Take a look at any community calendar and one thing is obvious — October is the month for festivals. From the Sagra Della Zucca Bertagnina (Squash Festival) in Dorno, Italy, to Oktoberfest in Germany, and our very own Rose Festival, here in Tyler.
All around the world people gather in October, to celebrate harvest, local tradition and the food or drink that’s indigenous to that area. Around East Texas there’s the Peanut Festival in Grapeland, Yamboree in Gilmer, Mushroom Festival in Madisonville, Hot Pepper Festival in Palestine and Wine in the Pines in Mount Vernon. (For a complete listing of area festivals, see East Texas Eats on page 3C.)
Oktoberfest is the crown prince of fall festivals, but its origin has little to do with food or harvest. It was organized to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Louis to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810.
The German Beer Institute describes the first Oktoberfest as a grand wedding party that allowed the commoners to partake in the ceremonies. The couple organized the gathering for their subjects on grazing land outside the Munich city gates — and some 40,000 Bavarians showed up for the fun. That meadow, incidentally, was then given its current name of Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow), in honor of the Crown Princess. Every year on the anniversary of their nuptials, the party was repeated. To this day, the Theresienwiese (now known in local vernacular as just the “Wies’n”) is still the site of the annual Munich Oktoberfest.
Many Oktoberfest patrons are probably unaware of the festival’s origin. Instead, the annual celebration has turned into a worldwide revelry of German sausage and special brews of Oktoberfest beer.
The Oktoberfestbier, or Marzens, are brewed in the spring, kept cool all summer, and tapped in the fall. They are described as having a sweet and toasted malt complexity with spicy Bavarian hops and crisp lager finish.
Before I get too far into describing the flavor and characteristics of Oktoberfest beers, I’ve prepared a brief Beer 101 tutorial. Until recently, I didn’t know much about this topic. But a few months ago, I was invited to a meeting of a group of home-brewers. It was held at the Budweiser facility in Palestine where they had a tasting of new craft beers being offered in the East Texas area. It was very informative and bit too scientific, especially when tasting beer.
Beers mainly fall into two categories – ales and lagers – that are classified by the temperature of fermentation and the type of yeast that is used.
Lagers are bottom-fermented at very cold temperatures due to a more fragile strain of yeast. The result is a beer that is crisp and light in mouth-feel and flavor, lower in alcohol content and, typically, lighter in color.
Ales are top-fermented with a strong yeast that creates beers that are stronger (higher alcohol content) with full flavor, character and a significant appearance of hops.
Basically, hops put the bitter in beer. Many ales now have an IBU (International Bitterness Units) rating on the bottle that expresses the intensity of bitterness in the beer. As a comparison, Budweiser has an IBU of 3, Shiner Bock is an 18 and the scale continues up to 120, where the human palate can no longer distinguish a higher intensity of bitterness.
The most bitter beers are IPAs (India Pale Ale) and originated in the early 1700s when British troops and citizens living in India as part of the colonial rule did not have access to good British ale. Any attempt to ship the malt British ales to India resulted in spoilage. India Pale Ale was the solution. The generous amount of hops in this brew protected it from the heat and motion of the British sailing ships of the day and survived the voyage.
So back to Oktoberfestbier, technically, it must be brewed within the city limits of Munich to be classified as or served at Oktoberfest. But brewers everywhere have begun producing Oktoberfest-style beers that are made in limited release each fall.
Here is a list of some Oktoberfest beers that are available at FRESH by Brookshire’s and other area beer retailers. A popular way to try a variety of selections is to visit the Pick 6 case and look for the Oktoberfest labels.
Weihenstephaner Festbier: While it’s not brewed in Munich, this beer is made in the oldest existing brewery in the world. Located in Friesing, Germany the brewery was founded in 1040. The traditionalist choice, Weihenstephaner Festbier is a full-bodied hoppy lager with deep gold color and lots of flavor. IBU: 26
Beck’s Oktoberfest: An authentic German import beer brewed in Bremen, Germany. Also a lager, it is caramel in color with a with rich, toasted malt flavor that is slightly sweet. It pairs well with traditional German foods, such as sausage and bratwurst, or other fall favorites such as stews or hearty chili. IBU: NA
Shiner Oktoberfest: Brewed in Shiner, this beer is a marzen-style ale. It has deep amber color and a toasted flavor. The malty aroma and sweetness fades to a moderately dry, hoppy finish. When I saw this beer being poured, I thought it looked like fall in a glass. IBU: 18
Real Ale Oktoberfest: Brewed at the Real Ale Brewery in Blanco, with high quality German malt, hops and yeast using Bavarian brewing methods. It is described as a smooth, copper-colored medium body lager. IBU: 25
Brooklyn Oktoberfest: Brewed in Brooklyn, NY, this Oktoberfest is described as full-bodied and malty, with a bready aroma and light, brisk hop bitterness. IBU: 25
Harpoon Octoberfest: Harpoon is brewed in Windsor, Vermont and Boston. The Octoberfest is described as a malty tribute, balanced by a gentle hop bitterness. It’s rich garnet-red color is the result of abundant quantities of Munich, Chocolate and Pale malts. IBU: 32
Samuel Adams Octoberfest: This Sam Adams brew uses five roasted malts to create a rich, hearty flavor. Noble hops (a mellow type of hops) are added for a touch of bitterness IBU: 16