Hoops on Hops: Oktoberfest has a great history of celebration
DULUTH — The long tradition of the Munich Oktoberfest began in 1810 with the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig von Bayern and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, and the entire population of Munich, Germany, was invited. Munich residents lovingly call the area on which the world’s largest folk festival has traditionally taken place since then as the ‘Wiesn’ (meadow). This year, the festival began on Sept. 21, and as tradition dictates, will end the first weekend in October.
Often called Wiesn beer, Oktoberfest beers are lagers. They are brewed in late spring and cold-matured all summer for release in September. They are brewed strictly according to the Bavarian beer purity law of 1516 and only from the best natural ingredients. The character of this typically light, bottom-fermented festival beer is deep golden to amber with balanced, harmonious malty notes and subdued hops. This is the medium-bodied, slightly sweet Wiesn Bier. At Hoops Brewing, we release our Wiesn beer on the eve of the German Oktoberfest as a nod to the tradition.
Most German Oktoberfests feature festbiers, but 99% of American Oktoberfest beers are NOT festbiers. A festbier is what we would think of as a session Oktoberfest, a bit lighter bodied and lighter colored, with an inviting sweetness. With that, I would suggest Spaten, Hacker Pschorr, Paulaner Wiesn, Surly Fest, Warstiener Weihenstephaner fest and the wonderful collaboration between Bitburger brewery in Bitburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, and Sierra Nevada from the U.S.
These beers are the liquid version of fall colors, cool mornings and a bit of soul enriching to fill up as the winter comes.
From the famous festival in Munich each year to the multitude of Oktoberfest parties easy to find this time of the year in Minnesota, the celebrations all highlight the same great things.
Spit-roasted chicken, Wurst (sausage), huge soft pretzels with mustard, Knodel (potato dumplings), and for dessert, strudel featuring apple or cranberries.
The band at the festival is always the star, from yodeling to the chicken dance to the massively popular sing-a-longs of Ein Prosit (“a toast”), karaoke-style group bellowing of “I think were alone now,” “Sweet Caroline” and the John Denver classic “Country Roads.” Singing and drinking beer seem to be intertwined during Oktoberfest.
- Men wear Lederhosen (tight leather pants with suspenders) and long-sleeve, button-up Trachten shirts in a plaid pattern of red or blue, with a felt hat sporting a pheasant feather, which in the old days, was a sign of wealth.
- Women sport Dirndls, a tight-fitting dress with an apron tied around it, often white and somewhat low-cut. Nearly everyone has seen the photos of the servers in Germany at the festival wearing the Dirndl and carrying the mind-blowing eight liters of beer in each hand — an amazing 24 pounds per hand!
These events always feature games of skill, such as beer stein races (you spill, you lose), beer pong, stein holding (holding a full stein in front of you until the arm gives out). Feats of strength, such as the keg toss and hay bale toss, are popular.
There's also the classic Hammerschlagen. Each player is assigned a nail. Each player's turn consists of a single swing at their nail with the wedge end of a cross peen hammer. The swing must be done in one continuous up-and-down motion. The object is to be the first one to pound in the head of the nail flush with or below the surface of the wood. Often, only one swing is allowed, and the player who sinks the nail deepest wins.
As to souvenirs, it seems like returning home with your own one-liter stein or a competitive T-shirt is a must.
As you probably have figured, I am a huge Oktoberfest fan. I have attended the festival in Munich seven times so far and have attended many versions here in the U.S. This is a beer style, culture and mindset to embrace.
Welcome to fall. Enjoy, everyone!
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.