One of the questions I get asked most this time of year is why is Oktoberfest in September? The quick answer is that in Munich, Germany, the original Oktoberfest celebration runs the last 10 days in September and ends in October.
But to truly understand the significance and wonder of Oktoberfest, you need to know the history and traditions. The original Oktoberfest started in 1810, when King Ludwig proposed to the beautiful princess Therese. This was a wondrous occasion of two royal families arranging the nuptials of their two favored offspring. You can imagine that Ludwig, having grown up in privilege and living the life of royalty, loved to throw a party. So when his upcoming wedding and reception was being planned, he didn’t want any old boring wedding reception; he needed to blow the socks off every other royal wedding. Kate and Prince William had nothing on Ludwig.
Ludwig planned a 10-day bacchanal with all the excessive food, dance, and revelry you can imagine. But his crowning achievement was “inspiring” the royal brew master to come up with a special beer just for his nuptials.
There is always an implicit threat when the king says to make a special brew for his wedding. The pressure was on! This nameless brew master, I’m sure, thought long and hard about the style of beer he wanted to make. Would it be a weissen beer? A kolsch style? A dark, foreboding stout?
He took a different route, deciding to create a special beer based on the Marzen beers that were made in March to withstand the long hot summers. Remember, Germany can be a hot sticky place. In the old days there were no refrigerators or ice machines. You needed a stronger beer to last thru the summer. The Marzen style is perfect.
This nameless brewer created the No. 1 selling seasonal beer — Oktoberfest. Now, around the world, people celebrate Oktoberfest. I’m sure the royal family thinks it is to celebrate Therese and Ludwig’s marriage — but I know it is because of the one-of-a-kind great beer.
Oktoberfest beers are a malty delight. The only beers that can be truly called an Oktoberfest are the German beers Augustiner-Brau, Hacker Pschorr, Lowenbrau Paulaner, Spaten and HofBrau. These beers all hew precisely to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity law of 1487. It states that beer can only be made with water, yeast, barley and hops. True Oktoberfest beers must be brewed in Munich.
My favorite is Still the Hacker Pschorr. It is a delightful representation of Oktoberfest beers. It is a golden amber color and slightly hopped.
Another great one is Weihenstepaner. This is the oldest brewery in the world — since 1040! They better know what they are doing by now!
Here in America, the burgeoning craft beer explosion has given us a plethora of choices. Virtually every brewer makes a special beer to commemorate this time of year. Schell’s — the sixth-generation German family in New Ulm, makes a good one. Samuel Adams produces the No. 1 seller in America. It has slightly different twist to traditional Oktoberfest — it adds a little different malt that gives it a hint of caramel flavor.
All Oktoberfest beers have a nice hoppy edge, but with a malty finish to give it just a touch of sweetness. They typically have a beautiful ochre color and medium body. To fully enjoy an Oktoberfest beer, pour it slowly into a mug and watch the rich foamy head appear out of the ether. It is a treat to watch the reddish beer sink to the bottom as the rich foamy head rockets to the top of your glass.
Hold the glass up; see the bubbles slowly defy gravity as they dance up and down in the glass. Take the liquid nectar close to your nose. Let the aromas filter into your mouth, feel the saliva grow as your tastebuds await the delicious blend of hops and malts. Finally, tilt the glass into your mouth and let your lips feel the cold comfort of liquid refreshment, let your taste buds finally be appeased after being teased so long. When the liquid pours over your tongue and finally to the back of your throat, you will get the satisfying bite that all good beers give you. Savor the moment and then do it again.
All the while, think of Ludwig and Therese, and how their wedding day created a huge worldwide celebration of beer, fun and good taste. Truly a great love story, if there ever was one. Prost!