Throw your own OKTOBERFEST!
O’zapft is! Summer’s winding down and that means one of the year’s biggest parties is on its way! Oktoberfest features some of the finest aspects of Bavarian traditions, meticulously crafted beer, traditional hearty food, and, most importantly, celebrating with friends and family. For those of us in North America though, a trip to Munich is a little far, so The Insider has teamed up with Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® to help you plan your own Oktoberfest celebration at home!
Throw Your Own Oktoberfest Party
Saturday, September 19 marks the official start of Munich’s 2015 Oktoberfest. Taking place over the course of two weeks, the world-famous party ends on Sunday, October 4, and last year drew more than six million visitors from around the globe. While it’s best known as a beer-fueled celebration of Bavarian culture, the original Oktoberfest was actually a glorified wedding reception.
On October 12, 1810, the future king of Bavaria, Crown Prince Ludwig, was married to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Somewhat unusually for royal weddings, a large public festival was held in a meadow near the gates of the city of Munich. Everyone had such a great time that they decided to make it an annual thing, and, this being Bavaria, it wasn’t long before beer overshadowed the premiere event’s nuptial nature. Today’s Oktoberfest takes place in the very same meadow, called the Theresienwiese, which means “Therese’s meadow.” In the local dialect, both the meadow and the festival itself are known as the Wies’n.
The Real Oktoberfest Beer
The beer that Americans most associate with Oktoberfest celebrations is, naturally, Oktoberfest beer. But, as any beer nerd who has made the pilgrimage to Munich in late September will tell you, the beer served at the festival is a blonde lager, not the amber Oktoberfest beer we all know and love. It is more like a hefty Helles or a mild Maibock than the historic Märzenbier. It’s specially brewed just for the celebration and is called, appropriately enough, Festbier.
Festbier can be somewhat hard to come by outside Munich, as it’s seldom packaged for export. But if you can’t find a good commercial example, you can always brew one yourself any time of year. This recipe for Echtes Festbier is based on Helles I Know; a Munich Helles featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Carefully brewed and lovingly lagered for six or more weeks, all it needs to round it out is an oom-pah band and your finest Lederhosen or Dirndl. If you start now, you can possibly have your Oktoberfest party with your real Oktoberfest beer at the end of October.
If that seems too late, never fear. . . .
Mocktoberfest to the Rescue
As we mention above, what we think of as Oktoberfest beer in the United States is, strictly speaking, a Märzenbier, or “March beer.” Märzenbier was historically brewed in March, lagered all summer long, and served to thirsty revelers at the Munich Oktoberfest. And while Märzen is no longer the star of the Theresienwiese’s beer tents, the style’s blend of fleeting sweetness, toasty malt flavor, and a supremely quaffable dry finish remains unsurpassed.
The window for brewing an authentic Märzen may have come and gone, but you can still serve a great knock-off at your Oktoberfest party—and your guests might not even know the difference! It’s time to fake it till you make it with Mocktoberfest, an Oktoberfest beer in every sense but yeast and process. You may not have eight or more weeks to brew a legitimate lager, but you can crank out an ersatz ale in a month or so.
Malt and Hops
Malts should consist mostly of varying amounts of Pilsner, Munich, and Vienna, with optional small amounts of crystal malt to round out the flavor and supply a little upfront sweetness. Hops are traditionally noble German varieties, such as Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, but Mt. Hood and Liberty are good domestic substitutes. Avoid U.S.-grown Hallertau hops though, which aren’t even close, despite the name.
The key is to use a clean ale strain and to ferment on the low end of the recommended temperature range. Good yeast options include:
• American wheat (Wyeast 1010) • Chico (Wyeast 1056, White Labs
WLP001, Safale US-05) • CL-50 “Denny’s Favorite” (Wyeast 1450) • Nottingham ale (White Labs WLP039,
Okay, so Mocktoberfest isn’t technically a lager in the strict microbiological sense. But the German word lagern, meaning “to store,” still very much applies. If you have time, cold condition your Mocktoberfest ale for two weeks or more. Those who keg can lager their beer in the keg as it carbonates, but those who bottle need to include at least two weeks at room temperature to ensure proper carbonation.
Although Munich’s Oktoberfest starts in late September and ends the first weekend in October, Americans don’t usually think about Oktoberfest until Munich’s festival is winding down. So let’s assume you’re planning your Oktoberfest party for the weekend of October 3–4, 2015. The chart below has two schedules to get you there.
The relaxed-pace schedule is the most lager-like and requires six weeks. You can use just about any yeast you like, even true lager strains if you’re careful. The second schedule can be completed in just four weeks and is for those really in a rush. You’ll need to stick to fast-acting ale yeasts to get the job done in time, but better to brew a good ale than a poor lager.
The schedules are arranged so that you need to take care of brewing chores only on the weekend, and at the relaxed pace, you’ll even have Labor Day weekend off to reacquaint yourself with your family.
Oktoberfest is about spending time with friends in a spirit of shared Gemütlichkeit. If the beer is good and plentiful, nobody will care that you faked it with an ale.