If you’re anything like me, the onset of fall means leaves crunching below your feet (or was that a dried profelactic washed into the gutter?), the smell of chimney smoke in the air, and the spicier beers in my Tiffany’s crystal mug.  So fire up the Oompah band, Heinrich, it’s time to strap on the suspenders and raise a glass to our German comrades…but I guess the real question is:  what the devil are we celebrating?  October?  Fall?  The end of sweat marks in our armpits?

Well, nobility actually.  And german nobility at that.  First held in Munich on October 12, 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and his buxom bride Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (try to remember THAT name while playing a game of Asshole at the Epsilon house), the festival honored the merry couple with the finest grub and grog, finally culminating in an elaborate horse race on October 17th.  And thus, the party was born:

Oktoberfest is now a sixteen-day, suds-heavy affair held each year in Munich, Bavaria, Germany in late September and early October.  “Oktoberfestbiers” are the beers that have been served at the event in Munich since 1818, and are supplied by 6 breweries known as the Big Six:  Spaten, Lowenbrau, Augustiner, Hofbrau, Polaner and Hacker-Pschorr.  Tourists the world over flock to this village for a Mardi-Gras like party atmosphere to nosh on rich and hearty traditional fare like white sausage (weisswurst), knuckle of pork (haxn), potato dumplings (knodeln), roast pork (schweinsbraten) and grilled fish on a stick (steckerlfisch).  And to further rush the fat and oodles of butter through their systems, they drink the beer…and lots of it.  In 2007, the 174th Oktoberfest hosted 6.2 million visitors who drank 6.7 million liters (equivalent of 11 million pints) and ate 104 oxen.

So just what are the beers being enjoyed by the swinging beauties above?

Traditionally, Oktoberfestbiers were lagers of around 5.5 to 6% abv called “Marzen”; lager beers brewed in March and allowed to ferment slowly during the summer months.  (To “lager” a beer is to cellar it at cooler temperatures and use a bottom-fermenting yeast, leading to a lighter, milder beer.  But this is a generalization as the flavors and colors of lagers can vary greatly).  Originally done to circumvent strict German laws that did not allow brewing during the summer months, these beers are most often characterized by a medium to full body, a malty flavor balance, a wide range of colors, and a clean dry finish.  Common names for Märzen include Märzenbier, Wiener Märzen, Festbier, and Oktoberfestbier.

So, the next time you sink your teeth into a steaming pretzel from a cart across from Central Park, or pop the top on the Lowenbrau in front of the boob tube, give a wink to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and her good man Ludwig…they’ll be watching down on you.  While noshing on a knuckle…


One Response to “Pass the Marzen, I’ve got a pork knuckle to wash down!”

  1. Oktoberfest is an amazing time to be in Munich, but don’t be put off going at other times of the year too. You can still enjoy the beer in the many beer gardens and at the English Garden too, plus there are sights like the Olympic Park, the Residenz and the Frauenkirche to see. There’s more here….


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