Wednesday, September 12, 2007

O'zapft is!

Has anybody noticed the slight change in the weather over the past couple of days? Fall is almost here, and low temperatures this weekend are going to approach 50. It is time to dig into the closet for the long sleeve shirts and jackets, and also to explore some seasonal beers. No other beer style says fall to me like Oktoberfest lagers.

Oktoberfest is a nearly two century German tradition, dating back to an 1810 celebration of the marriage of Prince Ludwig (later to be King) and Princess Therese. While it was certainly a part of the celebration, beer would not play a prominent role for several decades. Spaten is credited with brewing the first Oktoberfest beer in 1872, a Vienna style red lager with its characteristic caramel malt and crisp finish. As the festival grew, many other breweries joined the fray with their own special Oktoberfest releases. Today the festival is associated more with beer than it is with King Ludwig, and every September breweries in Germany and beyond still brew a seasonal beer to commemorate the festival and the onset of Fall. This years festival, held annually in Munich, begins on September 22 with the traditional cheer of O'zapft is! (It’s tapped!). It is definitely on my short list of things to do before I die.

The good thing is that you don’t have to fly to Germany to experience this great traditional beer style. Several offerings are available here in Asheville, both from German brewers and brewers here at home. I’ve spent the last week or two trying to sample as many Oktoberfest style beers as possible. Seasonal beers are a great way to branch out from your normal purchases, and you are almost always guaranteed a fresh beer.

If you want an authentic Oktoberfest beer, there is no better way than to go to the source. My personal favorite so far is from Ayinger, who not so coincidentally also brews one of my favorite dopplebocks. Their version is crisp, slightly sweet and almost nutty, and eminently drinkable. Other German versions to look out for are the aforementioned Spaten and Paulaner.

American brewers have also taken a stab at the style. I have had the Samuel Adams Octoberfest, the Brooklyn Oktoberfest and the Victory Fest beer, and they all do a pretty good job with the style. If you are adventurous, you might look into trying Avery’s The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest, which is a regular Oktoberfest on steroids. Honestly, I thought it was a bit too much and it strayed away from the subtle balance that I normally expect from the style, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good beer. You should also seek out our own local version of Oktoberfest beer from French Broad, which offers a more hoppy but still wonderful tasting version of the beer.

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