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.