McGillin's Olde Ale House has already turned its taps over to the Germans for the month. Brauhaus Schmitz has plans to shut down South Street for a pig roast with an oompah band. And local Oktoberfest lagers, from brewers like Victory and Sly Fox, are currently flowing at watering holes around town.
As Philadelphia embraces all things beer, it was only a matter of time until we saw the Hallmark-ization of Oktoberfest, with more celebrations starting earlier, getting bigger and lasting longer, and more local brewers joining the party.
But if we look at the German tradition, it is not so crazy that we are talking about Oktoberfest in September.
Opening day for the real-deal festival in Munich is only a few weeks away, on Sept. 17. (The party doesn't end until Oct. 3.) While that festival was originally created in the early 1800s to celebrate the October nuptials of the Bavarian crown prince, as it became more beer-focused and touristy, it moved to September, some believe, to take advantage of sunnier days.
Here in the States, unsurprisingly, the reason Oktoberfest-style brews hit shelves Sept. 1 has more to do with merchandising than tradition.
"We used to fight it," says Flying Fish owner Gene Muller. "But the imports come in July and Sam Adams in August. ... It's the nature of the market."
And in the Philadelphia region, the Oktoberfest brews have been gaining popularity every year.
At Flying Fish, for the last few years, they've increased production of Oktoberfest beers by 10 percent each year. Iron Hill usually sells about 300 gallons of specialty seasonal beers like Christmas beers each year. But they sell around 900 gallons of the Oktoberfest batch - in a matter of weeks, not months, according to brewer Larry Horwitz.
While the Oktoberfest brews and accompanying events continue to grow, this is not Beer Week. That week celebrates the diversity and depth of our craft beer scene. At most, a few styles of beer are served at Oktoberfest.
"It gives us an excuse to eat sausages and drink beer," says Iron Hill's Horwitz. "There's nothing wrong with that."
As our craft beer obsession nears its tipping point, it's sort of nice to have a celebration without getting so geeky.
That doesn't mean, however, that our local brewers aren't taking their fall beers as seriously as their winter stouts or summer sessions.
Classically, Oktoberfest beers are lagers, which, explains Victory Brewing's cofounder Bill Covaleski, "is not a bad thing, because the style is often overlooked."
The lagers start with malts that are roasted at high temps until dark. "Malty, sweet fest beers are designed to make you drink a lot of them," says Covaleski.
The Germans call them Märzenbier or March beers, because they were originally brewed in early spring, then held in a cool cellar until fall. "Germans are known for their precision," says Covaleski, who can't help but laugh when he notes that we are talking about an October festival celebrated in September, with March beer.
Sticking with customs, many local options are lagers. Victory's FestBier has a crisp, fresh flavor that is not, says Covaleski, "assaulted by a ton of hops." Sly Fox sells its Oktoberfest in bottles, on tap, and in cans. Iron Hill's seasonal lager is deep amber, malty, and poured at all eight locations. The Oktober Fest at Stoudts' is created with imported ingredients.
Some area brewers have taken a poetic license by mixing up their own Oktoberfest-inspired ales. Flying Fish's OktoberFish has a larger punch of hops than lager. Weyerbacher's AutumnFest is made with Vienna and Munich malts and has fruity notes.
Lager or ale, these fall beers have relatively low alcohol levels (usually below 6 percent alcohol by volume) compared to the alcohol bombs that are trendy among craft brewers and drinkers these days. Less alcohol usually allows for longer days (and nights) of imbibing.
Besides McGillin's, which is serving some of the local options mentioned here, many bars are getting in the spirit. Iron Hill will tap its Oktoberfest lager at all locations starting mid-September, while the West Chester outpost is going totally Teutonic, serving German pilsners, wheat beers, and brown ales from Sept. 17 through Oct. 9. There will also be a menu of jaeger schnitzel, salmon with sauerkraut-potato croquettes, and a white bean and sausage soup. The clean flavors of the lager, says Horwitz, "lift the heavier foods off your palate." (The luckiest customers will get to see him sporting his snazzy lederhosen.)
As expected, ground zero for Oktoberfest might be South Street's German resto-bar, Brauhaus Schmitz. There, Oktoberfest kegs from Germany, as well as local and national options, are tapped all month. Owner Doug Hager notes that while the American versions of Oktoberfest suds are on the darker side, his restaurant will also serve helles-style brews, a lighter but higher-in-alcohol beer that is prevalent at the Munich festival.
The celebration culminates on Sept. 24, at Brauhaus' third annual Oktoberfest, an event that has grown every year. "Last year we had to stop letting people in. So this year, we are shutting down the whole street," says Hager.
Makes 8 servings
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup diced Spanish onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 ounces crushed canned tomatoes
8 ounces mild sausage links, cooked through and diced
3 quarts chicken stock
2 13-ounce cans cannelloni beans
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
Pinch smoked paprika
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon minced thyme
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, and onions, and cook until onions are soft. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes longer.
2. Add tomatoes, sausage, stock, beans, black pepper, bay leaf, and paprika. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes.
3. Stir in fresh herbs and vinegar, and adjust seasoning. Serve with crusty bread.
Per serving: 463 calories, 28 grams protein, 61 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 13 grams fat, 31 milligrams cholesterol, 1,415 milligrams sodium, 24 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 4 servings
1/4 cup flour
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
8 4-ounce pork loin medallions, pounded until 1/4 inch thick
½ cup canola oil
½ pound sliced mushrooms
12 to 16 ounces demiglace
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gather three shallow bowls for breading. Whisk eggs with 1 tablespoon water, and place in one bowl. Place flour and breadcrumbs, separately, in the other two bowls. Dredge each pork medallion in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, and set aside.
2. Heat canola oil in a large saute pan, over medium-high heat. Brown pork on both sides, then place in oven for about 5 minutes to finish cooking.
3. Meanwhile, in a pan, saute mushrooms with a little oil or butter until soft. Add demiglace and simmer for about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning.
4. Transfer pork to plate and top with sauce. Suggested accompaniments: buttered egg noodles and haricot verts.
Per serving: 777 calories, 61 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 51 grams fat, 205 milligrams cholesterol, 610 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.