This pandemic has claimed yet another victim, with this year’s Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich being cancelled for the second year in a row.
For those not familiar with the biggest beer bash in history, 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 18 to October 3, but was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.
Over the past 211 years, this is only the 26th time Oktoberfest has been cancelled due to world-shattering events like wars, cholera epidemics, and for the first time, a global pandemic. The first cancellation was due to a little man with a big temper kicking off the sixth chapter of the Napoleonic Wars by invading Bavaria in 1813. Up until these COVID times we find ourselves in, 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.
Origin Malting & Brewing in Strathmore experimented with a one-off Märzen brew a few years back, and it proved so popular that it is now available year-round. Enjoying with a salted pretzel or bratwurst sausage is optional, but highly recommended!
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 Munich Dunkel, a dark lager 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.
The Hefe seems to be the most popular from Fahr, an easy-drinking Hefeweizen (wheat beer) with notes of banana and clove from the unique yeast strain, and flavourful enough for the beer snobs while remaining non-intimidating for those raised on a steady diet of Coors Lite.
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, and can be found right now in cans at your favourite well-stocked beer store.
As an added bonus Brauerei Fahr hosted their own Oktoberfest Celebration in their hometown of Turner Valley last weekend, complete with outdoor beer tents, oom-pah bands, enough bratwurst to feed an army, and of course, plenty of the most authentic German beer this side of Munich!