As you’re reading this, there’s probably enough time left to catch a flight to Munich for the annual opportunity to drink copious amounts of hearty German beer from 1-liter tankards with 6 million of your closest friends. Ach du lieber!
On the other hand, if you don’t have the opportunity to stagger across the Theresienwiese (“Therese’s meadow,” where Munich pitches 14 mammoth beer tents) with the rest of the bierleichen (“beer corpses,” a popular German term for those who overindulge), you can still celebrate the Bavarian festival of Oktoberfest in Wisconsin.
The misnamed annual beer celebration begins on Sept. 20, at the moment Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter pounds the first spigot into the first keg and announces “O’zapt is!” — “It’s tapped!” Reiter’s stroke of the mallet will launch more than two weeks of malt-headed, well-hopped consumption that doesn’t conclude until the last drops are drained on Oct. 5.
The festival began in Munich, but it’s wildly popular elsewhere, including here in the Badger State. For the past half century, one of the largest celebrations has taken place in La Crosse — Oktoberfest, USA. This year’s installment convenes on the banks of the Mississippi River Sept. 25–28. Buy one beer or six, march in the parade of your choice, dance to the funk band Here Come the Mummies! on Saturday night, and then find a comfortable bar stool to watch the Packers once again defeat the Bears on Sept. 28 while you get cupshoten — aka drunk (oktoberfestusa.com).
That same weekend, New Glarus Brewing Co. brewmaster Dan Carey will don his lederhosen, tap a keg of, presumably, his brewery’s Staghorn Oktoberfest beer, and launch the Swiss community’s Oktoberfest celebration. The party begins Sept. 26 at 1 p.m., and runs through Oct. 28. Cheese fondue, a chain saw woodcarving competition and other events round out the weekend’s festivities (swisstown.com/festivals-2014).
In Milwaukee, consider the entire metro area a de facto Oktoberfest celebration during the latter half of September. Oktoberfest is the crown jewel of the city’s German heritage, and you can count on Mader’s Restaurant, 1041 N. Old World Third St., Karl Ratzsch’s German-American Restaurant, 320 E. Mason St., the Old German Beer Hall, 1009 N. Old World Third St., and many other businesses to pull a pint to celebrate Oktoberfest.
Want to start Oktoberfest early? Of course you do. Then drop by Glendale’s Heidelberg Park during the first four Fridays and Saturdays in September, where weekly Oktoberfest celebrations will take place at the Bavarian Fest Garten (oktoberfestmilwaukee.com).
Of course, you can always celebrate at home. Wisconsin has a number of locally available Märzenbiers, a dark Bavarian lager that’s considered the official beer of Oktoberfest. It’s brewed with either more hops or slightly more alcohol to better preserve it and give it a fuller flavor than most lagers. And it should be no surprise that Wisconsin’s got a lot of other German brews available to complement Märzen.
Here’s a mixed six-pack you might want to try.
Many German brewers still make Märzenbier, originally produced in the spring to last through the summer, the season in which Bavaria outlawed brewing to preserve quality. The most popular brands include Spaten Oktoberfest ($8.49 per six-pack), Weihenstephaner Oktoberfestbier ($7.99), from what claims to be the word’s oldest brewery, and Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen ($7.99).
Doppelbocks — a malty variant of the German lager with a little more firepower — have become increasingly popular. Two of the best are Spaten Optimator ($8.49 per six-pack) and Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock ($12.49 per four-pack.). The Optimator is rich and refined, with complex aromas and tasting notes; Celebrator is all that and more, with notes of toffee, caramel and a dark-malt roastiness.
For something truly unique and powerful, try a Kulmbacher Eisbock ($12.99 per six-pack). Discovered by accident, an eisbock — literally “ice bock” — is a doppelbock that has been intentionally frozen to concentrate its ingredients, resulting in enhanced flavor and greater alcoholic strength.
At 9.6 percent alcohol by volume, eisbock is a special treat best served in snifters rather than steins. After a little of that Teutonic tonic, you’ll be ready to leap into your lederhosen or don your dirndls and dance a sprightly polka on your patio. Your neighbors will understand — it’s Oktoberfest!