I am frequently asked two questions this time of year: why is Oktoberfest in September and what is the difference between ales and lagers? While I am no cicerone (the beer equivalent of sommelier), I do know a few and have spent some time around master brewers.
So, let’s tackle the first question. Oktoberfest originally did take place in October in the city of Munich in, what was the time, Bavaria. In 1810, Prince (later, King) Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and the happy couple decided to throw open the castle grounds and invite their people in to celebrate the nuptials. The following year, they added in horse races and sought to boost Bavarian agriculture to tourists and surrounding regions. Now, anyone who lives in Colorado knows that October can give us some amazing fall days…and then dump two feet of snow on us. The same is true in Bavaria. By shifting the fest to September, the agriculture they sought to highlight would be at its peak, the days were longer (which meant more time for singing, drinking, and eating), and the weather would be much more accommodating. Brewers added their contribution by developing a lighter, smoother, and easier drinking beer and began producing a fall inspired Märzen lager, what modern breweries will hail as their “Oktoberfest” beer.
Sadly, the actual Oktoberfest was canceled in both 2020 and 2021 due to the virus…but here’s a hope that steins will once again be lifted in celebration as “Ein Prosit” is sung in beer tents, halls, and stubes in 2022. In the mean time, let’s have our own celebration of local breweries, German food, and moonshine distillers.
We will kick off our tasting with three wines: Grüner Veltliner (Austria), Trocken (Dry) Riesling (Germany), and Blaufränkish (Austria.)
Up first, we will be tasting one of my favorite white wines, Grüner Veltliner from Weingut Knoll. Known for bright acidity and dry finish, Grüner sings with stone fruit notes: peach, apricot, with additional notes of apple and pear, and citrus adding in the acid and honey smoothing it all out, the minerality of the soil brings it all together. This is THE wine for Thanksgiving, my turkey (or ham) and stuffing are never without it…today, we will pair this with some wonderful German potato salad and venison wurst from local German restaurant, Edelweiss.
We will then shift gears to our German wine on the tasting, a dry (Trocken) Riesling from the Mosel, this lush and perfect representation of Riesling will take us back a better time, 2019. The soft pear and peach notes are not overwhelmed by the hints of smoke and the mouthfeel is silky and smooth. The finish is a delight and will be an amazing pairing with our pumpkin soup or vegan green chili sandwich from The French Kitchen or the Flammkuchen from Edelweiss. This is another great wine to consider for your Thanksgiving table!
Our lone red wine on today’s tasting may remind you of a light Burgundy (Pinot Noir), and is a fun, easy sipping wine with balanced acidity and subtle tannins. Grown in much of central Europe, this Austrian Blaufränkish (known as Lemberger in the US) from Evolucio immediately calls to mind cranberries, craisins soaked in cherry juice, and a slightly funky blackberry jam. We will be pairing this wonderful (also, a great choice for your holiday table) with Rouladen (a beef dish) from Edelweiss. It would also be amazing with Jägerschnitzel, but Mandy put the kibosh on my favorite German food. Darn her issues with mushrooms.
Heading over to our beers, we have three, all in the classic German styles of their namesakes (one is actually German!) As I mentioned at the beginning, I am often asked the difference between ales and lagers and if pilsners are lagers. While all pilsners are lagers, not all lagers are pilsners. And, ales, which developed in the British Isles, use a warm fermenting process and yeast that floats at the top of the mash. This means a shorter fermentation time where the hops are not overwhelmed by the yeast and you get all the fun fruit, floral, spice notes from the hops used. Lagers, which hail from colder climates such as Germany, Poland, Belgium, use a yeast that prefers a colder fermentation temperature and is a bottom fermenting process. This means fermentation, due to temperature and bottom fermentation, takes a lot longer, mellowing the hop influence and more of the malty yeast to shine.
Germany also has established what kinds of hops can be used in their beers (the only ingredients allowed are barley, water, and hops.) The Reinheitsgebot, or Beer Purity Law, stipulates that only Hallertau, Saaz, Spalt, and Tettnang hops can be used in German beer. Each one of these “noble hops” impart special notes to the beers produced in Germany and probably why German beer, imho, is the best stuff out there. We will be trying my favorite beer, a Dunkel lager, fresh from the keg, as well as these two offerings from local breweries.
Up first will be our Kölsh, which is actually a warm fermented like an ale and then smoothed or conditioned at cooler temperatures like a lager. It is a hybrid of an ale and lager and a lovely pale beer, which will pair amazingly with the pretzels and mustard, German salads, and the wursts. Called Forest Blonde and coming from Black Forest Brewing Company, we will start with this fun day drinking beer before moving on to our festbier.
Out of Arvada, from New Image Brewing, our No-Toberfest is a traditional Märzen lager, with all the hints of fall (baking spices, malt, yeast bread) and is going to be a great pairing with the Rouladen, wurst, and flammkuchen. This beer would also pair well with any type of schnitzel.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a fall tasting without something to keep you warm on cool fall evenings around an outdoor fire. Our friends at 3Hundred Days of Shine have released their fall shine: Pumpkin Spice. Now, I get there are folks out there who hate the spice…I am not one of them. I am pretty sure Frank Herbert was referring to pumpkin spice when he declared in his classic science fiction novel, Dune, that spice is life. “He who controls the spice, controls the universe.” (Dune is my favorite all time novel and I read it every year. I am finishing my annual read up now in preparation for the movie that debuts in October…coincidence that it is coming out the very month we celebrate pumpkins and their magnificent spice? I think not.) I will be pairing this delightful shine (and the Apple Pie shine for those non-spice believers) with our desserts…but honestly, this could be dessert all on its own. I hope to make an Old Fashioned using this, but we’ll see if I can get my act together in time to do so. I got a lot going on tomorrow!
That wraps up this month’s Thirsty Thursday segment. We will be getting ready for the holidays next month, so if you have questions, drop me a line here or on my website, The Wine Yogi.