Written for Free Press Media by Jeff Baker http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2016/09/02/vermont-oktoberfest-beer-guide/89722282/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
It’s finally September and that means it’s time for my favorite beer season: Oktoberfest!
Some of you might be scratching your head and wondering if I’ve given in to “seasonal slide,” the phenomenon of a season being celebrated earlier and earlier each year. Fear not, dear readers! Oktoberfest is actually celebrated in the waning days of September. The 2016 Munich Oktoberfest will be held Sept. 17 through Oct. 3.
The festival has become synonymous with drinking large tankards filled to the brim with copper-hued malty lagers. Oktoberfest lagers are based on the Märzen style. Before refrigeration, beer was only brewed fall through spring, as fermentation produced undesirable flavors in the warmer months. Märzens, named for “March,” were among the last beers brewed in the spring and were lagered (stored) in cool places, like caves and cellars, until the fall harvest festivities commenced. These deep amber beers were a step lighter than the dark Dunkel lagers that pre-date them, but not as pale as the new-fangled Pilsner beers, and range in strength from 5 to 6 percent alcohol
Before we dive into a stein of this malty brew, let’s take a step back in time to Oct. 12, 1810, when the soon-to-be King Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The wedding was quite the party, and the whole city of Munich was invited to celebrate with the royal family on the fields outside the city gates. The festivities concluded with horse races on the fields which would come to be named the “Theresienwiese,” (Therese’s Fields”).
In 1811, the horse races were repeated on “die Wiesen” and an agricultural show was added. Thus, the Oktoberfest tradition was officially established. Over the years, beer tents and bierhalls were added, as well as amusement rides and fair-like attractions. The festival was slowly moved up into September to take advantage of warmer weather, so celebrants could enjoy the gardens late into the evenings. This year marks the 183rd Oktoberfest and, by one estimate, roughly 6 million people are expected to attend.
Closer to home, if you’d like to raise a stein with your neighbors, there are many Oktoberfest-themed events around Vermont, see below.
If you can’t wait to get your “Oompah” on, there are already plenty of Oktoberfest lagers on store shelves and in beer bars around the state. Here’s a round-up of what’s already available, and trust that many more are on the way. Prost!
Ayinger (Germany) Oktober Fest-Mäzen – A perennial favorite, Ayinger’s version is deep amber and malty without being rich or cloying, thanks to a judicious dosing of hops. From Bavarian-style pretzels to a variety of sausages, this beer is very comfortable with festive food at the table.
Weihenstephaner (Germany) Festbier – Definitely the lightest colored of the group, with a more golden than amber tone, Festbier is also a touch lighter in body. The brew is still all about the malt, though, and offers honeyed, bread-y notes throughout.
Spaten (Germany) Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen – Hailing from Munich, Spaten offers up this brownish-golden Ur-Märzen (“Ur” means “original”). Faint caramel notes mingle with flavors of dark rye bread and the finish is crisp and clean.
Sierra Nevada (California & North Carolina) Oktoberfest – Each year, Sierra Nevada partners up with a different German brewery for its O-fest beer. In 2016, Bamberg’s iconic Mahrs Bräu chipped in with an all-but-forgotten hop variety called “Record.”
von Trapp (Vermont) Oktoberfest – The brewers at von Trapp are very serious when it comes to honoring the traditional lagers of the Old World and it shows in this spot-on copper-hued lager. Just enough Noble Hops make the finish snappy and prepare you for another sip.
Samuel Adams (Mass.) Oktoberfest – On the darker side of amber and a touch more roasty than the others, this is one of Boston Beer Company’s most popular seasonals and is always the first to the fall party.
Left Hand (Colorado) Oktoberfest Märzen – At 6.6 percent this is the highest alcohol-by-volume of the beers I sampled. A deep golden amber, Left Hand’s version offers more roasty, toasty, almost nutty flavors than the others. A robust palate with a quite dry finish.
Local Oktoberfest celebrations
Sept. 10, 2 p.m. -7 p.m., Winooski Blocktoberfest, von Trapp Brewing is teaming up with Oktoberfest Vermont and the Winooski Community Partnership, Mule Bar, 38 Main St. Winooski, 339-2020
Sept. 17, 1 p.m. -7 p.m., seventh annual von Trapp Oktoberfest and celebration of new von Trapp Bierhalle, Stowe, www.trappfamily.com
Sept. 21, 5 p.m. -10 p.m., 11th annual American Flatbread Burlington Hearth Oktoberfest Celebration http://bit.ly/AFOktoberfest
Sept. 22-25 second annual Oktoberfest Vermont festival, Burlington’s Waterfront Park,www.oktoberfestvermont.com
Sept. 28, 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Oktoberfest at The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, Burlington, search Facebook http://bit.ly/FHTGOktober
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf.