Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Augtoberfest in Oshkosh

I spend a dumb amount of time wandering down the beer aisle ogling the labels on brown bottles. If you do too, then you must have noticed that Oktoberfest-style beers have bloomed like blue-green algae on Lake Winnebago in July. In Oshkosh, there are already Oktoberfest beers on the shelves from Point, Capital, and Central Waters, just to name a few. Like that algae, this shit just ain’t natural. Or is it?

Traditionally, this Bavarian-style of lager was brewed in March; hence it’s also often referred to as Märzen, the German word for March. It was aged cold in stone beer caves over the summer months for release in late summer or early fall. Those earlier, mid-1800s, Märzenbiers were actually more like dunkels than the current Oktoberfest beers. The beer we now know as Oktoberfest didn’t come into being until 1872, making its debut at the Oktoberfest celebration that year. Got it? Perhaps not and I think that’s my point.

The idea of certain types of beer being released at specific dates is sort of a ridiculous proposition these days. Most seasonal beers were born out of technical limitations that constricted brewers. Their fermentations were at the mercy of the weather. Beers tended to come out at specific times of the year because brewers had little other choice. Obviously, that’s no longer the case. I can home brew an Oktoberfest-style beer in August (in fact I did this year) almost as easily as I can make a warm-fermented Belgian-style saison.

Granted, on a steaming August afternoon, a fresh (and warm fermented) wheat beer tends to go down more comfortably than a chewey Baltic porter. When it’s late at night, though, and you’re sitting inside with the air conditioner running, that Baltic porter can really hit the spot. There’s just no point in clinging to these hoary limitations. The brewers who developed these styles were not in love with such restrictions. If they were, IPAs would still be brewed for a limited time each fall and aged for a year before being released. I don’t think the hop heads would want that.

Besides, it’s wishful thinking to believe beer makers are not going to try and get the jump on their competition by releasing their beer early. This has been going on forever. Trying to stop it is hopeless. Here’s just one example: throughout the mid-to-late 1930s, the United States Brewers Association continually implored its membership to hold off on releasing their seasonal bock beers until March. When that didn’t work they suggested late February. The USBA was roundly ignored. Brewers continued releasing their bocks whenever the hell they wanted and if they beat their competitors to the punch, so much the better. You think today’s craft brewers would be any more manageable? Forget it.

Personally, haven't gone all in on the Oktoberfests this year. Not yet, at least. I love the style, but I still get a slight twinge of disgust when I see the beer hitting the shelves in July. That’s just my prejudice. It won’t be too long before I start filling my refrigerator with malty, amber lager. Actually, I may have just talked myself into picking some up today. Tradition only goes so far. If I was going remain hidebound to the beers that were traditional to me, I’d still be drinking Huber and Bohemian Club. And you might still be slurping Miller Lite. No.


  1. I think the reason why it gets our goats is because these beers are deemed ss "special", these seasonal styles, and we want to hold onto that feeling. its like Walmart putting up Christmas in October and tearing it down before Dec25... it cheapens something that we treasure for reasons hard to explain

    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Tim. It's something to look forward to and when it's available all the time, that feeling is lost.