Ah, Oktoberfest. For all out in beerland it is a time of great historical importance. For us here at DCBeer it means a time of great inebriated celebration and indigestion in and around our nation’s capital. Germans depart from their daily “helles” lagers, consumed year round, and the Oktoberfest offerings flow freely. With attendants in the millions, American Oktoberfest organizers have a serious uphill battle to conceive and construct an event that rivals the manifold mayhem in Munich.
Promoters work feverishly to get as many people into their event as possible, or they take an inverse approach and concoct an intimate get together designed to honor Bavarian traditions (think of ChurchKey honoring Franconian brewers with 10 kegs from the region offered, comparatively to the Capital City Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest where the focus is less concentrated but offers great variety). So while we dream of a Munich-sized Mardi Gras that would see millions of peaceful beer-lovers lining Constitution Avenue, let us not look down our noses at local events. Small events allow the ticket buyer/beer drinker to take their time with each sample, asking as many questions as they want. The big-bad beer fests offer a dizzying array of beers typically both Bavarian and domestic. However it is likely your pourer will not be associated with the breweries’ samples they are handing out.
One local event that often gets snubbed is Das Best Oktoberfest, which just completed its 3rd Annual run at the National Harbor. While pure speculation, I would argue that there would have been a difference if all Oktoberfest goers would read Jay Brooks’ article on his top 10 festival pet peeves . I happened to spot, a few times throughout the day, attendees escorted to the exit by event security and some of Maryland’s finest. Just remember, if Paris Hilton isn’t too big to be banned from the word’s largest fest, neither are you.
Das Best Oktoberfest can’t compare to Munich’s numbers. Regardless, the number of beers offered is impressive. There are some great breweries, local and international in scope, to sample. The Chimay (in bottles), available exclusively in the VIP tent, was the first to go. The hottest local standout at the festival was Evolution Craft Brewing Company with four very solid offerings. Evolution brought their Rise Up Stout, Lucky 7 Porter, Lot No.3 IPA and their fall seasonal, Jack Au Lantern pumpkin ale. Fermented with a Belgian yeast strain, the Jack Au Lantern was a crowd favorite. Their IPA was the hophead favorite. Certainly a Heavy Seas Hop3 Loose Cannon firkin would have provided competition, were it not for the stainless steel cask sitting atop an entrance table in direct sunlight (gutes bier, schlechtes Fräulein!). This would have been a great introduction to “real ale” for many first-timers but alas the handlers did not take proper care of the quality cask they had bestowed upon them.
Perhaps the least favorite beer of the day went to one that is normally considered one of Bamberg’s finest. American palates are often unfamiliar with smoked malt and its intricacies (when people use SRM as a judge, they tend to think of porter and stout as polar opposites of “light” beer) one rauchbier proved to be too smoky for many festival attendees. Advertised by volunteers as “bacon beer,” a friend confided, “tastes like camping.”
If you are a purist you may take offense to the drastic differences between American Oktoberfests and the real deal. However, if you can make peace with the fact that American IPAs and Belgian ales are going to be offered at the Oktoberfest there’s a lot to gain from the experience. In earlier years I would have scoffed when the volunteer pouring my Jack Au Lantern had no idea that this may be the sole beer, next to Chimay, to use a Belgian yeast out of the massive list of offerings. This year I felt honored that I could depart some information and carry a fact-forward conversation in what was a short time at the booth.
If you missed out on the fests Saturday and Sunday, fear not, there’s another Das Best (better?) to attend. Das Best Oktoberfest (the original) comes to the Timonium State Fairgrounds on October 9th.
Did you attend Das Best last weekend? Let us know your thoughts on the festival in the comments.