At Oktoberfest, eventually you're gonna hit the wall

October 17, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

THERE IS SOMETHING THAT COMPELS me to spend a perfect fall day once a year drinking fine microbrews and mingling with grown men in lederhosen and frauleins in dirndl costumes with plunging necklines, although what that is may be too dark to discuss here.

Nevertheless, that's why I was at the 4th annual Maryland Brewer's Oktoberfest at the Timonium Fairgrounds this past weekend, where 11 different breweries offered 65 different microbrews for sampling, and some 12,000 beer fans sampled them all, including one with a whopping 16.2 percent alcohol by volume (or abv) that tasted like Exxon Supreme, which we'll discuss later.

An added attraction at this Oktoberfest was a rock-climbing wall where, for five bucks, you could climb 25 feet or so and risk breaking your neck.

To me, it seemed like an odd pairing: rock-climbing at a beer fest, sort of like having a sword-fighting booth at a wine-tasting.

But I watched a man named Derek Dauberman, 24, from Highland, who confessed to having drunk "five or six" beers, strap himself into a harness and climb rather effortlessly to the top.

Dauberman said he climbed the wall for the most elemental of reasons: "I was offered a beer if I got to the top."

Sure enough, five of his friends stood by with raised beer glasses, cheering him on.

And this explained, better than anything else, the presence of the rock-climbing wall: young men, fueled by beer and testosterone, would accept dares all day to climb the thing, and the owners would walk away with fistfuls of money.

Making our way past the Legendary Edelweiss Band -- "Performing all day!" said a sign -- our first stop was the booth of one of our favorite breweries, Clay Pipe Brewing Co. out of Westminster.

Besides its great beers, what I like about Clay Pipe is its no-nonsense approach to its business, which Gregg Norris, the president and brewmaster, sums up this way: "No chicken wings. No karaoke nights. Just brewing."

Clay Pipe is a small brewery, producing only about 1,500 barrels a year. (By comparison, the Boston Brewing Co., makers of Samuel Adams beer, produces more than 1 million barrels a year).

But Clay Pipe beers have a big taste, which was reaffirmed when Norris poured us a sample of Backfin Pale Ale, his most popular beer, and something called Pursuit of Happiness Winter Warmer, a hoppy barley wine with a hefty 8.2 percent abv.

Most mass-market beers in this country have an abv of about 5 percent, so the Pursuit of Happiness can indeed put you on the road to Happiness -- or the road to Oblivion if you have too many.

Anyway, whatever buzz we had going from Pursuit of Happiness vanished when we stopped at the booth of Barley and Hops Grill and Microbrewery in Frederick, where we sampled their Oktoberfest Bier.

Oh, it wasn't the beer -- or, um, bier -- which was malty and flavorful and Oktoberfesty. It was the conversation.

"I don't read The Sun," said owner Gary Brooks when I introduced myself. " I read The Washington Post."

When he saw the stricken look on my face -- the Post? Who reads that rag? -- he laughed.

"Actually, I don't read the Post, either," he said. "I read the Frederick News-Post."

I felt like saying: "Oh, yeah? Well, I don't drink your beers. What do you think about that, pal?"

But that seemed petty and small-minded, and you never want to box yourself into a corner in terms of opportunities to drink good beer.

If it interests you at all, our two favorite beers at this year's Oktoberfest were the Kolsch, a pale gold German-style ale from Brewer's Alley Restaurant, and the Balto MarzHon, a copper-colored, malt-flavored gem from the venerable Clipper City Brewing Co., right here in town.

Late in our beer-tasting odyssey, we wandered over to the DuClaw Brewing Co. booth. DuClaw has four brewpubs in the area, and I'm a big fan of its Blonde ale and Misfit Red amber ale, which I've had many times at their Fells Point place.

But this time, standing in line for a sample, I made a big mistake.

Looking up, I saw a sign for a beer called Deception. Then, in smaller print underneath, I saw this: 16.2 abv.

Then I pointed to the sign and heard myself saying, as if in a dream: "I'll try one of them."

Well.

Who knows why we do the things we do? Who knows why we ignore the voice of reason, why we're so often seduced by the unknown and the dangerous?

Who knows why we walk on the wild side?

Immediately after taking the first sip, two thoughts leaped into my mind.

No. 1, beer should never, ever, taste like this.

And No. 2, where was that rock-climbing wall?

Oh, yeah. Hip surgery or no, it was time to give that baby a shot.

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