Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Happy September! It's Oktoberfest (or, "Märzen to the beat of a different drum")

So, who speaks German here?  I was stuck looking at the moving map of mein flug, but didn't know where I had to go zurück to change the language back to English.

Basically, my finger slipped and defaulted the language on my Delta trivia screen to German.  Usually, 20 rounds of flight trivia would sooth the monotony of a 5-hour flight, but it appeared my efforts were kaput.  Especially since all I know how to say in German is "ist das eine schneeballkampf?"

"Is this a snowball fight?" usually doesn't accomplish much...

No matter.  Thanks to the magical fairies that had bestowed the wonder of web connection on flights, I had something to do.  Granted, while this was a perfect opportunity to disconnect from the world for a few hours, I was shoveling shekels over to the "GoGo In-Flight Internet" tycoons like a crackhead.  Said tycoons, of course, being metaphorical dealers of irresistible, delicious, and wholesome New York crack.

Furthermore, my schnitzer with the Delta screen reminded me to write about German stuff.  Or at least German-American stuff.

Oktoberfest is a lie!  Well, sort of.  Technically, in Munich (where the original festival is held), this brouhaha starts in late September, and runs through the first weekend of October (or through October 3- German Unity Day- if the weekend falls on the first two days of October).  So, the 16-18 days of revelry fall mostly in September.  Itching to get cocked on strong, Oktoberfest-style beer?  Tuck in two weeks earlier than you thought!  A bierleichen in hand is worth two passed out in the bushes, I always say.

["Bierleichen", for the record, literally translates to "beer corpses".  It's a term used to describe the many people who pass out from the relatively strong style of beer served during Oktoberfest]

Fortunately/unfortunately, these beers are particularly delicious.  Though generally referred to as "Oktoberfest" beer, a more appropriate name is Märzen (pronounced "Maer-tsen") or Märzenbier.  These brews were named as such as I read it because- back in the good ol' days of brewing in Bavaria- there was no brewing allowed during the summer months, for threat of fire (in a process that involves a lot of that).  Beers were stored in caves and cellars with ice cut from local frozen ponds to keep them cool.  Since the ice was usually available until March, this beer was brewed then, and put down until fall, around the time September/Oktoberfest was cranking.

Interestingly enough, "storage" in German is translated "lager", and the process by which theses beers are made- slower fermentation at cooler temperatures- has earned the namesake of one of the 2 most popular general designations of beer (the other, of course, being ales).  The great difference in fermentation time and temp has mostly to do with the yeasts used.  Lager yeasts actively metabolize fermentable sugar at lower temps, and over a longer period of time.  Ale yeast tend to be quicker and more haphazard.

Lagers are generally noted for their crisp, clean nature, and their maltiness over hoppiness (again, generally speaking).  Märzen-style tend to bring a little more heft than a Pilsener-style lager (think most big-box American beers).  The alcohol hovers around 6%, they are darker (though, can be made in a light-colored style), and have a really rich, caramel maltiness to them.  The bitterness and acidity of hops tends to be dialed down.  Think "Brown Ale" with more "brown" and less "ale".

Contrary to popular belief, the German beers (like the Paulaner and Spaten shown above) are no longer required to be brewed in observance of the Reinheitsgebot, or the German beer purity law of 1516.  However, many still do, if only for marketing purposes.  Or, so they can say a bad-ass word like "Reinheitsgebot".

But, even if you don't want to risk getting tongue-tied with the extraordinarily unsexy German language, you can still drink the beer.  Lots of American brewers make pretty swell versions of a Märzen-style Oktoberfest brew.  I'm particularly fond of Brooklyn Brewing's effort.  As I am of all their beers.  Which is funny, because out of all the types of delicious New York crack, Brooklyn is my least favorite.

In any case, if you want to get your bierleichen on as the weather cools, the rich, fortifying taste of these beers will not disappoint.  Unless "rich and fortifying" is not your thing...

Which makes you weird.

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