Los Angeles is not particularly known for its Oktoberfest celebrations. Our city never saw the waves of German immigrants that settled in the Midwest and Great Lakes Region, who brought with them precision brewing and sausage-spicing techniques. That doesn't mean there aren't dozens (literally, dozens!) of us who see the cooling September days (surely we'll get one soon) as an opportunity to cut a rug to the tune of big brass bands in our finest dirndls and lederhosen.
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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WHAT: Downtown Culver City Third Wednesday Oktoberfest
WHEN: Wednesday October 16, 5-9 p.m.
WHY: Start the night at the intersection of Duquesne, Washington and Culver for free beer samples, live music, sausages and pretzels. Then venture out to the establishments of downtown Culver and enjoy discounts from local merchants.
WHERE: Downtown Culver City at Duquesne and Culver Blvds., Culver City.
WHAT: Oktoberfest at Lucky Baldwins
WHEN: Business hours through Oct. 2.
WHY: One of the only locations that will offer German imported beer in addition to their exceptional lineup of craft beers. Let's face it, if you're more interested in Oktoberfest for debating the merits of malt balance than you are in doing the chicken dance with a line of drunken strangers, just head to Lucky Baldwin's and leave your lederhosen at home.
WHERE: Lucky Baldwins, three locations: 17 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; 1770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; 21 Kersting Ct., Sierra Madre; (626) 795-0652.
WHAT: Wirtshaus Restaurant Oktoberfest
WHEN: Monday – Thursday 5 p.m.-12 a.m., Friday – Sunday 11-12 a.m. Through Oct. 26.
WHY: Live music hosted on Friday and Saturday nights at this Mid-City restaurant. Over 30 imported German beers are available to wash down spicy sausages and the popular Schnitzel. Happy hour Mon.-Thurs. 5-7 p.m. includes $10 liter steins and 25% off appetizers. Check out the Autobahn beer flight or a glass boot.
WHERE: Wirtshaus, 345 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 931-9291.
Erika writes at erikabolden.com and @erikabolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.