It’s nearing the end of September, which means it’s time to celebrate Oktoberfest. The real festival started last week in Germany and lasts until next week, but the Edelweiss Club of Grand Rapids is hosting Oktoberfest West Michigan this weekend, September 29 and 30, at John Ball Park.
If the two days aren’t enough of a celebration and a trip to Germany isn’t in store, there are plenty of Oktoberfest beers to go around in Grand Rapids.
Before venturing into the top Oktoberfest beers available in West Michigan, Cedar Springs Brewing Co. owner David Ringler wants to help clear up some confusion.
Ringler learned how to brew in Germany in the 1990s and opened Cedar Springs Brewing in 2015, with a focus on German style beers. Ringler, by the way, also has a deep passion for history, both West Michigan and brewing.
The traditional Oktoberfest beer, most of the beers served as such in West Michigan, is a marzen. And for more than 100 years, marzens were produced by the big six breweries in Germany and served at Oktoberfest, until about 1970, when the Paulaner Brewery made a lighter beer, know as a Oktoberfestbier.
Since then, all of the breweries supplying Oktoberfest have transitioned to the lighter beer, more like a helles lager than a marzen, for the actual festival.
“Still, when most people think of Oktoberfest beers, they’re thinking of the marzen, which was for a hundred years the beer they drank at the festival,” Ringler said. “With all that background, we brew a marzen year round.”
Traditionally, marzens were brewed in the spring and kept in cold storage – before refrigeration – until the fall. The beers are rich and toasty, but mellow enough for drinkers who generally avoid “more flavorful” beers. Eventually, the beers were brewed again in the fall and adopted the Oktoberfest name, but many German breweries make great marzens, some of which make their way to the United States.
Cedar Springs Brewing’s Kusterer Salzburger Marzen is a good one too, recently winning best seasonal German pale in the United States at the London World Beer Awards.
Kusterer is Cedar Spring Brewing’s brand label for its German-style beers, named in honor of Christoph Kusterer, one of the first brewers – and the first of German descent – in Grand Rapids in the 1800s.
The brewery also won best honors for its Kusterer Weizenbock and Kusterer Original Weissbier, which also won a Great American Beer Festival medal in 2016.
Aside from his own, what are some other Oktoberfest beers Ringler recommends?
Ringler called Bell’s example of the style a cross between a marzen and a festbier, with a little less body than the traditional Oktoberfest. “It’s fantastic,” he said.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
The classic American craft brewery from Chico, California, partnered with the German brewery Miltenberger to brew a traditional Oktoberfest. Hopped with hops from Bavaria, the beer is a great representation of the slightly sweet, bready and mellow lager.
Others available in town
Check out the local brewpubs to see who’s making an Oktoberfest. Otherwise grab some from the local beer stores, ranging from Colorado’s Left Hand Brewery, Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Co., Brooklyn Brewery, or any number of German imports available around town.