Barreling through Oktoberfest

October 21, 2002|By KEVIN COWHERD

There are some who would say that my visit to this weekend's Oktoberfest put on by the Brewers Association of Maryland was a cheap, transparent excuse to carouse, but that was not it at all.

Oh, there was plenty of beer to be swilled at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, 35 beers in all, from 12 regional breweries. But we were also there for the food and live music and other festivities, although the sight of a half-dozen grown men in lederhosen and alpine hats near a bandstand naturally had me concerned.

Over the years, it's been my experience that the sight of men in lederhosen and alpine hats inevitably leads to an outbreak of accordion music. So we hustled in the opposite direction, before a woman named Helga could grab a microphone and introduce the six smiling men, after which the strains of that horrible instrument would surely fill the air.

We started our beer sampling at the stand of The Brewer's Art, the North Charles Street brewpub. Owner Volker Stewart poured me a taste of "Resurrection," a darkish, flavorful beer brewed in a style similar to that used by Belgian monks since the 16th century.

These are not beers for lightweights. "Resurrection" has an alcohol content of 7 percent, about double that of a Budweiser or Miller, and we followed that with a taste of "Ozzy," a rich, golden beer that is listed at 7.25 percent alcohol by volume.

This was followed by a taste of Marzen, a deep amber lager, at the stand of Alpenhof, a German-style brewery-restaurant in Ellicott City, and another Marzen called "Mad Bishop" from DuClaw Brewing Co. in Bel Air.

And this was followed by a long nap atop one of the picnic tables in the sampling area.

OK, I'm only kidding about the nap. As a veteran of quite a few beer-tastings, I've learned you really have to pace yourself. If you drink more than a tiny bit of each beer, pretty soon they all start tasting the same.

And pretty soon after that, you find yourself dancing on the hood of a 1998 Pontiac Trans-Am with a dark-haired woman named Marjorie, and that's when things can get ugly.

This Oktoberfest seemed to attract all kinds of people, though. After a couple of hours, I struck up a conversation with a serious beer aficionado named Dic Gleason, a former bar owner and home brewer from Denton.

I asked him what had happened to the "k" in his first name - this is the kind of subtle humor you tend to break out after a few strong beers.

But Gleason was smart enough to ignore this nonsense. Instead, he gave me his assessment of all the beers - he had sampled each brewery's stuff and pronounced the DuClaw beers as "by far my favorite."

Then, apropos of nothing, he suddenly announced he was a member of the Libertarian party. Revealing a T-shirt under his flannel shirt emblazoned with the name of Spear Lancaster, the Libertarian candidate for governor, he then went off on a delightful mini-rant about taxes and how they were killing him.

Well, I had no particular place to go and a few beers swilling in my gut, so I listened to him for a while. Then I went off to sample Baltimore Brewing Co.'s Marzen, lured in part by a hilarious T-shirt they were selling that showed a scuzzy beer-drinking fat guy flanked by two skinny women with beehive hair-dos and the greeting "Happy Oktoberfest, Hon!"

All told, about 4,000 attended this Oktoberfest, a large majority of them young people, which is what you tend to get when you put on a party with beer and live bands.

This was also evident by the, um, atmosphere in the men's room, which was disgusting and depraved and reminded you of the men's room scene at the old Colts games at Memorial Stadium, only without some idiot screaming "Gimme a C!"

It was while sampling "Oktober Festivus," a rich, medium-to-dark beer with the kick of a mule from Ryleigh's Brew Pub and Raw Bar on Cross Street in Federal Hill - "Every German in here has been back for one," owner Brian McComas said - that we began to think about food.

When you're sampling a lot of strong beers, it's essential to have something in your stomach. Otherwise, as the evening wears on, you will find yourself passed out on a trash can or jabbering incoherently or singing "Thunder Road" at the decibel level of a Concorde at takeoff.

So we decided to try some of the "authentic German cuisine" that had been advertised on the Oktoberfest flyers.

But it turned out you had to walk down a hill and over another hill and practically to Germany to get to the authentic German cuisine, so we settled for a bratwurst, which is German, sure, but probably came from Catonsville.

There are many other things to tell you about the music and the German dancing and the many other festivities at this Oktoberfest, but I see we have run out of space.

The beers were all excellent, though, particularly the ones from the Clap Pipe Brewing Co. in Westminster, which has a killer pale ale and a great golden ale.

We never saw the guys in lederhosen again, which was also excellent.

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