The History of Oktoberfest Beer (and Five to Try Right Now)

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barmunich.com
Before it was a beer style, it was a party.

The first Oktoberfest celebration was held on October 12, 1810, but far from the drinking festival it's become today, this first party was actually held to celebrate a wedding. Ludwig, Crown Prince of Bavaria (who'd later become King Ludwig I) exchanged vows with Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, and everyone in Munich was invited to attend. There was music; there was dancing; there were horse races; there was beer. Everyone had such a good time that the royal family decided to host the races again the next year, and the next, and the next. This tradition gave rise to the modern Oktoberfest.

Today, it's the world's largest beer festival. Held annually in Munich, Oktoberfest actually begins in late September, running 16 days and ending the first weekend in October. Some of the traditions of the first Oktoberfest remain -- example, the grounds upon which the festival is held each year are still known as the Theresienwiese, or "Theresa's meadow." But the 6.3 million people who visited in 2014 didn't go to frolick in the grass; they went to drink. You could determine this by the number of arrests made at the festival (720) or the number of people treated by the Bavarian Red Cross for alcohol poisoning (600) or minor alcohol-related scrapes and bumps (7,900). But it's best to just look at the beer: brewers sold 6.5 million liters of beer at this year's Oktoberfest, which equates to about 1,7171,118 gallons or 18,315,925 12-ounce cans.

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How A Beer Wins A Great American Beer Festival Medal

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Over the weekend, if you haven't heard, the city of Denver was swarmed with brewers and beer nerds celebrating the 2014 edition of the Great American Beer Festival, the largest celebration of American craft beer in the country. While a grand beer-tasting set up in the main hall of the Denver Convention Center is the main draw for drinkers -- nearly 50,000 of them will visit during the three-day fest -- those who brew the beer care more about the GABF judging competition.

The largest contest of its kind, the GABF's beer competition pits more than 5,000 beers against one another in 90 different categories, awarding gold, silver and bronze medals to the brews that best exemplify each style. Medals are highly sought after by brewers, as they're not only excellent marketing tools, but they represent a recognition of damn fine work. That's why many Arizona beer geeks are so disappointed -- of all the breweries producing what they consider world-class beer, only one single Arizona-brewed beer won a medal.

Thing is, it's not easy to win a medal at the GABF. Everything has to fall perfectly into place. Let's take a look at exactly what it takes to win a GABF medal, tracing the path taken by this year's lone winner from our state: College Street Brewhouse & Pub's Brother Dewey's Date Night.

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Moylan's Scotch Ale: Memorable, in a Smelly Hamster Wood Shavings Kind of Way

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arkansasbeerblog.wordpress.com
Beer: Scotch Ale (Kilt Lifter)
Brewery: Moylan's Brewery & Restaurant
Style: Scotch ale
ABV: 8 percent

When I was little, I had a hamster named Roxy. She was a great little hamster, playful and gentle, and the two of us used to hang out for hours, she running around in her little wheel while I fed her some hamster food. But one day, Roxy began to get fat. I wasn't worried at first, thinking she had just gone a little overboard with last night's meal. But she got bigger each day, ballooning to the point at which she couldn't walk on her little hamster legs anymore. They dangled there uselessly like T-rex arms, and she died stuck on her big hamster butt. Poor Roxy.

What does my childhood pet have to do with this week's beer? We'll get to that. First, a bit of history: Moylan's Brewery & Restaurant opened 1995 in Novato, Calif. -- a lovely, hilly little burg that lies pretty much smack between Santa Rosa and San Francisco. It was founded by Brendan Moylan, who also happens to a brewer and co-owner of Marin Brewing Co., which he helped open in 1989. Moylan's namesake brewery produces about a dozen beers year-round -- some of which are pretty good and have actually won medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup. They also produce Kilt Lifter.


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SunUp White Russian Imperial Stout: Grab a Pint, Quick

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Beer: White Russian Imperial Stout
Brewery: SunUp Brewing Co.
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.2 percent

Sometimes, there's a beer. I won't say a heroic beer, 'cause what's a heroic beer? But sometimes, there's a beer. And I'm talkin' about SunUp's White Russian here. Sometimes, there's a beer ... well, it's the beer for its time and place. It fits right in there. And that's SunUp White Russian, in Phoenix. And even if it's a coffee-flavored beer -- and White Russian was most certainly that, quite possibly the best coffee beer in Maricopa County, which would place it high in the runnin' for best coffee beer worldwide. But sometimes there's a beer ... sometimes, there's a beer ... ah. I lost my train of thought here. But ... aw, hell. I've done introduced it enough.

Brewed in north central Phoenix at SunUp Brewing Co., White Russian Imperial Stout is the creation of Brewmaster Uwe Boer -- a brewer who, despite his German heritage, creates classic renditions of English ales. The beer's based on The Uvanator, an imperial stout SunUp has produced since 2006 with a recipe that goes back to Boer's homebrewing days in the 90s. The base recipe, Boer says, hasn't changed at all since then, but additions were definitely made when he premiered White Russian Imperial Stout last year.


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Huss Fresh Magic: Wet-Hopped Beer from South Tempe

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Zach Fowle
Beer: Fresh Magic
Brewery: Huss Brewing Co.
Style: American-style Pale Ale
ABV: 5.7 percent

A hop picked right off the vine is a beautiful thing -- conical, verdant, wonderfully fragrant.

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See how pretty?

But a vast majority of the hops brewers use to make beer don't look like this. While prized for their vivid, green aroma, fresh hops (also known as "wet" hops, since the just-picked cones are about 80 percent moisture) are quite unstable. If baled and shipped along normal channels, they'll quickly develop mold and cheesy off-flavors. So most hop-growers will first dry their hops by circulating hot air through them -- a process known as "kilning" -- which drops the moisture content to around 10 percent and preserves the hops for shipping.


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Bell's Mars: Music-Inspired Beer

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bellsbeer.com
Beer: Mars, The Bringer of War
Brewery: Bell's Brewery, Inc.
Style: Imperial India Pale Ale
ABV: 10.1 percent

Optional musical accompaniment to this post. Listen while reading and the review will sound WAY more epic.

Like most artists, brewers draw inspiration for their work from many different sources. Sometimes the spark is found in the people and animals around them; on other occasions, they may be influenced by a particularly delicious dish. For most brewers, however, the most important muse is music.


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Old Bisbee Salut! After Thousands of Beers, This One Is Unique

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Zach Fowle
Beer: Salut!
Brewery: Old Bisbee Brewing Co.
Style: ?
ABV: 4.9 percent

Not to be braggadocious, but I drink a lot of beer. Probably more than a reasonable and healthy person should, but that's an intervention I'd rather have later. Through putting together these columns, attending beer festivals, participating in judging sessions and good old-fashioned bar drinking, I've formally reviewed more than a thousand brews and have tasted hundreds more.

But never have I come across something like Old Bisbee Brewing Co.'s Salut. It's low in alcohol. It's sweetish and pleasantly funky. And, oh yeah -- it's almost perfectly clear. How? Why?


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Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin: Fruity Beer Done Right

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ballastpoint.com
Beer: Grapefruit Sculpin
Brewery: Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Style: IPA
ABV: 7 percent

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to beers brewed with fruit: Hooray! and How Dare You? Given the number of examples on shelves crafted to be sickeningly sweet or brewed with more artificial additives than you'll find at Ladies' Night in Scottsdale, the partisanship is understandable. But when the right fruit is chosen -- one that enhances the base beer rather than overpowering it -- beer made with produce can produce some very happy drinkers.


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What's With All The Pumpkin Beer Already?

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These are pumpkins. Seem a little out of place, don't they? Know why that is?

Because it's f-ing August.

The term "seasonal creep" has long been used to describe the way Christmas ornaments seem to start tinkling onto store shelves before the Fourth of July fireworks even get cold, but it can just as easily be applied to beer. Spring ales in January; summer brews in March -- overzealous brewers are releasing "seasonals" so far out of season as to render the term meaningless.

No other beer style exemplifies this trend as clearly as pumpkin ales, which have already started appearing on shelves throughout the Valley even though it'll be months until you see an actual pumpkin. Why the premature release?

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Green Flash Ristretto: the Coffee Lover's Beer

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Beer: Ristretto Cosmic Black Lager
Brewery: Green Flash Brewing Co.
Style: Schwarzbier
ABV: 8.2 percent

This column is normally directed at beer aficionados, but coffee connoisseurs may also want to pay close attention -- this week's brew is packed with enough espresso flavor that it earned the name Ristretto.

For the un-caffeinated, ristretto is a short shot of espresso with roughly half the amount of water, but the same coffee content as a standard shot. It is to espresso as espresso is to coffee: bolder, fuller, more intense. A pour for coffee purists.

Ristretto gets its coffee flavor from several varieties of roasted malts and a dose of concentrated, cold pressed espresso. Green Flash Brewing Co. developed the brew as part of its new Genius Lab program, which enables employees -- not just brewers -- to work with Brewmaster Chuck Silva to develop new, experimental beers that are introduced at the brewery's San Diego taproom. Once these innovative releases hit the taps, they're often never seen again. Luckily for us, some extra Ristretto made it to Phoenix.


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