By Alexander D. Mitchell IV
Mention the word “Oktoberfest” to Americans, and they may picture many things: the raucous festivals in Germany in late September and early October, German-themed ethnic festivals in America with lederhosen and “oom-pah bands” playing polkas, or even just harvest festivals in areas settled by Germanic immigrants. But one thing usually is common to all of these: beer, and lots of it.
In central Maryland, Oktoberfest has become synonymous with the annual beer festival, now in its tenth year, held at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, this year on Oct. 8.
Although there are musicians playing German music and dancers performing in traditional German costume, the festival, now named Das Best Oktoberfest, is a joint production of the Trigger Agency, an events promotion company with years of experience in hosting beer and spirits festivals, and the Brewers Association of Maryland, a trade organization representing all breweries and brewpubs in Maryland–of which all happen to produce craft beers, as opposed to mass-market lagers. More than 80 beers from 15 different craft breweries in the state will be available. (National Bohemian, or “Natty Boh,” the vintage mass-production brand with marketing ties to the region, will not be on hand, as the current incarnation of the brand is brewed in North Carolina and not Maryland!)
The Oktoberfest is one of two annual showcase festivals for the Brewers Association, the other being the Springfest held in May in Frederick. The craft brewers of the state go beyond typical beer marketing at these festivals, using the presence of thousands of beer lovers to win converts to the higher quality, hand-crafted products of their breweries and brewpubs. For the craft beer aficionados and self-professed “beer geeks,” many of the breweries pour specially-prepared batches of beer using such tweaks as locally-grown hops, aging in bourbon or wine barrels, or one-off variations of recipes, all in seemingly a competition to offer the most unusual or esoteric beer. Some of the more than 80 beers on hand will be “cask-conditioned” ales, meaning the beers will be served unprocessed with all-natural carbonation from the fermentation itself–the brewery equivalent of fresh-baked bread or fresh-from-the-boat seafood.
Clipper City Brewing Co. of Halethorpe, a descendant of Maryland’s first brewpub, is planning to offer many beers from its Heavy Seas brand, including a three-year-old vintage of its Below Decks barley wine, and cask-conditioned Loose Cannon (a very hoppy and bitter ale) “wet-hopped” with Maryland-grown Cascade hops from the Black Locust Farm near Mt. Airy, Md., served from an oak cask. Other casks will be tapped at the top of each hour by the brewery’s founder and owner, Hugh Sisson.
In contrast, DuClaw Brewing, a small chain of “brewpubs” with a central house brewery in Abington, will appear with a trailer loaded with up to 25 of their offerings.
Other offerings will include the strongly English-style offerings of the Pratt Street Ale House and the Belgian-flavored offerings of The Brewer’s Art. If you want to stick to German-styled beers, seek out Ellicott Mills Brewing or The Raven Special Lager (the latter was originally brewed in Germany).
Tickets range from $20 to $35 and include six or 12 tokens for beer samples, with extra tokens at $1 each; designated drivers are $15. For more details, visit the event website.
The festival draws such a strong gathering of beers and their enthusiasts that when Baltimore Beer Week was founded in 2009, the week was planned in part for the Oktoberfest to be one of the prime events of the week. For those who can’t get enough of craft beer at the Oktoberfest, Baltimore Beer Week will provide them with enough options both before and afterwards to satiate their thirst and curiosity, including a cask-ale festival downtown a week later on Oct. 15. See www.baltimorebeerweek.com for more details.