Germans inspire much hoppiness during October


October 05, 1994|By ROB KASPER

The air is crisp, the sun is warm. The leaves are beginning to turn. It is great weather to drink beer. Thanks to the Germans, October is an official beer-drinking season. They invented Oktoberfest, which started off in 1810 as a big party celebrating the marriage of the Crown Prince of Bavaria, and continues to this day, even though the original bride and groom have not been seen for some time.

In Munich, I am told, partygoers tote their own radishes and sausages to the 16-day shindig. Here in Baltimore, the scene is somewhat similar. Radishes are scarce but whenever two or more people gather in October, sausage and beer usually show up, too.

The weather is golden now and so everybody and his brother seem to have an October festival. The Russians for instance, are having a festival at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church Oct. 15-16, The Maryland Lupus Foundation is having a beer-tasting Oct. 15 at Bohager's, the Czechs and Slovaks are having a festival Oct. 23 at the Tall Cedars of Lebanon Hall 45 in Parkville, and any time you turn off a main drag in October, you are likely to run into a block party.

When something is a big deal for the Germans, they make a beer in its honor. Some of their Oktoberfest beers get sent over to the United States, where people who aren't even German drink them. American brewers, have joined in the act, making good Oktoberfest beers.

As more and more Oktoberfest beers fill the beer aisles, I wonder if the breweries might be overdoing the seasonal beer routine. We now have summer wheat beers, winter warmers, and holiday brews. The brewers are beginning to behave like the Mad Hatter in "Alice In Wonderland," who celebrated everyday that wasn't his birthday.

I didn't worry about seasonal-beer overload too long, because I had 13 Oktoberfest beers from Germany and the United States to taste. I sipped them at a gathering at Sisson's restaurant in South Baltimore. Hugh Sisson, who both brews beer in his South Baltimore microbrewery and comments on the beer-making art for radio station WJHU-FM, was one of the sippers. Others were Dave Butcher, Dave Wells, and Tim Hillman from Rotunda Wine and Spirits. The 13 beers we sampled came from a number of area liquor stores. Prices of these Oktoberfest beers ranged from about $7 to $9 a six-pack.

We sipped, we scribbled. We were looking for traditional Oktoberfest beer, copper color, that had noticeable malt flavors and aromas, and not so noticeable hop flavors. When we announced our favorites, my top three were the same as the group's.

Top finisher was the Paulaner Oktoberfest from Germany. It had a chocolate malt flavor that almost made it taste like dessert. Second was Spaten, a German beer with a nutty flavor, a good malt ride. Third place went to Frankenmuth, from the Michigan town of the same name. My fourth favorite Oktoberfest brew was the caramel, malty beer made by Samuel Adams from Boston, then came the Hacker Pschorr from Germany which had a remarkable finish. I also liked the Hofbrau, another German, a good beer for the Oktoberfest beginner.

As for the other beers in the tasting, the Augsburger and Harpoon were respectively too light and too hoppy for me. The Dinkelacker and Beck's had off flavors, like something had gone wrong in the trip across the ocean. The EKU and Wurzburger were too light for me. Heineken's new wheat beer, Tarwebok, tasted sweet when compared to Oktoberfest beers.

A few days after ranking the bottled beers, I dropped by Todd Carpenter's house in Catonsville. For the last four years now, Carpenter and his fellow home brewer, Chris Ricketts, have held an autumn get-together for friends and family. The purpose of the gathering, Carpenter said, "was to share our beer . . . and to show off."

The party was in progress Saturday afternoon when I stopped by Carpenter's backyard. Some kids were playing soccer, some were flying through the air on a swing made from a car tire, others were getting their faces painted, others were feeding themselves chips and sausages.

Carpenter and the other adults were talking and drawing samples of the six brews -- a porter, a bitter, a Marzen, an American lager, a pilsner, and an ale -- made by him and four other home brewers.

It was good beer, and a good party.

It was, on the very first day of October, an Oktoberfest.

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