One of my biggest irrational worries right now is of somehow becoming incapacitated, forcing authorities to barge into my apartment all movie-style and come face-to-face with the large number of full and empty beer bottles that I currently have scattered around the place.
What was going on that brought so much beer into her apartment? Either serious problems, or serious partying.
But I assure you, it's all in the name of science. And there really is such a thing as too much beer. Really.
Oktoberfest is a time-honored tradition in Munich, Germany, the latest location CNN iReport is featuring in the Destination Adventure travel series. You go, you drink from a giant mug, and you celebrate in the Bavarian way. I couldn't make it to the real event this year, so I decided to prepare for a hypothetical future trip by learning as much as I could about Oktoberfest beers. Plus, I just really like Oktoberfest beers. So it all worked out.
The first step in my adventure was to define which beers would qualify for my tests. I decided to focus on Märzen-style lagers. In Germany, Oktoberfest celebrates the harvest season. Not only the harvest of healthy things from the earth, but also the harvest of Märzen beers that were started in March (hence the name) and then stored.
The proper Oktoberfest beer is a lager, which means "storage" in German. While we typically associate lagers with questionable mass-produced beers that will not be named here, a well-made lager beer is fresh-tasting and delicious in its complexity. Back in the olden days, the climate and geography in Germany supported a slow-brewing technique with bottom-fermenting yeast that thrives while stored in chilly ice caves.
I read up as much as I could on the Oktoberfest tradition, including thumbing through an iReport submitted by Susan Terhune. She's a resident of Mainhausen, Germany, and had a lot to say about what to watch out for and do for those who attend the festival. She attended the festival and enjoyed her time in the Paulaner tent, but unfortunately lost track of her husband at some point during the festivities that night. (Yes, she did find him later.) After reading some of the many Oktoberfest stories out there, I researched the kinds of beers I should seek out for my tasting.
The second step was to obtain the specimens. I scoured my local grocery and liquor stores, often repeatedly, searching again and again for the best seasonal brews. Some I found, some I didn’t. I also stumbled on some unexpected other possibilities. When possible, I bought single assorted beers together. In the end, I had to get a few six-packs, and there is quite a bit of beer left over.
The third step was to actually taste the beers. The hardest part, mind you. I tracked down every beer-tasting glass in my unit and sampled several kinds of beers at once so I could immediately detect the similarities and differences. In order to avoid any tainting from inebriation, I kept samples small and grouped them over several days. I tried the beers both in the bottle and poured out into a glass, for comparison's sake. Having done this experiment, I plan on getting some new beer glasses.
Unfortunately, over the weekend when I planned to do most of the tasting, I fell ill and lost my sense of smell. Oh, irony, thou art cruel.
For several days, I sat on pins and needles, hoping my sinuses would take pity on me and allow some of that flavor to come through. Not to mention, hoping that my health would improve as well. But I regained this power, and the testing went on. The whole process was truly enlightening.
I discovered first that all Oktoberfest beers are not created equal, and I divided them into three categories: German Oktoberfest, American Oktoberfest and Oktoberfest-inspired. Since I'm not a total beer snob, I didn't know all the jargon and tried to observe as best as I could.
My overall conclusion was that the Germans do it best. Sipping one of their beers made me feel like I was already in Germany, toasting my good fortunes with other revelers in one of those tents they set up during Oktoberfest. Ayinger's Oktoberfest turned out to be the tastiest of my bunch by far with its complex grainy flavors and slight hint of sweet maltiness.
I also enjoyed Paulaner's straightforward celebratory brew. Also, everything I'd heard about Beck's turned out to be true. They make a surprisingly good Oktoberfest, with a slightly nutty aftertaste. My palate didn't take as kindly to Spaten's offering, which was slightly more bitter. The Warsteiner was quite nice, but nothing special.
I also enjoyed the American-style Oktoberfests, once I gave up on my dream of finding one that tasted like the genuine article. They have a different flavor, and that's okay. Sam Adams' Oktoberfest seemed to be the closest to authentic, and probably could pass save for the slight grainy funkiness that lingers after swallowing.
Victory and Brooklyn seemed to have a similar flavor to one another, almost vegetable-like in nature. That might sound strange, but the beers are very pleasant to drink. The Brooklyn is a little deeper and earthier, while Victory is lighter and more celebratory. Locally, I threw in the Red Brick Oktobeerfest and found it to be nice and malty.
The Shiner and Leinenkugel's Oktoberfests were decent offerings, but tasted a bit too much like the breweries' other beers. The Shiner was a bit too bland in the end, and the Leinenkugel's a bit too bitter and strong.
Finally, there was the most interesting category of all: the Oktoberfest-esque beers. These include ales and lagers that are inspired by autumn, but wouldn't necessarily be Oktoberfests. Terrapin's Pumpkinfest attempts to blend an Oktoberfest lager with pumpkin taste. It's actually quite nice, and the pumpkin beer hater in me would gladly continue drinking it.
The Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest and the New Belgium Hoptober are both fall-inspired ales. As such, they have a crisper and more-bitter flavor. Their malts and flavors hint at the Oktoberfest style. In keeping with Magic Hat's traditions, the Hex gave me the cloudiest pour of the bunch. Finally, I tried the Sierra Nevada Tumbler, a brown ale with excellent flavor that sadly doesn't fit the description of an Oktoberfest Märzen, but still evokes the feeling of autumn.
These samplings, and a look back at all the iReports we've seen (like the lovely photos sent by world-traveling iReporter Daniel Dreifuss) have inspired me to find out more about Oktoberfest.
There are plenty more Oktoberfest beers out there to try, and this sampling I took barely scratches the surface of this beer genre's wide selection.
Once the tasting was over, the hardest part was how to package the information that I had collected. I struggled to photograph the bottles (and glasses of tasted beer), and to come up with the right words to describe what I was tasting. To my surprise, many of the conclusions I drew were similar to things said by seasoned beer experts, and that was somewhat reassuring.
It was the most effort I've ever put into beer-drinking, ever, but it also gave me a huge taste of the possibilities. Now that I've done this, I feel well-prepared to venture out to Munich and drink Oktoberfest beers from giant mugs with ease. Let's all raise a glass to the great traditions of German brew.
Oh, and anyone want to help me finish off all these suds?
If you've been to Munich, we're curious what you would recommend and what you've enjoyed. Share what you think a traveler should eat, and any food-related adventures you've had in the comments area below.
CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at great places for eager explorers. Each week, we'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals and the best photos and stories from readers. Have you been to Munich, Germany? Share your story with CNN iReport. And next week, we'll journey to Argentina.
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