Believe it or not, we are already approaching the middle of September. As a transition month, September can be a little forgettable, and even a little sad as summer starts to fade away. But in the beer world, we are approaching a major beer-related holiday: Oktoberfest (which is actually in September).
Oktoberfest is an annual celebration that began in Munich, Germany, as a huge party thrown to celebrate a royal wedding between two German nobles in 1810. The party eventually evolved into a days-long festival, celebrating agriculture, food and drink, and included horse races and other outdoor activities. Located in the heart of Bavaria, known for its hops and grains, this, of course, included the consumption of large quantities of beer. If you are wondering why the name of the festival seems off by a month, it is due to the decision in the early 1820s to move it up a few weeks to take advantage of the slightly warmer weather and longer days. Since then, the festival has taken place near the second to last week of September, with this year’s scheduled to begin on Saturday.
At the official celebrations in Munich, only beer that follows the German beer purity laws (i.e., containing no ingredients other than hops, malt, yeast and water) and that is brewed within the city limits may be poured. In Germany, this includes six large breweries, including several that have some U.S. distribution, such as Paulaner and Löwenbräu. While the style of beer served at the festival has changed over the centuries, several variants are still associated with the festival. The Marzën is the most traditional. It is an amber lager sometimes known as an Oktoberfest beer style. These beers are malty, somewhat filling, but easy to drink. A lighter alternative, known as a Festbier (literally “festival beer”), was developed as an alternative to the heavier Marzën-style lagers and is a paler color and usually a bit thinner in mouthfeel.
Not wanting to be left out of the beer festivities, American craft breweries began brewing their own Oktoberfest and Festbier styles. Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Co.) Oktoberfest was one of the first to popularize this style and added it to its seasonal lineup to be released each fall. While not always traditional, these beers have shown up in increasing frequency as beer consumers are getting accustomed to malt-forward lagers that are growing in popularity across the board. In Maine, we are lucky to have brewers that are both brewing excellent examples of these styles, but also throwing some unique and fun events to accompany them.
One of my favorites has become Bunker Brewing Co.’s Bunktoberfest, which was released last week both at the brewery and in four-packs. This is an amber, bready and malty treat that I enjoy as soon as the night temperatures drop and the backyard fires begin. I was happy to see this hit retail stores this year, and it is just as good as I remember it being in previous years. If you’re seeking an Oktoberfest that you can bring home, go find yourself some of these cans.
Sebago Brewing Co. is taking advantage of the added space that its new production brewery has to offer and will host its Oktoberfest celebration there on Saturday. As a regular attendee of the events held at the previous production facility, I’m eager to see how much some extra space will add to the festive atmosphere. The party will include a brewery-only release of the Sebago Oktoberfest Marzën Lager, and part of the $25 ticket includes two 16-ounce beer pours (with additional pours available on a pay-as-you-go basis). For an extra $10, you can use and keep a commemorative glass beer stein to enjoy the beer. There will be stein-hoisting contests, live music, lawn games and a traditional German feast.
If you are a fan of Foulmouthed Brewing, you may know that brewer Bill Boguski’s birthday is near this beer-related holiday. To celebrate this, Foulmouthed hosts Billtober Fest annually at its brewpub in South Portland. On Sept. 29, a variety of beers will be poured throughout the day. Be on the look out for the German lager, Brat, which will make an appearance. This light, easy-drinking beer is just right for the celebration and should pair well with Foulmouthed’s modern comfort food (and Oktoberfest food specials). Another seasonal that will be pouring will be the Autumn Sweater, which is slated to have fresh, local hops that were grown in Maine at the Hop Yard in Gorham.
Keep an eye out for more Oktoberfest and Festbiers to show up at retail stores and in local breweries this year. With a recent decline in Pumpkin beer’s popularity, the Oktoberfest style beer may be the perfect one to take its place as the official beer of fall.