Where to celebrate Oktoberfest in Petaluma, and what will be served

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The name can be deceiving, but Oktoberfest traditionally starts at the end of September and runs through the first weekend in October. While some six million imbibers visit Munich each year for the big event, Petaluma has its own offerings for beer lovers ready to sample a variety of seasonal craft beer and German imports. These local venues will invite you to raise your glass at the mark of “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped).

Originally a non-alcoholic fete to celebrate the Bavarian royal wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Teresa, Oktoberfest now signals an autumn beer renaissance worldwide. In Munich, only six breweries — Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbrau and Lowenbrau — are commissioned to produce the official beverage for the three-week event.

Though Oktoberfestbier is a protected appellation reserved for those beers produced in Munich, import “Oktoberfest” beers are typically in the style of helles (pronounced “hell-us”) or wiesn. These malt-forward lagers show off a good froth and finish with a soft, herbal hop note, always encouraging another drink. American craft brewers tend toward a fall-flavored marzen in celebration of the season. Marzen is typically an amber lager with bready and toasty malt flavors, often balanced with floral and herbal Euro hops.

Using only barley, hops and water according to Bavarian purity laws from 1516 (Reinheitsgebot), German brewers produce complex varieties that are largely unmatched. Try marzen, helles and weissbier where you can find them, or sample the more potent helles bock, or darker dunkles bock or rauchbier (smoked-malt Marzen) in celebration of fall’s impending cool weather. American craft breweries are not as restricted in ingredients — autumn flavors yield seasonal and spicy browns, porters and smoky beers. The short Oktoberfest celebration season is a chance to try something new to you, but watch that you don’t become a Bierleichen or “beer corpse” — the Bavarian term for those who pass out after one too many.

Taps (54 E. Washington St.) pulls out all the stops when it comes to the main feature of Oktoberfest, which is the beer. They kick theirs off this week, on Sept. 20, with four authentic kegged German imports, including Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen, Weinhenstephaner FestBier, Hofbrau Oktoberfest and Ayinger Oktoberfest Marzen, as well as an Oktoberfest collaboration from Sierra Nevada/Weihenstephan. The special Bavarian food menu will be similar to last years, which included soft pretzels served with an incredible beer cheese sauce, schnitzel and spaetzle and likely some sort of braised pork dish. Although the beer and food menu start this week, guests can enjoy both over the next couple week. I highly recommend going with friends so you can try one of everything on both the beer and food menu.

Brewsters Beer Garden (229 Water St. N.) is the closest thing Petaluma has to a Bavarian beer garden, and will celebrate its second annual Oktoberfest on Saturday, Sept. 22, with Big Lou’s Polka Casserole performing free of charge from 1 to 5 p.m. The food menu hasn’t been revealed yet, but will feature traditional German fare. Early Saturday, Brewsters will tap into traditional hefeweizen and Oktoberfest beers from Sudwerk Brewing Company (Davis). Sudwerk is famous for its award-winning West Coast lagers, and this marzen is no exception with traditional German hops and a robust, sweet malt profile. The hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat, hints at spicy clove flavors accented by distinctive fruit flavors. Brewster’s will have beer pros on hand to discuss the beers and answer any questions.

The Block – Petaluma (20 Grey St.) with another great indoor/outdoor dining and drinking spaces, will feature four Oktoberfest beers on tap. Along with a weissbier from Redwood Curtain Brewing (Arcata), the German imports will be Hofbrau Original, Paulaner Oktoberfest and Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. All four will be available as a flight, or as full pints.

Dempsey’s (50 E. Washington St.) is foregoing the traditional marzen for a smoked black lager this season. Head brewer Andrew Floraday ventured into the organic beer market with Pigpen, a house-smoked Pilsner using organic hops and yeast.

Hermann Sons Hall (860 Western Ave.) holds their Oktoberfest on Sunday, Oct. 14, starting at noon, with the Parade of Flags at 1:30 p.m. and performances by Nature Friends Schuhplattler Folk Dancers at 1:45 p.m. The “Big Raffle” is at 4 p.m., with dancing to the Steve Balich Band throughout the afternoon. Tickets are $10 and available until Oct. 7 by calling 664-0375 or 778-8066. A word of warning, they often sell out. If any are available at the door, they are $12, so I suggest you don’t risk it. Although they usually do not have German beer, they do serve an excellent bratwurst dinner for an additional $12. Even if we can’t attend the event, we usually stop in to grab a couple dinners (and desserts) to go.

OctoBEER Fest is Monday, Oct. 15, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Lagunitas (1280 N. McDowell Blvd.) This is an annual fundraiser for the Trevor Smith Memorial Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping Petaluma youth in athletics, drama and education. Tickets are $30 at Eventbrite until Oct. 10. Along with appetizers, Bavarian-style food and desserts, guests can participate in games and bid on auction items. Live music is provided by the Renovators. (After Oct. 10, tickets are available at the door for $40.)

Worth the trip: One of our favorite beers this season is the Sierra Nevada Weihenstephaner collaboration Oktoberfestbier. To experience a big-league American Oktoberfest celebration, head to Chico’s Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest on Sept. 28-29, or Oct. 5-6. A ticket is $52.50 and gets you a Sierra Nevada beer stein, filled with great beer, authentic German music, shuttle transportation to the event and traditional German food (plus cupcakes). For those truly dedicated beer-drinkers, Wisconsin’s New Glarus is famous for its highly crafted Oktoberfest beer, which you can try at its Bavarian-style celebration Sept. 27 and 28.

Take it home: If you see these prototype German imports on draught or in the bottle, give them a go: Ayinger Oktober Fest Marzen, Erdinger Oktoberfest, Paulaner Original Münchner Marzen, Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Marzen, Schönramer Gold and Lowenbrau Original. (Many of these are available as single bottles at Willibees, Petaluma Market and BevMo). Other American craft Oktoberfest available in the bottle: Samuel Adams Octoberfest (Massachusetts), Saranac 1888 Octoberfest (NY), Karl Strauss Oktoberfest (San Diego) and Ballast Point Dead Ringer (San Diego).

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