Several years ago I brought you a weekly column about God’s greatest gift: beer. Now, in the wake of a miserable 2020, and a mostly miserable 2021, I’m back like Lazarus of Bethany to remind you of all the amazing beers you can get at your local grocer, brewery, or restaurant. For the first return review, it’s time to talk about the festival dedicated to beer: Oktoberfest!
Because COVID has ruined everything — or, more accurately, because COVID has empowered bureaucrats the world over to ruin everything — no one in Munich (or most anywhere else) is celebrating Oktoberfest, the world’s annual beer holiday, this year. That’s the second year in a row that it has been canceled, if you’re keeping track.
Over the more than 200 years the festival has run, it generally takes a world war to cancel it, with a few exceptions. Since you and I can’t head to Bavaria for the world’s greatest party, here’s how you can celebrate beer’s most famous festival wherever you are.
Get Some Great Oktoberfest Beers
The number one thing you need to celebrate Oktoberfest at home is some Oktoberfest beers. Yes, plural. Get two, three, maybe more, and explore the different offerings you can encounter under the Oktoberfest beer umbrella. Here are some recommendations.
The Traditionalist: Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier
Paulaner has been brewing their Oktoberfest since 1818. It’s not always easy to come across a traditional German beer like this in your local American grocery store, so if you do, grab it!
This traditional Oktoberfest is golden, like the tops of wheat waving in a field. You can taste the malt in this beer, and a distinct bread-like flavor from the yeast, plus a touch of hops, but it’s not a hoppy punch in the tongue that you’ll find in IPAs.
It’s an easy-drinking beer, appropriately enough for a festival dedicated to drinking lots of the stuff. In fact, this is the only beer served in Paulaner tents at Munich’s Oktoberfest. The Paulaner I got at my local H-E-B (America’s greatest grocery store) came in a giant can and an Oktoberfest-style dimpled mug to drink it in.
The American Brand: Brooklyn Oktoberfest
If you’re looking for an Oktoberfest beer at your local grocery store, or even at a bar, you’re likely to run across this one. The Brooklyn Oktoberfest is a Märzen Lager.
Märzen is a beer that was traditionally brewed in March (Märzen in German), stored in cellars over the summer, and finished at Oktoberfest. The Brooklyn, like most Märzen beers, is a little more full-bodied than the Paulaner. It’s also more amber in color and just a touch sweeter.
Just like its German cousin, though, this is also a very easy-drinking beer, something you could knock back several thousand kegs of with 6 million of your best friends in giant tents at Oktoberfest. It’s also a beer that is quite refreshing. If it’s as warm in your neck of the woods as it is mine in these early days of autumn, then that’s a great characteristic for a beer you’re drinking.
The Local Microbrew: Austin Beerworks’ Montecore
From my favorite local brewery, the unparalleled Austin Beerworks, comes their Oktoberfest, Montecore. This is lighter in color than the Brooklyn Märzen, but darker than the golden-hued Paulaner. It’s almost the color of honey you poor on your morning biscuits.
The boys at ABW tell me that all the hops, malt, and yeast in this beer come from Germany. The only Texan ingredient in this one is the water.
Montecore is the perfectly balanced fest beer. It isn’t quite as sweet as the Brooklyn, and has more oomph than the Paulaner. It still has that tasty German maltiness to it that a good Oktoberfest should have, but with the clean lager finish you expect.
Unless you live in Central Texas like me, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get your hands on this beer, but I highlighted it to show you that the best place to find the perfect Oktoberfest beer may not be aisle five of a mega-mart, but instead on a stool at your favorite local brewery. So do some exploring and a good Oktoberfest beer that you love.
Cook Up Some Oktoberfest-Style Food
If you’re going to be drinking all this beer, you’ll need something to help soak it up in your stomach, and the Germans have plenty of options for you.
Roast meats like chickens (often done on giant spits at the festival in Bavaria), pork, or even the traditional ham hock are all easy to make in your kitchen. I make an oven-roasted chicken for my kids at least two or three times a month. They ask for it all the time. You could even do a beer-can chicken with one of your Oktoberfest beers.
To ensure that the chicken skin gets crispy and tasty in the oven, blot it dry with a paper towel and rub the chicken inside and out with room-temperature butter. If you want to amp up the flavor even more, make a compound butter with lemon zest, salt, pepper, and herbs of your choice (rosemary would be great).
If you’re having a homemade Oktoberfest, then you must have sausages to go with your beer. You can pick up bratwurst at your local grocer, sauté them in a pan with butter (or residual bacon grease if you make some bacon first), and serve with sauerkraut, cooked apples, and a serious helping of mustard. Mmmm, that sounds like the perfect accompaniment to a stein or two of Märzen.
If you want to make something a little more adventurous, go for some potato pancakes. These traditional German pancakes can be served with applesauce as a sweet side (my favorite), or with a crisp, acidic salad as a savory bite.
Finally, get yourself some pretzels. Is there any better snack for beer? I don’t think so. You can go for the big, soft pretzels like you get in Germany, or some crunchy little guys in the chips aisle at the grocery store.
I’m a huge fan of warm, soft pretzels, but I’m not much of a baker. Luckily, here in Austin, there’s a great bakery where you can order soft pretzels to take home. Check your local area for a similar option.
Get In the Spirit
The last thing you need to celebrate Oktoberfest at home is to get in the spirit with some good traditional German music, and the appropriate attire.
When I was in college, I backpacked through Europe one summer with my best friend. After a long night at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, I came home with a traditional Oktoberfest peasant hat. Don’t ask me how I got this hat, because after more than several steins of beer, I have no idea, but I get some use out of it every year!
With the right beer, some tasty food, and a funny hat, you can show the no-fun bureaucrats that it’s still possible to celebrate the greatest of fall festivals! As the Germans say, “Prost!”