This pandemic just keeps getting worse. First it took away all the toilet paper. Then we had to endure the train wreck that was Tiger King, followed by the murder hornets, wildfires, and home-destroying hailstorms. Adding insult to injury, Oktoberfest, the world’s biggest beer festival, was supposed to start next week, but has become but the latest casualty of these COVID times we live in.
Oktoberfest’s regal beginnings were on October 12, 1810, as a public party in Munich for the royal wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony. The anniversary of the event was celebrated each year with increasing enthusiasm.
Things started heating up in 1816 when carnival booths were added to the festival, and in 1819, the elder statesmen of Munich took over the festival management, making it an even more raucous affair.
It was back in 1816 that the city fathers of Munich decided to take advantage of the warmer weather in September, and extend the one-day event to start two weeks prior to the first Sunday in October. This year’s event was supposed to run from September 19 to October 4, but was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.
Over the past 210 years, this is only the 25th time Oktoberfest has been cancelled due to world-shattering events like wars, cholera epidemics, and the like. The last time Oktoberfest was missed was in 1945, when Germany was a bit too preoccupied with WWII to host a beer festival.
The traditional beer consumed at Oktoberfest is not your average sipping beer – Oktoberfest is a time for swilling large mouthfuls from your stein glass to wash down spicy bratwurst sausages. Oktoberfest beers are derived from an old Vienna style of brew with a reddish hue caused by the sugars being caramelized while the beer is being brewed.
Early Bavarian brewers picked up the style from their Austrian neighbors, and refined into the smooth-tasting lagers that are referred to as an Oktoberfest-style brew, also commonly known as Märzen, the German word for the month of March, which is when this beer is traditionally brewed, and then aged (or lagered) for many months until being released for Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest-styled brews are a bit rare here in Alberta, but we do have a few local breweries making authentic German beers, which I have been enjoying in abundance this month.
At our local pride and joy Township 24 Brewing, a small batch of Märzen was made available a few weeks ago as a taproom-only release, which convinced me to venture out of the fortress of solitude I have been shuttered away in since the pandemic began, and enjoyed a pint or two while safely distanced on their small but beautiful patio.
Origin Malting & Brewing in Strathmore also released a Märzen last month, enticing me to visit their patio for a giant bratwurst sausage that I washed down with a frosty pint of Märzen.
Looking a little south to Turner Valley, Brauerei Fahr is perhaps the most authentic German brewery this side of Munich. The brewmaster grew up in a small German village, and moved to Alberta to complete a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Calgary.
While his schooling was originally intended to focus on industrial processing, the beer lovers of Alberta rejoiced when he decided to open a craft brewery in 2015, putting those engineering skills to good use in designing and constructing a brewery in the small town of Turner Valley, about an hour southwest of Chestermere.
While all the beers are German styles, my favourite is the Dunkelweizen, a dark wheat beer using a centuries-old strain of yeast sourced from the Weihenstephaner Brewery in Germany, which has been continuously operating for nearly a thousand years.
Dunkelweizen is a dark version of the Hefeweizen wheat beer style (dunkel=dark), and has the same banana and clove notes as the lighter Hefeweizen style, but adds toasted grains and burnt cocoa notes from the dark roasted malts.
Brauerei Fahr puts out a seasonal Oktoberfest brew every year, a strong amber lager that weighs in at 6.1% ABV. This brew has been extensively lagered (aged) at cool temperatures for a smooth finish, so look for it at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant for the most authentic frosty pint of Oktoberfest this side of Munich!