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It’s Tapped! Exploring the Origins of Oktoberfest



It really is something to see millions of Germans gathering together to celebrate a wedding that took place some 200-plus years ago. Or rather, it would have been, but, like the Memphis in May festivals, Oktoberfest 2020 was canceled. In fact, my daughter's entire semester abroad was canceled, which was heartbreaking for her but saved me the cost of a dirndl — one of those St. Pauli Girl traditional festival get-ups.

The old Erika's Restaurant aside, Memphis' German roots are thin, to say the least. The name Murff is a corruption of a German name from what is now Switzerland, where a pair of my ancestors got hired to come over and fight our revolution and never went back. Our two cultures do share an undying bond over schwein (that's pork to most of you). The Germans have preparations that even a Memphian finds baffling: They'll serve you a pork knee and it looks exactly like what it is.

Wiseacre’s Oktoberfest - RICHARD MURFF
  • Richard Murff
  • Wiseacre’s Oktoberfest

And, of course, they wash it all down with beer. So I bought a six-pack of Wiseacre's Oktoberfest Gemütlichkeit Märzen Lager to celebrate the virtually nonexistent ties between Memphis, Tennessee, and Munich, Bavaria.

Oktoberfest was started in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of local Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa of Saxe-Hildburghauser. The Bavarian hoi polloi weren't exactly invited to the wedding, but they were invited by the royal couple to celebrate at a respectful distance — and hopefully downwind. Even today, the field used for the 16- to 18-day festival is called (officially) Therassenwiesse "Theresa Meadow." The shindig was such a blast they all decided to do it again in 1811. After that, no one could think of a reason not to have it.

Oktoberfest is not just a festival where people drink a lot of beer (although they do; in 2013 they polished off 7.7 million litres of the stuff). It is a festival where they drink a lot of Oktoberfest beer. It's märzen lager made specially for the festival and is traditionally 2 percent higher in alcohol than normal lagers — because we all need a little help pregaming. And apparently always have.

Since the happy couple wed, there have been only 25 years where the festival has been canceled, mostly due to war and, this year, the plague. The Nazis renamed it Grossdeutsches Volkfest, which means "Greater German Folk Festival" — because those humorless bastards would. They canceled it for their war.

To wit: Wiseacre's Oktoberfest Gemütlichkeit Märzen Lager — weighing in at 5.9 percent ABV — sticks to the traditional style. You'll see that it is a little darker than the pilsner lager; not heavier, mind you, just a touch toastier. There is a lot of flavor and a maltiness that ultimately drinks clean and neat.

Which brings us back to the pork. This is a beer that works well with barbecue, hamburgers, roast chicken, or even the dreaded pork knee. Which, honestly, wasn't that bad; it was more that the concept was bent.

I have a friend who owns part of a brewery in North Carolina. He told me he wasn't into making a pilsner "with a twist," but just making the best pilsner, or IPA, out there. In their first year, Brown Truck Brewing won a national medal, so maybe they were onto something. Wiseacre's take on the festival beer fits that mold: If there is a twist, I don't know where it is. This is simply a great Oktoberfest beer. One that makes me wish I could hear that barking "O'zapft is!" (It's tapped) in the Munich fall.

Or that I'd actually had to fund the dirndl I'd promised Littlebit. I'd extracted a promise in exchange for this lavish gift that she'd send me pictures. The before pictures only. Dad never needs to see the after-party shots.

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