Oktober? It’s only September, but the fest has already begun

EVERY YEAR, millions of people fail to celebrate Oktoberfest because, despite the impeccable precision of the Germans, the Munich beer bash is actually held in September.

Maybe they use a different calendar.

Whatever, even the most addled beer drinker rightly assumes that a festival named after a certain month should, in fact, be held in that very month. In this case, that would be OCTOBER.

And why not? The mouth-warming, malty, copper-hued lagers brewed for Oktoberfest are perfect autumn refreshers. You want to drink them when the leaves are falling, during an Eagles game, maybe, with sausages and kraut and an oompah band.

This year, Oktoberfest started on Sept. 21, a day when local temperatures hit 90. Speaking from personal experience, you just can’t play the tuba when you’re sweating into your lederhosen.

Nonetheless, we are already seven days into this year’s two-week fest. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

* Oktoberfest got its start on Oct. 12, 1810, when Munich’s Crown Prince Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.

Actually, Germans had been partying in October for centuries.

It was the end of harvest and time to finish off the beer that had been chilling in caves all summer. Ludwig’s wedding was merely an opportunity to formalize the annual debauchery.

Though Ludwig’s wedding beer was specially made by Spatenbrau Brewery, it was unlike today’s dark, rich Oktoberfests. Those brews didn’t get their start till the 1840s, when Spaten produced a heavier, Vienna-style lager. It was formerly introduced at the festival in 1872.

You can drink that beer today. It’s called Spaten Ur-Marzen Oktoberfest. (Marzen because it’s brewed in March. )

Over the next century, the festival was expanded to two weeks. And – because of historically foul weather – officials moved it into September to attract more tourists.

Now, Oktoberfest always starts a fortnight before the first Sunday of October, which means “two weeks” in America.

* “The Oktoberfest is quite a spectacle, an impressive display of Teutonic excess. Everyone interested in beer should go at least once. But once may be enough.” – Beer hunter Michael Jackson

This year, 1 million visitors are expected to drain 10 million pints of beer in halls that can hold tens of thousands of people. It is the world’s largest public festival.

As you might expect, all that beer-drinking is not without problems.

In 1980, terrorists killed 13 in a bomb attack. More recently, dispatches have focused on drunken behavior, especially among the Australians.

After one Aussie lass spilled out of an amusement ride and broke her skull this week (a mishap which prompted police to describe her as “irresponsible”), one news report said Germans had issued warnings about “antipodean yobbos,” which is a nice way to describe jackasses from Down Under.

* Because it brewed the wedding beer, Spaten is the first keg tapped each year. Since 1950, the bung-hammering honor has gone to the mayor of Munich, whose name is Christian Ude, in case you need to talk your way out of speeding ticket.

Traditionally, the mayor opens the festivities at noon, by declaring, “O’zapft ist. “

It literally means “I gotta pee. “

Germans toast each other by saying, “Prosit! “

That means “Me, too.”

* Only breweries inside Munich’s city limits can serve beer at the Oktoberfest tents. In addition to Spaten, that includes Paulaner and its subsidiary, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Lowenbrau and Hofbrau.

But plenty of other German brewers make their own version. My favorites are from Wurzburger and Ayinger.

And give the Americans a try. I found a bunch of Oktoberfest styles on local shelves, including decent brews from Weyerbacher, Stoudt’s, Sam Adams, Saranac, Harpoon and Penn.

* Can’t make it across the Atlantic? The German Society of Pennsylvania is running a two-day Oktoberfest bash next weekend, at its Ratskeller at 611 Spring Garden St., Northern Liberties.

The party features traditional German foods (prepared by City Tavern Chef Walter Staib) and beer from Yard’s Brewing. Times: 1-9 p.m, Oct. 5; noon to 9 p.m., Oct. 6. Tix: $35 each. Info: 215-627-2332.

Meanwhile, Spaten, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschoor Oktoberfests will be on tap tomorrow at a daylong Oktoberfest block party outside Ludwig’s Garten (1314 Sansom St., Center City).

The party starts at noon (free admission, pay as you go) and will include all the trimmings (roast pig, wurst, apple struedel, oompah bands).

“We get visitors from all over the country,” said Ludwig’s owner Paul Olivier. “We even get families with children. “

But beware of antipodean yobbos.


I’ve just been informed that “O’zapft ist” means “the keg is tapped. ” Sorry for the misunderstanding . . .

Last time out, I referred to porter as a style of lager. And, in fact, the porter made by Yuengling is bottom-fermented, like a lager. A number of European porters, most notably Finland’s Sinebrychoff, are also brewed in the same manner.

But, as reader John McDonnell so adamantly pointed out, porter is actually ale. “Calling porter a lager,” McDonnell fears, “is the beginning of a slippery slope, at the end of which the twilight of civilization will be signaled by Joe Sixpack using similar deceptions such as ‘fire-brewed’ or ‘choice hops. ‘ “

Fear not, readers, Joe Sixpack has been chastened.

Beer radar

New on area shelves: Troeg’s Hopback Amber and Samuel Smith Organic Ale . . . Real Lowenbrau is coming back, too. The stuff had been brewed under license in Canada in recent years, but the 600-year-old company (owned by Labatt) says it’s bringing back the original. There have already been reported sightings of its Oktoberfest in 5-liter mini-kegs . . .

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, with locations in Media, West Chester and Newark, Del., says it will open a fourth brewpub next spring. The new joint will be on the Christina Riverfront in Wilmington, Del. . . .

Joe Sixpack is off to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver next week. Watch for details next time.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Long Trail Harvest Ale. 


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