’t even mentioned all the solid takes on straight-up styles like stout, porter, and pale ale.

Drink. (Water!)

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And then repeat. The downside of all this hydration? You’ll probably spend more time in those interminably long bathroom lineups than you’d like. But think of it this way: It’ll give you a chance to meet new people, or to mentally sort through the last hundred-odd beers you’ve just sampled.

Eat.

Eat a huge breakfast and then keep eating throughout the day. Food is available for sale inside the convention center for a price, but since you’ve dropped upwards of $85 on a ticket and spent your last pennies on those tap takeovers around town, why not get your money’s worth? Once you get yourself past the hordes of folks flocking to the beer booths, head straight for the cheese tables and stash away as much of it as you can for later. You might even discover your new favourite cheese in the process. (On a serious note, the cheese selection is immensely underrated by event-goers, so take full advantage!)

The Road Less Traveled.

Upon entering the hallowed precincts of the GABF, you’ll receive a map of the venue along with your tasting glass and program. Take a look around and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land.GABF Map (2015) Circle your top picks, but give yourself some leeway to explore areas outside of the Pacific Northwest, Cali, and Colorado. Never had a beer from Oklahoma? Head on down and have a beer with my friends from Roughtail.

The Hunt.

Rather than looking for that serendipitous find in far-flung regions of the U.S., get to know your fellow revelers and exchange notes on what might be most outrageous, outlandish beer in the festival. Have you ever stood in front of a shelf of beers and thought, man, I’d really like to try that lemon chiffon cruller beer or that bacon and maple syrup beer, but I don’t really feel like dropping upwards of 15 bux on this particular lottery ticket? Well, here’s your chance. Take a vacation from all those IPAs you’ve been drinking and see how many rabbit holes you can go down.

Flora and Fauna.

For the majority of you who have already purchased your tickets, you’re already locked into a session. But if you’re arriving in Denver hoping that all your BeerAdvocate “beer Karma” will help you land a ticket (or for those contemplating a trip to the GABF at some point in the future), I’ll try to give you a sense of how the sessions differ from one another.

Avoid the Saturday evening session unless your main reason for going is to get hammered. Most of the brewers have long since checked out to party with their compadres, and many of the most sought-after beers have long since been Untappd.GABF 2014 (Alaska-GABF FB) The Saturday afternoon session is the one filled with the most serious beer enthusiasts and “tickers,” so be prepared to stand in long lineups for any of the so-called whales. For my money, the Friday evening session is the best. You’ll have a chance to meet many of the brewers and to try some truly extraordinary beers before the kegs start running dry. Since the proportion of flannel-clad beer geeks and neck beard-stroking wannabes is much lower, you won’t be stuck in too many lineups waiting to taste the beers you might have on your list. (Note: I haven’t been to a Thursday session yet, so can’t comment on the pros and cons.)

Know Your Limits.

You don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl.” If you’re new to this whole beer fest thing, brush up on your beer styles ahead of time. Given the widespread adulation of high ABV beers among the craft beer brewing and drinking community, many of the beers you drink will clock in well above the 5% ABV to which you may be accustomed. Most barley wines, Doppelbocks, Double IPAs, and Imperial Stouts tip the scales above 7% ABV, and beers topping out over 10% ABV are not uncommon at the GABF. You paid good money to be here, so enjoy that beer rather than treating your commemorative cup like a shot glass.

Good Housekeeping.

Keep Track. You will, after all, be drinking. And drinking has been known to interfere with our mnemonic faculties on occasion. (Did you really think you were going to remember all those beers?) Bring a small notebook or, at the very least, a pen so that you can jot down notes in the program you received. If you really must, enter your finds into Untappd. Regardless of your chosen method, keeping track of all those beers is going to be one of the toughest things you’ll do at GABF––especially if you’re with a group of friends. Stick with it, though. You’ll thank me for the tip when you get home and can remember what characterized even a few of the beers you liked.

_________________

This year’s GABF runs from September 24 through September 26 in Denver, CO.

As the organizers of the GABF put it, “Savor the flavor responsibly.” I’ll be thinking of you while I drink my Maß of beer here in Vienna. Cheers and Prost!

Related Tempest Articles

Check out these articles if you’re looking for breweries, brewpubs, and bottle shops beyond the general GABF festivities. Boulder is easily reachable from Denver via public transit, and Fort Collins is but a short car ride from both Denver and Boulder.

Striking Gold at Boulder Breweries (The Front Range Series)

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Sources and Images

GABF Post-Event Report 2014

GABF Floor Plan

All other images from the GABF Facebook page.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.