In Germany, Oktoberfest beer traditionally marked the last month of the brewing season (March) before beers had to be tucked away in cold storage so they wouldn't spoil in the warm summer months. They'd slowly tap away until the very last reserves were consumed during an autumn festival. Wacky Crown Prince Ludwig institutionalized this ritual for his wedding day revelry, and brought about the party vibe and Gemütlichkeit that characterize this modernized tradition.
Stylistically, the Oktoberfest style is malty and higher in alcohol than most German beers at anywhere from 5-7.5 % abv. Close relations include Märzenbier and Vienna-style (like Negra Modelo). For beer in the true style of Oktoberfest, Hacker-Pschorr is one of the higher quality imports, but Ayinger Oktober Fest/Märzen is exceptional.
Weighty liter steins filled with roasted, malty lager and yeasty pretzels and bratwurst to balance the beer: this is the season for succulence. Any true Oktoberfest celebration is remiss without a Wiesn Hendl -- spit-roasted half-chicken heavily salted and generally accompanied by mustardy potato salad or cucumber and radish -- but those are admittedly hard to find outside of the rolling hills of Bavaria.
Head to Munich now for the world's largest fair and booziest party, or better yet, stick around L.A. and lift your stein at one of the following celebrations. All the ongoing events are already underway but unlike Munich's Oktoberfest, which is almost over, they run through the end of October. In a land where more is more, doesn't that make us better? Prost!
WHAT: Oktoberfest at Alpine Village
WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays 6 p.m.- 12 a.m. ($20), Sunday 1-6 p.m. ($5). Through Oct. 27.
WHY: In recent years, this Oktoberfest has taken on more of a club vibe: more scantily clad ladies (what is this, Halloween?) and more pop songs in lieu of traditional German. That said, it's still one of the biggest and longest-running Oktoberfest parties in Southern California -- since 1968. And the cheesy potatoes remain a favorite, traditional or not.
WHERE: Alpine Village, 833 W. Torrance Blvd., Torrance; (310) 327-4384.
WHAT: Oktoberfest at The Old World
WHEN: Wednesdays & Thursdays 6:30-10 p.m. (free), Fridays & Saturdays 6:30 p.m.-1 a.m. ($20, discounts available online), Sunday 2-7:30 p.m. Through Oct. 27.
WHY: A slightly more intimate Oktoberfest than Alpine. Dachschund races and parades dot the event schedule and undoubtedly there are those who show up just to patron the shot girls. Sunday is kinderfest more suited to families.
WHERE: The Old World, 7561 Center Ave. #49, Huntington Beach; (714) 895-8020.
WHAT: Oktoberfest at the Phoenix Club
WHEN: Friday 6 p.m.-12 a.m., Saturday 3 p.m.-12 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.. $5 admission, 18 and under free. Through Oct. 27.
WHY: Phoenix Club offers the best food selection and most agreeable atmosphere. Tables are first-come, first-serve and communal -- just as they are in the Old Country. The air rifle range is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, and pony rides are available for kids Sunday afternoons (nowhere near the shooting range, we hope).
WHERE: The Phoenix Club, 1340 S. Sanderson Ave., Anaheim; (714) 563-4166.
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