Celebrating beer like a German
Not a fan of crowds, I have never been all that interested in attending Oktoberfest. However, over the past few years tasting fresh Bavarian beers at Taps in Petaluma, I have grown to really love everything that Munich breweries have to offer. As the trip grew closer, I started to anxiously anticipate getting to taste the six official Oktoberfest beers.
Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer and folk festival in the world, welcoming over 7 million visitors each year, with roughly three-quarters of those coming from Bavaria and the rest visiting from around the world. At slightly over two weeks, depending on the year, the event actually culminates on the first weekend of October, making it more a SeptemberFest.
The numerous beer tents, ?both large and small, tap close to ?2 million gallons of beer through the festival, but as we found out, this is more than just a beer guzzling party and was not nearly the mosh pit we had expected, even when arriving in the 10th hour of Thursday’s drinking for many of these folks.
Through fairly strict drinking etiquette laws, as well as other safety measures, visiting one of the big tents is like sitting around drinking, eating and singing, packed shoulder to shoulder, with 5,000 of your best friends. Everyone is friendly and folks at Oktoberfest are much more prone to buy someone a beer than get in a fight. It was an extremely pleasant experience.
Oktoberfest was first held in 1810, when the locally citizenry were invited to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese by partying on in the fields in front of the Munich city gates and has continued at that spot ever since. Only beer from Munich breweries can be served, with those six breweries building and hosting at the seven biggest tents at the event. (Two breweries joined forces a few decades ago but still have separate tents.)
The brews poured are generally called “fest” beers and are light and easy to drink, which is good because in most tents they only serve by the liter, which is roughly two pints. The six beers served at Oktoberfest are Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spaten, Hofbräu, and Augustiner, the last one being Münchners’ favorite and also the hardest to find outside of Bavaria. Augustiner is also the only Oktoberfest beer delivered and served from wooden kegs, even though you will see plenty of barrels on the horse drawn carriage which parade in and out of the grounds each day.
With only a day and half to visit, we really had to buckle down in order to visit all seven main tents, try all six main beers and taste as much of the Bavarian food as we could. I am happy to report that we not only did it, but loved it so much that we are already planning our trip to visit again next fall. One trick that helped us get through was that we ordered and shared just one beer per tent. That still put our overall intake at roughly a gallon each, but spread out over two days left us no worse for the wear.
Even though Oktoberfest serves my favorite styles of beer, which are malty and light, I am still all about the food and was not disappointed. We loved just about everything we ate. Along with a huge variety of hot roasted nuts, which we snacked on as we walked around, we also tried oxen, roasted chicken, roasted duck, currywurst, Schupfnudel and Steckerlfisch.
Other than beer, Oktoberfest is best known for roasted chicken but also specializes in duck. After a visit to the Hacker tent for our first liter of beer, we started to our first night’s food order with an excellent duck burger and what turned out to be a sub-par currywurst. Chef Abe’s Oktoberfest currywurst at Taps Petaluma is much better, in our opinion. And although some will call me crazy, we much prefer the pretzels in Petaluma to those we tasted all over Germany, Austria and Czechia, which tended to more tough and crumbly. However, they all made up for it by offering excellent mustards for dipping.
After our second beer at the Spaten tent, where we witnessed a roaring rendition of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” we found a food vendor with something that appeared to be similar to spätzle. We ordered a healthy serving of Schupfnudel, which are also called “finger noodles,” and in this case were cooked with sauerkraut and speck, which is the German’s answer to prosciutto.
We were on the prowl for spätzle, which is an egg noodle dish, which both Chef Abe and Pub Republic make excellent examples of. We learned later that spätzle is a northern Bavaria dish, so not normally served in the southern Bavarian city of Munich.
Our host Gaby took us out the next morning for a traditional Munich breakfast, in the meat-packing district, which certainly had me excited. The restaurant’s name, Gaststätte Großmarkthalle, translates roughly to “restaurant big hall” and is known for super fresh weisswurst sausages, simple but comfortable wood décor, and the best wheat beer I have ever tasted, which was a hazy wheat beer (yes, there are also clear versions) from Paulaner called a “weissbier.”