THE FEEL-GOOD story of this year’s Oktoberfest is Lowenbrau. After nearly being sent to a watery grave by Miller Brewing, the lager is reclaiming its foothold as one of America’s favorite Germans.
You remember the god-awful Miller days, right? Back in 1975 – after a mere six centuries of developing its reputation as one of the world’s finest breweries – Lowenbrau got greedy and sold its name and its soul to Miller, which marketed its own, domestic-made version of the German lager in America.
Unfortunately, the Milwaukee lunkheads were more interested in selling their insipid Lite than producing an authentic Munich lager. The recipe lost its bite, and Lowenbrau was soon little more than overpriced bilgewater.
And those commercials – I still can’t get that dopey jingle out of my head:
Here’s to good friends, tonight is kind of special.
The beer we’ll pour, must say something more, somehow.
So tonight, tonight, let it be Lowenbrau.
Never mind that, pronounced correctly, it’s Loo-vein-broy, Miller’s version wasn’t about anything special. It was simply a crass marketing ploy to lure yuppies away from Heineken.
Even fabled Lowenbrau Dark suffered the Miller treatment. Beer Philadelphia publisher Jim Anderson once memorably remarked that it tasted like it had been flavored with a brown crayon.
When the Miller pact ended in 1999, Labatt took over the reins and brought in German brewing experts to revive the original recipe. The taste improved but, still, you couldn’t get over the fact that now the bottle said “Made in Canada.”
This year, the original Lowenbrau is back in America.
Proudly proclaiming “Imported from Munich, Germany,” this is the Lowenbrau I remember from my earliest drinking days. The so-called Original lager is crisp and utterly refreshing. The Oktoberfest is rich and malty.
Try to get your hands on one of those 5-liter draft cans – they’re perfect for your own Oktoberfest.
Munich’s Oktoberfest starts at noon tomorrow and runs till Oct. 5. Lowenbrau is one of the six official beers of the festival. Here are the others:
- Augustiner: Founded in a monastery in 1328, it’s the favorite of Munich, but the hardest to find in America.
- Spaten: The original Oktoberfest beer (first made in 1872), it’s now the traditional first keg tapped at Oktoberfest. Founded in 1397.
- Hacker-Pschorr: Started by the Pschorr family in 1417; introduced the first Bavarian Weisse.
- Hofbrau: Founded in 1589 as the royal brewhaus; responsible for introducing the bock to Germany.
- Paulaner: Now the world’s most popular Oktoberfest. Founded in 1634.
A sixpack of unofficial Oktoberfests
- Oktoberfish. The classic fest from Cherry Hill’s Flying Fish. Available only on tap. Special non-gassed casks tonight at Grey Lodge (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair) and McGlinchey’s (259 S. 15th St., Center City) on Oct. 3.
- Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale. Not an Oktoberfest, not even a lager. But it’s perfect for autumn. This spicy brown ale, brewed with pumpkins, is named for the annual Punkin’ Chunkin Festival held the weekend after Halloween near Lewes, Del.
- Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen. Available on tap in America this season for the first time ever.
- Engel Oktoberfest. A bit hoppier than the traditional recipe.
- Victory Festbier. Beer fans go nuts for Victory’s bigger, hoppier flavors (HopDevil, Storm King), but this is the beer that shows you the brewery’s greatness. A perfectly made lager.
- Stoudt’s Oktoberfest. A nice flavor in the 25-ounce bottles, but I favor the Blonde Double MaiBock for an even fuller (and easier-to-find) kick.
Considering their 0-2 start, isn’t it obvious that the Eagles’ ban on locally made beer at their new stadium is coming back to haunt them? As reader Mark Wilgus notes, one of the region’s most popular breweries is even mentioned in the Birds’ fight song: Fly Eagles fly, on the road to Victory! “Everyone raising a cold HopDevil at once,” Wilgus imagines. “Ahhh, wouldn’t it be great?” Yeah, that and a few more Yards on offense . . .
Word on the street is Sam Adams Scotch Ale, an old favorite from Boston Beer that had been discontinued, will return to the shelves sometime next year . . . Rolling Rock, meanwhile, is phasing out its near-invisible Rock Light and will replace it with low-carb Rock Green Light . . .
Other new stuff on area shelves: big bottles of Rogue Imperial Pilsner, Stone 7th Anniversary Ale and Avery Ten.
The owners of one of the city’s best beer bars, Standard Tap, were set last night to open their new Fishtown joint at Frankford and Girard. Called Johnny Brenda’s (the same name the neighborhood spot has held since the ’60s) it’ll feature three cask beers, including Yards made just up the street. . . . You might’ve heard that Miller is producing bottles of Lite with photos of its gorgeous Catfight babes. Meanwhile, a new promo from Labatt offers a case of Blue with your photo on the label. Available only in Canada for now, at $58.95 it sounds like a bargain, assuming you’re not ugly . . .
Hey, don’t steal those beer glasses – get them for free at Eulogy Belgian Tavern (136 Chestnut St., Old City). On Tuesday nights, order a pair of Stella Artois, Leffe Brune or Hoegaarden, and you get a goblet to take home . . .
Tonight: Yarrrr . . . , celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day at the Grey Lodge. There be beer and booty, mateys. Info: 215-624-2969.
Tomorrow: Oktoberfest Block Party, in front of Ludwig’s Garten (1315 Sansom St., Center City). If you don’t get your fill of oompah, this annual blowout will run next weekend, too. Wash down the wurst with brews from Engel and Leikeim. Serving: noon to 8 p.m. Info: 215-985-1525.
All weekend: Lancaster Liederkranz, a traditional Oktoberfest featuring a pig roast and polka. Tix: $5. Info: 717-898-8451.
Sunday: Sippin’ by the River at Festival Pier, Penn’s Landing. Assuming the riverfront hasn’t been Isabeled, wine, food and, of course, locally brewed beer will be the focus of this popular annual event. Tix: $30 ($25 advance). Info: 215-922-2386.