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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Really: a small battleship

My new Condé Nast Portfolio column is up, on Oktoberfest beer, here and at the Wies'n. You've probably heard that the stuff they serve there is different from the stuff we get here; you may or may not be surprised to learn that the stuff they serve lighter. Jeff Coleman, former Paulaner North America importer and now head of Distinguished Brands International (who bring in some truly good beers), tells a great little story about what happened when Paulaner decided to send over "real" Oktoberfest beer one year. I also reveal the result of a lot of serious math: the amount of beer served at Oktoberfest would literally float a small battleship, namely, the U.S.S. Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship from the battle of Manila Bay (currently tied up at Penn's Landing in Philly). Check it out.


Steven said...

Wonderful article Lew -- answers some questions and sheds some light, but I still wonder why the Germans evolved toward the lighter Fest style.

I have some pictures from my first Oktoberfest that I can send to Jeff -- circa 1990, the beer in our Maß (Maßen?) is not the blonde beer I enjoyed 2 years later at the Wies'n. And yes, as you point out, both styles are completely delicious and enjoyable.

I don't know if you've seen the 12 packs of this year's Hacker-Pschorr Okto, but it's interesting in that it reads, "Traditional Amber Märzen" Here's to tradition, but here's to good beer, in any color or consistency!

Lew Bryson said...

Strictly speculation, Steve, but...I'd think the most likely reason for the lighter fest style is the Müncheners' love for helles. Like helles, want lighter-colored beer. I certainly didn't have any problems drinking the 'lighter' festbier!

I think the Spaten packaging we get here has carried the legend "Ur-Märzen" for a number of years: "Original/Archetypal märzen." That can't be for the benefit of the general American customer; I think the Germans know this kind is more traditional. But...styles change, tastes change. As long as the beer's good!

erictrimmer said...


I was at a buddy's house last night and we were sampling Oktoberfest beers from Lancaster Brewing Co., Stoudt's and Warsteiner.

The yellow Warsteiner was the odd man out. Flavor profiles were all pretty similar, though.

Thanks for the education, Lew. You are a servant of the people.

You do the research so we don't have to!

Steven said...

"I certainly didn't have any problems drinking the 'lighter' festbier!"

Nor did I.

I always surmised that Spaten used the "Ur-Märzen" because of Sedlmayer and his contribution to the style.

One story to add; on a particularly rainy final day of one later trip to Oktoberfest, when a friend and I couldn't get into any of the crowded tents, we wandered back to a quaint Bierhall near our hotel (across from the Hauptbahnhoff) -- I believe it was a Spaten house, but my memory fades -- but they had the Amber Märzen on tap! Another later year we found it at the Paulaner Seehaus in the Englischer Garten.

Not sure just what's available in the hometown of Oktoberfest these days, but those Bierjägern days were pretty fun and rewarding!


Anonymous said...

FYI, technically speaking, with 2 forward guns and 2 rear guns Dewey's flagship was a Protected Cruiser...

Lew Bryson said...

Oh, absolutely: the Olympia was a cruiser, in a cruiser squadron. But that goes nowhere in these missile and naval air days. Cheers to the all-gun Navy.