Oktoberfest, or should I say, OktoberFaust, is here!
Our OktoberFaust is officially on draft, and in honor of Oktoberfest, our Brew Master, Ray, collaborated with our Executive Chef, Chris, (with a little help from me!) to write this article to shed some light on the history and brewing process of a Marzen Style Lager, as well as some interesting tips and tricks for cooking with this flavorful beer.
One of the most famous annual events in Germany, Oktoberfest conjures up visions of decorated beer tents, musicians in lederhosen and oompah bands, and women clad in traditional dirndls serving steins full of beer to thirsty patrons.
The origin of this annual festival comes from the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese, and the parade assembled to honor their marriage in 1810. Since 1850, the parade has become an annual event, featuring thousands of people in traditional costumes as they walk through Munich towards the Oktoberfest. The celebration runs from late September until first weekend in October, and begins on the first day at noon with the lord mayor of Munich tapping the first keg of beer, which shares the festival's namesake, and declaring " O'zapft ist!" which means, "It is tapped!"
A traditional Oktoberfest beer, or Märzenbier, is a German lager first introduced by the Spaten Brewery as a result of a joint effort between Spaten's Gabriel Sedlmayer and Anton Dreher of Vienna. The term lager, which is German for "to store," came about from the process in which this type of beer was first made. Before refrigeration, the summer heat made it almost impossible to brew beer without contamination, allowing breweries to only produce beer from fall to spring, with most being produced in March (Märzen). The beer was then stored in barrels in underground caves to last them through the summer months. As they tapped into their supplies, breweries found the longer the beer aged, the crisper and cleaner it became, thus earning the name Lager.
Oktoberfest beers are medium to full bodied lagers, and range from amber or brown in color with a toasted malt aroma. They are distinguished by their lighter malty flavor, combined with a mild hop bitterness which balances the malty sweetness.
A typical Oktoberfest recipe consists of a combination of four grains; Munich, Two Row Pale, Pilsener Malt, and Vienna. As for the hops, traditional German or Bohemian hops such as Hallertau, Saaz or Tettnanger are preferred. However, the most important component to any Oktoberfest recipe is to use high quality European ingredients to attain the true flavor of a German lager.
In addition to specific ingredients, there are style guidelines for Oktoberfest lagers. They should have an Original Gravity, which is the amount of dissolved sugar in the beer before fermentation, between 1052 and 1064. The hop level should be from twenty to thirty International Bittering Units (IBU), and the color should be Light Pale to Dark Copper, falling between 7 and 14 on the Standard Reference Method Scale (SRM). Oktoberfest lagers need to ferment at a temperature of approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit, using a Bavarian lager yeast. After fermentation is complete, the beer needs to age for at least four weeks at 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Lagers take care and patience to brew properly, but the end result is worth the effort!
With all the effort that goes into making an Oktoberfest, or any kind of beer for that matter, the celebration of beer does not have to stop at only drinking it! When people think of beer, they don't normally associate it with cooking say the way wine is associated with cooking, but in fact beer has been used in cooking just as long as wine. The hops, grains and yeast used in making beer is an excellent way to impart a new depth of flavor into a wide range of dishes, from soups and stews, to sauces, marinades, and even baked goods!
With the exception of those beers with flavors distinguished by a higher level of hop bitterness, such as an India Pale Ale, many styles of beer make an excellent substitution for all or part of the liquid in a given recipe. However, the mild, yet malty qualities of an Oktoberfest make it a highly versatile beer for a variety of cooking methods. Braising is a simple way to incorporate beer into a recipe. To braise bratwurst, hot dogs, Italian sausage or even short ribs, simply replace half of the stock called for with an Oktoberfest or other mild brew. For an added kick of flavor, use the remaining braising liquid to create a delicious gravy or sauce to accompany the dish.
As a marinade, beer is not only a flavorful option for a variety of proteins, but is also an excellent way to tenderize tougher cuts of meat like the skirt steak used for Fajitas, which are a Texas favorite. For tender, juicy beef fajitas, combine spices such as cumin, chili powder and oregano, and a bit of lime juice with a bottle of your favorite Oktoberfest, and marinate the steak overnight before cooking.
In addition to braising and marinating, beer adds a wonderfully distinctive flavor and level of moistness to an array of baked goods. Beer bread is probably the most commonly thought of way to bake with beer, but a more surprising, yet delicious, use is in pancakes. The malty sweetness of an Oktoberfest makes it an amazing addition to your favorite recipe by simply replacing the water called for with the beer. Serve the pancakes drizzled with a hearty maple syrup for an award-winning combination.
The celebration of beer does not have to be limited to drinking alone. Beer is an extremely versatile ingredient that can be used throughout many different recipes and cooking techniques. Like cooking with wine, they say if you won't drink it, don't cook with it, and the same is true for beer. No matter what style of beer you choose to incorporate into a dish, a good rule of thumb is to always opt for a style with flavors you enjoy. But don't be afraid to experiment. You just might surprise yourself!