Friday, September 04, 2009

Beer Of The Week (Vol XXII)

This week's Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. They help put the leder in your hosen.

September! When a beer drinker's fancy turns to thoughts of Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest? But, isn't that like in October? Duh!

Actually, while the German festival does run into October it begins in the previous month and most of it takes place in September. Oktoberfest:

Oktoberfest is a sixteen-day festival held each year in Munich, Germany during late September (and running to early October). It is one of the most famous events in Germany and the world's largest fair, with some six million people attending every year, and is an enjoyable event with an important part of Bavarian culture. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations, modeled after the Munich event.

The Munich Oktoberfest, traditionally, takes place during the sixteen days up to and including the first Sunday in October. In 1994, the schedule was modified in response to German reunification so that if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or 2nd, then the festival will go on until October 3 (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival is now 17 days when the 1st Sunday is October 2 and 18 days when it is October 1. The festival is held on an area named the Theresienwiese (field, or meadow, of Therese), often called d’ Wiesn for short.

Visitors also eat huge amounts of food, most of it traditional hearty fare such as Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Haxn (knuckle of pork), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstel (sausages) along with Brezel (Pretzel), Knödeln (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a fatty, spiced cheese-butter concoction) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).

Attending Oktoberfest in Munich is a pilgrimage that every beer lover should make at least once. I was lucky enough to be able to make my own haj to the sprawling Munich Oktoberfest grounds back in 2002 and it was a memorable experience. At least what I remember of it was.

It's best described as a state fair writ large with the primary focus on beer rather than food, farm animals, music, merchandise, and rides (no Atomizer, the primary focus of the Minnesota State Fair is not beer). Oh, there is food (the chicken was awesome), music, and rides, but Oktoberfest is all about the beer. And the "tents" (more permanent than the name indicates) and outdoor beer gardens where the six breweries pour their product are where the action is at:

Augustiner: Augustiner-Festhalle, Fischer-Vroni

Paulaner: Armbrustschützenzelt, Winzerer Fähndl, Käfer's Wies'n Schänke

Spaten-Franziskaner: Hippodrom, Schottenhammel, Ochsenbraterei/Spatenbräu-Festhalle

Löwenbräu: Schützen-Festzelt, Löwenbräu-Festhalle

Hacker-Pschorr: Hacker-Festzelt, Bräurosl

Hofbräu: Hofbräu Festzelt

When we attended Oktoberfest with a group of friends on the opening day back in aught-two, we sat outside at a beer garden rather than in one of the tents. The weather was decent and the outdoor atmosphere was conducive for beer drinking. Too conducive in my case. The next day, I discovered that staying in a hotel that was right on the Oktoberfest parade route was not all that it was cracked up to be. I swear that was the longest, loudest, most percussion based parade I've ever had to endure.

One thing that really stood out about Oktoberfest in Munich (other than the best chicken I've ever had) was that despite the immense crowds you almost never had to wait long to get a beer. A lesson in planning that local festival organizers could well learn. Another surprise how peaceable and friendly the crowds were. When you mix hundreds of thousands or people with hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer you expect some sort of violence to break out. But I didn't witness any at all. The only casualties I saw were scores of people passed out on a nearby grass knoll well before the sun went down.

When done right, beer does have a way of bringing people together. And at Oktoberfest you can experience that camaraderie with fellow beer lovers from across the globe. We someone ended up hanging out with a group of Italians who displayed their love for la dolce vita through song, drink, and dance (often on top of the enormous tables despite regular reminders that such activity was verboten). It was a most memorable day in Munich.

The only downside to attending Oktoberfest in Munich is that it makes all the imitations pale in comparison. I'll have more on how the American versions of Oktoberfest usually fall flat next week. Now, let's get to the beer.

I should note upfront that I am not a big fan of the traditional Marzen Oktoberfest beer style. It's not that I dislike the usual Oktoberfest beers, it's just that they are not usually my favorite seasonal offerings.

This week's beer is Flying Dog Brewery's Dogtoberfest. The last seasonal from the Maryland brewer that I reviewed was their hefeweizen, which I found to be an excellent example of the style.

Standard brown bottle. Like other Flying Dog varieties, the label is gonzo art featuring a disjointed dog and a couple of beefy Bavarians with big steins and short pants.

Beer Style: Marzen/Oktoberfest

Alcohol by Volume: 5.3%

COLOR (0-2): Clear copper. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malt with caramel. 2

HEAD (0-2): Tan foam, light lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Malt is the predominate flavor with some sweetness. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): More of the sweetness here. Nice finish. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A pretty good example of the Marzen style. Probably not at the top of the class, but better than many American Oktoberfests. If you can't make Munich this year, having a few Dogtoberfests in your back yard is a decent substitute. Don't forget the chicken.

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

NEXT WEEK: More Oktoberfest beers.

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