It's Oktoberfest season.
In Munich, Germany, the Oktoberfest tradition dates back to a circa-1805 party held to celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen with horse races, parades, an agricultural show, and, yes, beer drinking. Two hundred years later, the celebration begins in mid-September and runs two-and-a-half weeks, ending the first weekend in October. The festival opens with a 12-gun salute and a ceremonial keg-tapping by Munich's mayor. The pomp and circumstance is followed by a public celebration that draws millions of people to beer tents to drink brews that conform to the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, which was originally adapted by Bavaria, Munich's state, in 1516.
When I attended an Oktoberfest party in a friend's Central Gardens backyard on September 24th, it was so hot outside that the host had to change out of his traditional knee-length leather trousers into shorts long before the night was over. Still, the evening was a blast. We dined on brats and drank several varieties of Oktoberfest-inspired beers, including a keg from Ghost River and cases of beer from Wiseacre, Bell's, and Spaten.
Now that it's actually October, cooler temps mean that these heartier beers are becoming big sellers at taps around town. My growler recommendations include several varieties I tried at the party. All are widely available in the Memphis area — through the end of the month, at least. Drink now, or forever hold your peace.
Up first: Bell's Octoberfest Beer, from Michigan-based Bell's Brewery, which isn't too sweet, with notes of dry toasted malt. Bell's has a 5.5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) and goes down smoothly, with a very clean taste.
Next, Wiseacre's new kid on the block, a Märzen, or full-bodied lager, with a pedigree that harkens all the way back to Bavaria. Wiseacre's Märzen, dubbed Gemütlichkeit Oktoberfest, has a 5.9 percent ABV and finishes clean with a toasted, malty taste. It's hard to believe that it was brewed right here on Broad Avenue.
Ghost River has its own Märzen ale, also called Oktoberfest, available in bottles and kegs through the end of this month. The roasted malts give it a caramel taste that reminds me of Samuel Adams OctoberFest, a pale malt blend that has the unique distinction of being the only American Oktoberfest-style beer poured in Munich during this year's celebration.
I'm happy to see bottles of Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest on local grocery store shelves. The Wisconsin-brewed beer is a traditional Märzen with a 5.1 percent ABV, but it has spicy notes that really perk up my taste buds. Grab a six-pack if you see it.
Also of interest: Memphis Made is currently brewing a wheaty Greenswarden Hefeweizen, with a 5.7 percent ABV. The brewery, located on the northern edge of the Cooper-Young neighborhood, conceived this beer for a Support the Greensward event and plans to keep it on tap through October.
And this Saturday, High Cotton Brewing Company is holding their third annual Oktoberfest from noon to 5 p.m. outside of their location at 598 Monroe. They'll serve Bavarian fare provided by Central BBQ and have a bevy of limited-release beers on tap, including a pilsner, a Hefeweizen, and an Oktoberfest lager with 5.7 percent ABV. High Cotton's riff on the Reinheitsgebot laws yields a dark amber beer with a complex maltiness. It's rich, but has a very clean finish.
High Cotton partner Ryan Staggs describes the Oktoberfest celebration as "a big, all-inclusive block party with free-flowing taps." Ticket prices range from $10 to $40, with free admission to kids 9 and under.
It's October. Go drink beer. It's the law.