By Cold, Hard Football Facts brew guru Lew Bryson
I touched on Oktoberfest last week (while the Chief Angry Troll tossed in his two-cents worth as well). Oktoberfest is going on right now – it's true, most of Oktoberfest takes place in September – so let's dig into that a bit more. There's a really good reason: Oktoberfest beers are the most popular seasonal beers in the American market, outselling those big spicy Christmas beers, spritzy wheat-filled summer beers, and even the leafy-green Arbor Day beers so popular in upper North Dakota.
O.K., you caught me: there are no trees in North Dakota, and they don't even know what Arbor Day is (as if you do). But Oktoberfest really is the most popular seasonal beer in America, and there are some very good reasons, not the least of which is that it's a perfect excuse to eat sausages and noodles.
For instance, people easily grasp the idea of Oktoberfest as a seasonal beer. It says "Oktober" right in the name, which is recognizable even through the aroma of sauerkraut emanating from that "k". It's beer for October! Right, so why do we drink it in September? Like I said, that's when Oktoberfest mostly takes place: it starts two weeks before the first Saturday in October and runs for 16 days. This year it began Saturday, Sept. 17 and ends Oct. 3.
October, September, whatever, it's the wind-down of summer drinking season and the end of the hot time. People are ready for a little fall, ready for a little football. A lot of us signify that by jumping on a different beer. There's a whole clock of different seasonal beers out there, and Oktoberfest is in kind of that late afternoon, early evening time of the beer year, when it's still warm and sunny, but it's not blazing down on you anymore.
On the beer clock, it's time for dinner, and Oktoberfest is good for that. Lots of different beers go with different foods, but Oktoberfest is a great all-rounder, a very versatile beer with food. Think of the food they serve at Oktoberfest: roast chicken, noodles, roast pork, lots of wurst, roast oxen and something called steckerlfisch, a roasted mackerel with a stick shoved up its butt corndog-style. This beer goes with all of it, beautifully, and leaves you smacking your lips for another.
That's because it's fully lagered. Lager beer is a German specialty, they pretty much invented it, and it took over the world. Bud Light, Miller, Corona, Heineken: they're all lagers. It means they're fermented and matured at a low temperature, using a yeast specially bred for that kind of work.
Things work slower at colder temperatures, so they mature a long time. Most big brands mature over three or four weeks. But Oktoberfest beers may mature for three or four months, which gives them a depth and smoothness that makes them almost irresistible. And that's the biggest reason that Oktoberfest is the most popular seasonal beer.
This is about the easiest way to bump up your beer-drinking variety, a great way to find out how much you can be getting out of your liver allotment. Oktoberfest beers just taste great, and they don't have the hop bitterness that is such a barrier for a lot of people. Wine folks just don't get bitter, and neither do dyed-in-the-wool light beer fans. I don't understand how that happens, but I recognize that it does, so here's an opportunity to try something different without that problem.
Here's what you do. Go find a six-pack of Oktoberfest beer. Get one of the Germans – Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Ayinger, and Spaten make good ones – or an American – try Sam Adams, Victory, Penn, or Stoudt's. Bring it home and while it's chilling, get a roast chicken going; rub it up with paprika and stick a couple strips of good bacon under the skin, that's O-fest style. Cook some noodles (or even better, spätzle), grate some Swiss cheese on top, and serve it up hot with that cold Oktoberfest beer.
If it tastes heavy to you at first, think of how heavy chicken tastes compared to, oh, let's say, lettuce. Light beer is like lettuce: it's crisp, it's refreshing, you can eat a lot of it, and a lot of care goes into its preparation ... but it's just the salad course. There's a whole buffet out there, just waiting for you to come along with an empty glass. I'm at the end, with a tray full of everything I could grab. Get some chicken and join me.
(Ed. note: Oktoberfest beers also go quite well with Lew's horseradish mustard.)