As a general rule, as the days get darker, so, too, does the beer. A crisp, clean lager might really hit the spot in the heat of summer, but it might not be the beer to drink while sitting by the fire on a cold winter’s night. But what about autumn?
We aren’t quite ready to give in to the chill of winter but are slowly forgetting the long warm days that have passed by. This transitional season calls for transitional beers that fall (no pun intended) somewhere in between the light flavors of summer beers and the intensity of traditional winter ales. This is where Oktoberfest beers shine.
The origins of Oktoberfest, like so many other things in beer, start in Germany. Prince Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in October 1810 in Munich and decided to throw a huge party to celebrate. After several days of feasting, the first festival closed with a horse race. When that race was repeated in 1811, a tradition was born.
Surprisingly, beer wasn’t a major part of the early years of the festival, which remained primarily focused on agriculture throughout the first part of the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1896 that the first large beer tents that most people associate with Oktoberfest started to spring up backed by the large Bavarian breweries of the day.
Today, Oktoberfest celebrations are held worldwide in the last weeks of September and early October, and breweries release their own variations of traditional fall beers for the occasion. Here is a brief look at three of the most popular styles.
Märzen: Although it is the most traditional Oktoberfest style, it also is the most difficult to define. The earliest märzens were brewed at the end of spring with the last of the year’s hops and malt crop, then cellared until late summer or early fall.
It varies in color from pale yellow to dark amber, but all märzens have a malt-forward flavor, low bitterness and a mid-range ABV. Most anything sold in the U.S. as an “Oktoberfest” beer is some variation of a märzen.
Festbier: Depending on whom you ask, this was a beer born either out of changing consumer tastes or a desire for large German breweries to sell more beer during Oktoberfest. In the 1970s, the traditional Oktoberfest breweries began experimenting with a new style of beer that was lighter and easier to drink than the traditional märzen.
They developed festbier. It is generally lighter in color and lower in alcohol than märzen, but it maintains quite a bit of the malt character that festivalgoers have come to expect. It is now far and away the most popular beer sold during the festival.
Dunkel: An older style first brewed in Munich, dunkel is likely what was being enjoyed by revelers at the earliest Oktoberfest celebrations. Dunkel is a dark lager with a rich, malty flavor, relatively low alcohol content and virtually no hop bitterness. While not as popular as märzen and festbier, it is starting to see a resurgence as craft breweries in Germany and the U.S. have begun to produce variations on the style.
Munich’s Oktoberfest ends Sunday, so it might be a bit late to hop on a flight, but you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to sample local versions of Oktoberfest beers at taprooms throughout the Inland Northwest. When you try these beers, you’ll understand why this wedding party has lasted more than 200 years. Prost!
New brewery openings
Bardic Brewing is expecting to open its new taproom at 15412 E. Sprague Ave. in Spokane Valley in mid-to-late October. The brewery, which was recently featured here, is unique in that it will produce craft beer and cider. The family-friendly taproom also will serve house-made pizza and have an extensive collection of board games for patrons.
It is likely that another brewery or two will be opening its doors this month, but I was unable to confirm that as of press time. As always, for the most up-to-date information on brewery openings and other news, check out 509BeerBlog.com and the “What Hoppin’ This Week” event calendar every Wednesday in The Spokesman-Review’s Food section.
Mountain Lakes Brewing (201 W. Riverside Ave.) is recording the newest edition of its monthly beer trivia podcast, “Wheat, Wheat, Don’t Tell Me,” in front of a live taproom audience starting at 6:30 p.m. Seating is limited, so get there early. The podcast features regional guests and is available for download from podcast apps.
Hunga Dunga Brewing (333 N. Jackson St., Moscow) is teaming up with Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute to present an informal class on the science of beer making. Come down from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to enjoy a beer and learn about the science that goes into producing it.
River City Brewing (121 S. Cedar St.) is throwing its monthly First Friday garage party from 6 to 10 p.m. Enjoy beer, live music and a local art showcase.
Paradise Creek Brewing is celebrating Oktoberfest in its trailside taproom (505 SE Riverview St., Suite C, Pullman). Starting at 1 p.m., enjoy beer, a German-themed food menu and live music all day. Anyone in costume receives $4 pints all day.
Also celebrating Oktoberfest, Brandywine Bar and Bottle Shop (2408 W. Northwest Blvd.) is offering flight deals on German and local, German-inspired beers to go along with German food specials. 2-8 p.m.
Post Falls is hosting its annual Running Shoes and Micro Brews 5k fun run in Kiwanis Park (4176 E. Weatherby Ave). The $25 registration fee includes the run, a T-shirt, finisher’s medal and two drink tickets redeemable at the onsite, post-race beer garden with ID. Registration is recommended
Community Pint (120 E. Sprague Ave.) is celebrating its 100th night of trivia with a special Saturday edition. Community Pint will have special beers on tap and prizes throughout the evening. 7-10 p.m.
Find more beer news at 509beerblog.com.