Don your lederhosen, it's Oktoberfest time

by Beacon Staff • October 20, 2011

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Of all the holiday origin stories, Munich’s Oktoberfest must certainly have the best. It started when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria set his wedding date for Oct. 12, 1810. He decided, hey, why not throw a celebration and invite all my loyal subjects? We’ll have beer and horseraces and general joviality shall abound.

And so they did. For the entire 16 days preceding the wedding. When the next autumn rolled around, the prince and his bros saw no reason not to commemorate the anniversary of their epic party with, well, another epic party.

Now, 201 years later, the brew-soaked hoedown is still going strong — only getting cancelled a few times due to cholera epidemics and major wars. Nowadays, the festival begins in Munich’s Theresienwiese — a large open space named for ol’ Ludwig’s bride Therese — in mid September and runs either 17 or 18 days, depending on which date the first Sunday in October falls.

Now, what’s more American than co-opting another culture’s super-party? On this side of the Atlantic, brewers the land over welcome the fall season with all sorts of Oktoberfest and autumn-themed beers. Here in New England, we have the distinct privilege of being surrounded by a bevy of breweries, from local stalwarts like the Cambridge Brewing Company to nationally recognized names like Samuel Adams. Though Oktoberfest has officially ended in Munich, the party’s still rolling here, and our fair city has more than its share to offer in the way of autumn fun for the dedicated beer lover.

h2Brews around town: where Boston gets bottling/h2

h3Harpoon Brewery/h3

A short jaunt on the Silver Line will put you right on the doorstep of this storied Boston brewery and bottling plant. Founded in 1986, Harpoon brews here in town and at a plant in Windsor, Vermont. The Boston plant features a guided tour of the brewing and bottling facilities on site, as well as a tasting session at the in-house bar. Like any good beer factory experience, the ratio of tour-to-tasting skews toward consumption of a certain cold, carbonated beverage. Where Samuel Adams only offers a three-beer tasting experience, Harpoon reserves 30 minutes for the unbridled downing of sample-sized glasses of brew from their expansive in-house tap selection. While this tour runs you $5, the ambitious drinker can more than cover that cost in free samples.

em Harpoon Brewery, 306 Northern Ave., Boston. Tours run Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. All-ages, 21+ to drink 1-888-HARPOON, www.harpoonbrewery.com./em

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h3Samuel Adams Brewery/h3

Tucked away in Jamaica Plain is the home base of everyone’s favorite Revolution-era patriot-branded brewery. This is the only Samuel Adams brewery that offers tours — they’ve got additional brewing facilities in Cincinnati, OH and Lehigh, PA — and a walk amongst the barrels won’t set you back a single cent. On the hour-long tour, participants get to chomp on some malt, rub aromatic hops between their hands, and, perhaps most importantly, sample a three-beer selection of fresh Samuel Adams on draught.

emSamuel Adams Brewery, 30 Germania St., Boston. Tours run 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon. to Thurs., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on Fridays, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays. All-ages, 21+ to drink. 617-368-5080, www.samueladams.com./em

h2Autumnal beer guide: there’s never enough pumpkin/h2

h3 style=text-align: center;Harpoon Octoberfest/h3

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A drier brew than some of the other Octoberfesters featured here, Harpoon’s autumn offering comes out hops swinging. This see-straight-through blend of malty goodness sits lightly on the tongue but has a sufficiently frothy head. The fine folks at Harpoon have been brewing this one since 1990. A trio of sweet Munich, nutty chocolate, and bitter pale malts ride the bite and warm, spicy aroma of Tettnang hops right to the beer tents of Munich. Harpoon Octoberfest has been on the scene since August, but will vacate local vendors come the end of the month.

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strongCambridge Brewing Company's Great Pumpkin Ale/strong

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Before digging in to this one, the question must be asked: do you want to taste anything else besides pumpkin for the remainder of the evening? This Kendall Square-based brewery and restaurant has been offering up its wares since 1989, and nearly every autumn since then has delivered a creamy and cloudy elixir packed with this season’s signature flavor — the great pumpkin indeed, Charlie Brown. This unfiltered, golden mix bends to the sweeter end of the spectrum, leaving it a dollop of whipped cream away from being straight up pumpkin pie in a glass. Keeping true to CBC’s local-first approach, it’s brewed with organic sugar pumpkins grown at the Farm School in Athol and Wilson Farms in Lexington. Great Pumpkin Ale stays on tap through Thanksgiving.

h3 style=text-align: center;Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest/h3

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While not local in the within-city-limits sense, it would be a real shame to skim over these coolly self-aware New England brewing wiseguys. Magic Hat is the Ben amp; Jerry’s of beer — insofar as they’re based in Vermont and seem to take particular pride in their own quirkiness. With Hex Ourtoberfest, the quippy-capped microbrewers deliver a smokey, amber blend that sticks to the typical Oktoberfest formula of lots of malt, with slight notes of caramel, and a bit of toffee for good measure. This one doesn’t hold its crispness all the way through, but rolls smooth onto the tongue and makes for a nice compliment to a hearty meal.

h3 style=text-align: center;/h3

h3 style=text-align: center;Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale/h3

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If it were somehow feasible to extract the essence of autumn — with its freshly-raked leaf pile cannonballs, brisk nighttime hayrides, and labyrinthine corn maze wanderings — keg it up, and put it on tap, one might come close to this spice-laden brew. This is beer to wear hoodies to. A powerful helping of pumpkin is wrapped in a blanket of cinnamon and nutmeg warmth. Far too rich to be a session beer, Samuel Adams’ Harvest Pumpkin Ale would rather nicely round out that Thanksgiving dinner food coma.

emMiller can be reached at steven_miller@emerson.edu./em

emFollow him on Twitter @Steve_R_Miller/em