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Oktoberfest: Fall Over-Indulgence

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Reviews of Oktoberfest Beers

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Steins of foaming russet hued beer, polka music, and the smell of grilled bratwursts in the air…Understandably, the Oktoberfest tradition did not take much forcing on the great American public.

The Oktoberfest beer festival has been more recently absorbed into the cultural fabric of American society in much the way the St Patrick’s Day Parade has been. However, what the fall beer drinking festival may lack in universal family appeal—this is an adult affair— it more than makes up in active participation. Tents spring up across the United States on September 15, even in communities with sparse German representation, to celebrate the tradition of autumn beer and bratwursts.

It all started in Munich as a public party for the royal wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony on October 12, 1811. The now famous beer tents were introduced in 1896, and these continue to be the focal point of the festival to this day. In modern times the Munich festival runs during the last two weeks of September and is an epic beer-drinking affair. Around 30% of the annual production of Munichs breweries is consumed during these two weeks. This is a prodigious feat considering that the good folk of Munich drink an awful lot of beer during the other 50 weeks of the year.

When one considers that six and a half million people attended the 1998 Munich Oktoberfest, the amount of beer consumed is put into perspective. What does 700,000 liters of Oktoberfest beer wash down? The answer: 600,000 whole chickens, 180,000 pairs of pork sausages, 100,000 pork knuckles, and 84 oxen.

So much for the Munich festival and its many imitators. How about Oktoberfest beer itself? It is generally defined as a reddish hued lager, deriving its color from "Vienna roasted" malt, or malt that has been kilned until its sugars have caramelized to a reddish hue. The origins of these red lagers are the Austrian City of Vienna where brewers developed the Vienna style of lager in the 19th Century. Bavarian brewers subsequently adapted this style for their fest beers. We now call the Munich take on Vienna style lager an Oktoberfest.

There are some important considerations to take into account when fashioning an Oktoberfest beer. It is generally not going to be drunk in little sips, but rather large mouthfuls at a time. Drinkability is an important factor. Too much dryness or too much bitterness might make it tough to drink by the Stein. Even worse, too much alcohol will certainly slow down consumption. With apologies in advance to neo-prohibitionists, Oktoberfest beer is about immoderate consumption and merriment.

A true example of the Oktoberfest style should have a toasty malt accent with a subtle hop balance. Good Oktoberfests are not hoppy beers. That said, many brewpubs produce their own versions of Oktoberfest beers that stray from the classic parameters. Hoppy, ale-like Oktoberfest beers are not unknown, and while they would be an affront to a Bavarian reveler they have their place among US fall seasonal beers.

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