It’s that time of year again – the air is crisp, leaves are turning colors, the days are getting shorter, and the Packers are back to their winning ways. But there’s another cause for celebration this time of year – Oktoberfest!
Most people think of Munich’s Oktoberfest as a raucous, adult version of Disneyland, and it certainly lives up to that reputation, but it actually began as a large wedding reception. In October of 1810, the Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, and all the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the celebration. Apparently, everyone had so much fun that they decided to do it again the next year. 201 years later, they still celebrate in Theresa’s Meadow.
Here in Wisconsin, we have plenty of our own Oktoberfest celebrations. La Crosse, Appleton, and Milwaukee all have large festivals, but there are countless smaller celebrations throughout Wisconsin in late September and early October. All the larger ones have come and gone this year, but you can still head out to the Lorelai Inn in Green Bay on October 8th to listen to some polka and drink real German lager.
Oktoberfest is best known for its beer, and the traditional style is actually called Märzen. This is a relatively strong beer of around 6% alcohol with a rich, toasty malt characteristic. Before modern refrigeration, it was nearly impossible to brew beer in the summer, so this was the last beer brewed in March. It was held in cellars to condition over the summer, and was finally opened in October. Most Oktoberfest beers have changed over the years to accommodate a more mainstream palate, but if you’re interested in trying the original just head out to Festival and pick up a sixer of Spaten Ur-Märzen.
Oktoberfest is also known for its wonderful food, and sausage is the main attraction. When I worked on the design of our beer brat, the Shebeergan, I wanted to re-create a traditional, German bratwurst. German sausage meisters are known for their subtlety, so we went for a mild seasoning profile containing white pepper, black pepper, cardamom, and mace. We also wanted some malty sweetness that would go great with a beer, so we visited with the friendly folks at Hinterland Brewery in Green Bay and settled on their Amber Ale to use in our formulation.
If you still haven’t gotten enough Oktoberfest, why not create your own celebration at home? Even if you don’t have any lederhosen, you can make a simple German-Wisconsin feast of Gilbert’s Craft Sausages and traditional German potato salad.
Beer Brats on Pretzel Rolls with Kraut
- 4 Gilbert’s Craft Sausages Shebeergan Beer Brats
- 1-2 bottles Spaten Ur-Märzen beer
- 1 white onion
- 2 tbsp butter
- 4 Pretzel Buns from the Festival Foods Bakery
- 1 cup Sauerkraut
- Dusseldorf Mustard
- Dill Pickle Slices
Cut onion in half. Slice one half into rings and dice the other. In a large sauce pan, combine the onion rings, butter, and beer. Add the Gilbert’s Craft Sausages Shebeergan Beer Brats and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Finish brats on the grill to caramelize the beer. Slice pretzel buns, apply butter and grill open side down (optional). Place brats in buns and top with Dusseldorf mustard, sauerkraut, diced onions, and pickle slices.
German Potato Salad (House & Garden, February 1957)
- 8 slices bacon
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 4 teaspoons chopped onion
- 2/3 cup vinegar
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon powdered dry mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon crumbled whole rosemary leaves
- 2 quarts cooked diced potatoes
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, drain and crumble. Add flour and onion to the bacon fat left in the pan. Stir in vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices. Cook only until mixture is of medium thickness. Add to potatoes, parsley and crumbled bacon. Mix carefully to prevent mashing the potatoes.