Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oktoberfestering Update: Some Beer I Vaguely Remember Drinking!

Well, Oktoberfest has come and gone, and for the Anti-Public Urination League, not a moment too soon, but for the KW Elite Vomit Removal Squadron, however, it left far too quickly because business in this department was certainly booming.

Actually, around KW, Oktoberfest isn't that bad - they (organizers and policefolk) have done a pretty decent job curtailing drunken mischief apart from the odd undergrad whose passion for Shot-Skis was not matched with a corresponding alcohol tolerance.  Security at most beer tents was tight, KW Police had a big presence inside the halls and on the roads, GRT Transit had free bus rides in the evenings - because of all this things went fairly well.  Festering occurred, beer was imbibed, pins were added to festing hats, sausages were heroically choked down.   

For those not in the know, Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is among the world's largest celebrations in the style of the of the original Oktoberfest festival in Munich.  If memory serves, it's actually the largest Oktoberfest gathering outside of Germany, which is pretty damned impressive.   Kitchener has always been a very Germanic city, formerly going by the moniker of 'Berlin, Ontario' up until that rascal the Kaiser started some shenanigans a century back.  Since 1969 the twin cities turned what was once a small, club-based celebration into an official city-sponsored event.   Although Oktoberfest started out very small, over the years it has grown into a full-fledged festival with parades, pancake breakfasts, pageants, midways, bands (both oompah and non-), and of course all the wonderful, wonderful drinking.  Attendees can get their sloppy on at any number of 'Festhallen' across the cities, many of which - such as the Transylvania Club, the Alpen Club, the Concordia Club and the Schwaben Club - are fully-functioning German clubs the other 51 weeks of the year,   Suffice to say, it's a fairly big deal around here; most residents can probably claim to owning a festing hat and a stein or two.  

I happen to be a big fan of Oktoberfest, despite some of its major drawbacks.  First of all, it's cheesy.  Spectacularly cheesy.   On any given night, you can expect to hear the Chicken Dance no less than 13 times.  There are dirndl and lederhosen T-shirts, and all the usual crappy souvenir fare.   Secondly, the experience in the festhallen can be exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.  Although the music is lively and the ladies are up dancing in their dirndl dresses, the food can be pretty pricey, the hall gets incredibly noisy, and the 'loud-douchebags-drinking-Jager' factor is extremely high.   Then of course there is the lovely draught beer selection.  Once seated (and you must be seated), your waitress will bring you pitchers of only the finest German brews at only the most reasonable prices.  

 Pictured: German Beer

That's right - the only beer available on draught in Oktoberfest halls are these lovely little numbers.  And at 18 bucks a pop, it's hard to get your festering spirit up too high.    Mercifully, there was some relief to be had this year!  My first hint was at the Pancake Breakfast event in Uptown Waterloo - a chaotic affair that featured hundreds of students and young parents alike lining up at quarter-to-stink in the morning for free pancakes and Timmy's coffee.  Nothing really "Oktoberfest" about it per se, save for a cute little keg-rolling competition that drew a modest crowd.  Wouldn't have caught my eye if it weren't for the fact that the bottles were labeled "Creemore."  This proved to be a great portend, because sure enough at the Concordia Club tent they had bottles of Creemore available, offering a wonderful escape for those who prefer avoiding Molson's swill altogether.   Even better, they also happened to have (shudder!) an actual German-style beer available, Creemore's urBock.   With this news, I was more than set for the night, because the urBock is actually a fine little brew.

 (I had a picture of it in my 'Oktoberfest safety cup', but I figured an older picture was more appropriate.)

Beer: Creemore urBock
Brewery: Creemore Springs (Creemore, Ontario)
Type: Bock
ABV: 6%
 As readers of the blog (if any) may recall, bocks are a strong, German lager, traditionally brewed for winter/cold weather consumption.   Hearty, rich, with big malt, fruit and nut flavors, and sporting a slightly (or much) higher alcohol by volume to ward off winter's scorn, a result of long-term storage or 'lager-ing.'  This type of brew was traditionally a mainstay around the old monestary, as monks - having made vows to adhere to the occasional fasting period - would imbibe said hearty brews to ward of the chill as well as malnutrition.   Bocks are often held to have originated around the Hanseatic town of Einbeck, Germany.  Einbeck sounds a great deal like 'ein bock' ('a goat'), so many a bock beer is emblazoned with a goat emblem.   Nice to see Creemore adhere to this cute little tradition.

As per the beer itself, urBock pours an amber-chocolate hue, leaves about an inch of off-white head, which has nicely receded to a ring encircling the glass. Lots of foamy lacing. Looks like a root beer, oddly enough. 

The nose is malt and caramel, spices, and with possibly a bit of raisins in the back. Not bad at all.

The taste is quite nice, if a little muted. Nice and malty, with notes of toffee, caramel and sweet white wine. A lingering pepper finish, and this is where I detect a slight warming alcohol sensation. The flavours work well, but could have been more pronounced.   I've had a few bocks from Germany proper, and they tended to be a bit bolder (and stronger in alcohol), but Creemore certainly isn't too far off the mark here.
Mouthfeel is on the lower carbonation, slightly thinner than I'd like.

A damned fine brew, certainly among the better bocks I've encountered this side of the Atlantic.  Bocks are not traditionally consumed around Oktoberfest, but considering the frigid rainy night we had at the Concordia, it certainly hit the spot.  Considering the horrendous alternatives, holding aloft a bottle of urBock felt much more appropriate for the Oktoberfest season and made the night a great deal more enjoyable.  I'll certainly be back for more of this brew come wintertime.  (Grade: B+)

As happy as I was with the availability of Creemore's brews, I was still pining for an actual 'Oktoberfest' brew, something that eluded me at both KW festhalls.  So what exactly is an 'Oktoberfest' beer?  It's a bit tricky, because if you find yourself in Munich, you can enter into any number of festhalls run by the big Munchen brewers, which sell both Oktoberfest brews and regular fare (Lowenbrau being a good example of the latter), so you aren't necessarily restricted to any one type of beer.

Generally, a beer marked as being 'Oktoberfestbier' tends to be of the style known as "märzen".   Traditional märzens are lagers that were brewed during the winter months (März = March), and then stored over the course of the summer.  Without preservatives, these brews would expire by the following winter, so they were consumed in great quantities in the autumn and early winter - i.e., the Oktoberfest season.   Again, the longer storage means a smoother, slightly higher ABV product that was perfect for festival drinking.   Märzens aren't really exciting brews, but they weren't designed to be.  Flavorful but not overpowering, stronger in alcohol, but not strong enough to really knock you on your ass, märzens are great beers to drink with purpose.   Many German and American breweries (and a few Canadian, although not very many) boast an Oktoberfestbier among their lineup, and with good reason - traditionalists (like yours truly) want to savor the experience of Oktoberfest as closely to the original intent as possible.  This means the right kind of beer.   Unfortunately, the LCBO only had a few brews that could claim to be called 'Oktoberfest' beers, but I did manage to snag a couple, including this wonderful beast:

"It's pretty big....I guess...."

 This gem is Paulaner's Oktoberfest, and I managed to spot it hiding near the front of the LCBO, buried for some reason among their other gift set offerings.  I'm really digging the bottle image here: normally, your average heterosexual man likes to picture his Oktoberfest beer being served by an attractive, busty lady in a low-cut dirndl (don't believe me? type in 'Oktoberfest' into google and see what most of the first ten images are - go ahead, I'll wait here...)  Here, while the girls here are of more...robust stock, it's a cute reminder of what was more likely the case at old Oktoberfest celebrations - big beers being served by big women, because damned if those steins are heavy.  Nicely avoids further sexualization of the beer can label.  But what really impressed me with this brew was the size.  Perhaps a visual comparison is in order:

Yep, that's a full litre of beer.  Fantastic.  But as awesome as a litre of Oktoberfest beer is, though, there was something missing.  Perhaps some glassware?

That will work. 

A litre of beer in an authentic Oktoberfest stein, or 'Maßkrug'.  It's go time. 

Beer: Paulaner Oktoberfestbier
Brewery: Paulaner (Munich)
Type: Märzen
ABV: 5.8%

The pouring itself was quite something, as I've never had to pour a canned brew this big before.   It resulted in a brimming frothy head and scads of lacing. The brew itself is a brilliant golden, with visible carbonation lasting until the bitter end (bear in mind that, at a whole litre in volume, that 'bitter end' took about 45 minutes to reach, and I wasn't drinking all that slowly). I've got to say, the glassware brings out the very best in this brew; what I'm sure would be underwhelming in a regular lager glass looks bloody brilliant in a shiny new stein, so forgive my bias.

The nose is satisfactory, but less than exciting. Bready malts, honey sweetness, mild leafy hops, chestnuts. Not entirely unlike a German pilsner. 

The taste is not that of a darker, robust märzen, but again rather like a German pils. Slightly sweet, bready, and with a crisp, hop finish. A touch of lemon to the finish as well. Although I'd very happily drink this over the standard Oktoberfest beer in KW (sadly, Molson Canadian), there's nothing overly interesting about this brew, save for the fact that it's called an "Oktoberfestbier" and comes with a giant glass. Still, these things can't be overlooked - in a party atmosphere, a brew like this goes down outrageously well in vast quantities, which is entirely the point.

Mouthfeel is quite impressive; even near the finish of the giant can there's still a steady carbonation. Lighter bodied, but still above average for the style.

Paulaner's put out a great Oktoberfest quaffer - nothing overly exciting in the taste, but damned exciting to drink in such a cool mug in a festive setting.    A beer that sets out to do something, and does it well.  (Grade: B+)

For my other 'official' Oktoberfest brew, you may have seen this fellow hanging around the LCBO in quantities.   Hofbräu is another major brewer in Munich's Oktoberfest lineup, and has one of the larger beer tents at the festival.  Although the brewery features many different varieties of beer, their Oktoberfest is by far the most famous and most consumed.   The original brewery in Munich has inspired franchise versions to crop up in cities as diverse as Las Vegas, Genoa, Shanghai and Chicago, the latter of which I managed to visit a few years back.   (Unfortunately, the brewery also possesses a darker history, it's adjoining beerhall being the site of some of Adolf Hitler's early speeches on fascism and anti-Semitism.  One rally in particular in 1920 ultimately led to the codification of the main tenets of Nazism.) 

Beer: Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier
Brewery: Staatliches Hofbräuhaus (Munich)
Type: Märzen
ABV: 6.3%

Poured into a nonic - just didn't feel right to pour this small beer into my big stein.  Back to the classics.   Pale golden, with visible carbonation lasting for quite some time. A 1/2 inch head that survives quite well in the form of a ring and thin layer.  Some flecks of lacing - decent retention actually. Again, not the robust brew I was hoping for, but it still looks just fine.

The nose is extremely mild and hard to discern. Cereals, malty sweetness, a touch of hop bitterness. Truth be told, there's not much separating this brew's nose from that of the many Eastern European macro lagers that grace the LCBO's shelves (Tyskie, Lezajsk, Zubr, etc.).   Not a great sign.

The taste is surprisingly sweet and fruity, with notes of apple and pear.  The sweetness is quite overpowering, but eventually diminishes to a tart, peppery hop finish. A touch of warming alcohol here. Drinkable, nothing offensive or artificial, but the sweetness is almost cloying.

Thin, watery (actually a plus for an Oktoberfest brew), but with tart, aggressive carbonation that nips at the back of the tongue.  

I had this last year and wasn't that impressed with it; after a year, my tastes haven't changed much on this brew. For me, it struggles with the basic test of an Oktoberfestbier, namely: "Would I want to drink a LOT of this in one sitting?" A big no for me on that one - the sweetness is simply too much, and there isn't much else to distinguish this brew from other Euro lagers to make it worth my while. I can drink this, and a pint isn't bad, but marking for the style, it's not one I'd pick up again.  (Grade: C+)


A pretty good festing season all around - two festhalls, a parade, some new brews and a giant stein to top it all off (I also doubled my hat-pin collection too!).  Still searching for more of those elusive authentic Oktoberfest brews - like with many things beer-related, it might necessitate a trip to the states.  But when the alternative is Molson or Coors, a little hunting will pay off huge dividends in the end. 

Next up for the Den: The Great 2010 Pumpkin Ale Taste-Off! 

1 comment:

  1. Good to read all the information. There are many more beer glasses and other products that are use in oktoberfest.