Beers and Brats, Baby!

By Nancy Powell

Posted September 15, 2011 in Feature Story

In most parts of America, this coming weekend hails the onslaught of the biggest party central to happen in the fall, thanks to the steady supply of craft and artisanal beers that have popped up in every major city to grace the face of earth. Beers, brats and good cheer? You guessed it, Oktoberfest, and in America, it’s all about chugging down steins (the size of a newborn baby) served up by cleavaged young maidens dressed demurely in dirndls, guys donning their country lederhosen (OK, not really unless you’re at Old World in Orange County and severely drunk), oompah bands and happy revelers clucking away on the dance floor with their renditions of the chicken dance and polka.

While Oktoberfest parties are as commonplace here in America as burgers and apple pie, Munich (yes, the city in Germany) continues to put on the biggest celebration in the world. Over six million people will visit the 16-day festival, consume over 1.5 million gallons of beer and eat 200,000 pork sausages and rotisserie spit chickens. And the men will wear lederhosen at the party. Guys, if you feel any embarrassment get over it. The excuse? The beer, delicious and icy crisp, of course, to stave off the late summer heat!

Toasting the Royals

Nearly 200 years ago, Oktoberfest had nothing to do with beer or brats, except that maybe beer was the “good cheer” part of the celebration between Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen that Oct. 12, 1810. The royal house invited the denizens to gather at the field (later known as Theresienwiese, or “Wiesn,” translated as “Therese’s Fields”) preceding the front gates of Munich to celebrate the proud union.

So much fun was had that organizers felt the need to repeat the festivities each year, adding additional features throughout the years to enliven the party. The year 1811 saw the addition of the first agricultural show to promote the diversity of produce in Munich. The first carnival booths came to fruition in 1816 and then the introduction of the first carousel and swings just two years later.  It wasn’t until 1819 that Oktoberfest finally graced the books as an officially sanctioned event.

Meanwhile, given its miraculous cooling powers, beer consumption steadily increased. Festival organizers set up tents along the Budenstrasse (avenue of booths). Local breweries carried a great deal of influence in those days. The 1887 Oktoberfest witnessed the introduction of The Entry of Oktoberfest, a parade of horse teams sponsored by the brewers. Brats made its official debut in 1881 and frosty glass mugs of ice cold beer appeared in 1892. Four years later, the beer halls came into play, growing in size and girth until the centennial arrived and over 120,000 liters of beer had been poured.

Since its inception, Oktoberfest has only stopped when the threat of war loomed. Once World War II had passed, Oktoberfest, which traditionally ran on the anniversary of Ludwig and Therese’s marriage, was prolonged to run in mid-September (good weather was cited as the cause) until the first weekend in October.

Copper Colored Frenzy and the Wienershnitzel Blitz

The Oktoberfest brews of Munich follow a strict brewing standard that gives the brew its special reputation. Märzen style originated in Bavaria when governmental decree dictated that brewing occur between Saint Michael on the September 29 to Saint George on April 23. Lack of refrigeration back in the day meant that most brews be made in March to avoid bacterial infestations and spoilage, then aged through the summer in lagers (storage) packed in ice and placed in stone cellars or in caves. The centuries old Reinheitsgebst, or German Purity Law, ensured that beer contain only barley, hops, malt and yeast as its primary ingredients.

The result was a dark and strong brew, bottom-fermented and full-bodied with a malty flavor and clean, dry finish. The copper-colored Märzen beers can contain up to six percent alcohol. Today’s varieties from pale to dark brown and are usually lagered for at least 30 days before serving.

According to Monica Marini, one of the organizers of the Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest, in order to qualify as an official Oktoberfest beer, the beer must be brewed within Munich city limits. In America, the closest approximation to Munich is the purported German import by way of Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Lowenbräu and Michigan’s Hofbräu. The Big Bear Lake event adds Warsteiner’s Pilsner, Dunkel and Oktoberfest as well as the King Ludwig Hefeweisen. The Redlands’ Hangar 24 has developed its own seasonal, Munich-style replica, the 2011 Oktoberfest brew, which it intends to serve at the one-day Oktoberfest party over at Sylvan Park.

“It’s an amber lager brewed in the traditional fashion,” says Kerry Mutter marketing manager at Hangar 24. “We use all German-imported hop, malt and yeast.”

Besides beer, Oktoberfest organizers usually dish up waist-expanding servings of Bavarian wieβwürste, or steamed veal sausages, slathered in sweet mustard and sauerkraut on a pretzel roll. Americans prefer garlicky knockwurst (veal and pork) and smoked bratwurst (think of beefy hot dog, also available in pork) sausages, loaded up with spicy mustard. Expect streudels, spit chicken, dumplings, potato pancakes, potato salad and a slew of sauerkraut to round out the menu of traditional German eats. Local festivals will try to replicate as much of the food as possible, but the impossibility lies with the limited availability of certain imported products.

“Due to different regulations regarding food, alcohol and a variety of other issues, we cannot do many of the things that [are] done at the Munich event,” says Monica Marini managing director of The Convention Center at Big Bear Lake. “For example, we can’t serve roasted pork and fish on a stick as they do in Munich, because we can’t grill them the way they are grilled in Munich.”

Good Beer and Good Cheer

The largest Oktoberfest in the United States happens to reside in Cincinnati, Ohio. The two-day festival features 15 beer tents and draws over 500,000 visitors each year. Locally, however, there are a few options to help usher in the tidings of fall. In Riverside, the Law Offices of Heiting and Irwin offers up its own version of Oktoberfest, complete with dachshund races in a historic early American home in Riverside. The Lake Elsinore Storm, conversely, proffers a primarily American interpretation of “party central,” held, of course, within the blurry confines that define family fun (or as much fun as can be gotten with biergartens in the picture). According to Mutter, Hangar 24 tries to adhere to German tradition, incorporating into the festivities an oompah band, costume and stein-holding contests. Beaumont’s smaller festival features a log-sawing contest.

While endless partying seems to be a motivating factor, Oktoberfest is not purely a reason to down bottomless steins only to fall flat on one’s face the next day. Most festivals are held as fundraisers to benefit one cause or another. Hangar 24’s party will benefit the Optimist’s Club while Heiting and Irwin serve as one of the primary fundraisers for the Riverside Hospice. The Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest intends to honor the fallen heroes of 9/11.

As for real deal festivities, the largest in the area, the Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest, bears the closest resemblance to the Munich festival, so much so that one can conceive of having Germany within driving distance of one’s own backyard.

“Hans Bandows, our Burgermeister, created the first Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest,” says Marini. “He was born in Germany and immigrated to the States after World War II. You will find that most of the entertainers and key folks involved in the Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest speak German or are first generation Americans from German families. This helps keep the German heritage alive at our Oktoberfest.”

The Big Bear Lake edition also carries the distinction of paying homage to the royal origins of its Munich forebears.

“This is one of the key aspects that we feel makes the Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest so very different than any other Oktoberfest in So. Cal,” says Marini. “The original Oktoberfest was a big wedding reception. Wedding receptions by nature are big fun parties in which family and friends celebrate the bride and groom. At most wedding receptions, we can let our hair down, dance and do some of the zany things that might not be done in at a bar or nightclub, i.e., the Chicken Dance, the Electric Slide, the Macarena. The Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest is a big wedding reception.”

Oktoberfests in the Inland Empire

King Ludgwigs Bavarian Oktoberfest

650 W. Oak Pkwy., Beaumont

Sept. 16-18 

Hangar 24 Oktoberfest

At Sylvan Park, Corner of North University and Colton streets, Redlands

Sept.17, 11AM-7PM 

Big Bear Oktoberfest

At the Big Bear Lake Convention Center

42900 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake

Weekends from Sept. 17-Oct. 29 

Lake Arrowhead Oktoberfest

At Lake Arrowhead Village

28200 HWY 189, Lake Arrowhead

Sept. 25-Oct. 30, 12PM-4PM

Lake Elsinore Storm Oktoberfest

At Storm Stadium

500 Diamond Dr., Lake Elsinore

Oct. 1-2, Sat, 11AM-6PM and Sun,11AM-4PM 

Oktoberfest at the Law Offices of Heiting and Irwin

Fundraiser for the Riverside Hospice

5885 Brockton Ave., Riverside

Oct. 22, 5PM-9:30PM


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