by Andrew Coppolino
Like many great fall festivals around the world, Oktoberfest grew out of agrarian and harvest celebrations — and that of course includes fêting the barley and hops used to make beer. There is of course a rich history of Märzen beers dating to the 1800s, those Bavarian beers brewed during the last part of winter and sipped during the hot summer months when making them was difficult, if not impossible.
In fact, in some places in Germany, beer could not be legally brewed between summer and early fall: so Märzenbier, with its higher acidity and alcohol content, was brewed in March and stored as cool as possible to be enjoyed during the fall as beer production started up again.
Because Oktoberfest is the great Bavarian beer festival that is front-and-centre in early fall in Waterloo Region, it makes sense that local brewers are inspired by, and have tried to capture, that brewing history in a glass.
Innocente Brewing, Waterloo
A brewery located in the north of Waterloo Region, Innocente has just celebrated its fifth year in business. During that period, they have always recognized that Oktoberfest is a fitting time to celebrate with beer – so they’ve produced an autumnal and festhall favourite.
“We’ve just launched our Oktoberfest Märzen, and it’s a clean, crisp and malt-forward lager with hints of bread and orange,” says Steve Innocente.
They haven’t stopped there, however. “We’ve also got a new cream ale in cans and have just launched two new sours: A key lime gose and a haskap berry Berliner. We’ve also added our wet-hop harvest ale done with Tavistock Rakau hops,” Innocente adds.
And that adds up to a lot of interesting fall beer.
Waterloo Brewing, Kitchener
When they appeared in 1984, this was Ontario’s first small-batch brewer. For Oktoberfest, they’ve given a nod to folks at Bingemans, a long-time Oktoberfest anchor, with their small-batch, limited production Festbier. The beer’s German malt and hops promise “Local Tradition – Munich Flavours,” as the can notes.
Block Three Brewing, St. Jacobs
As they usually do, Block Three has a blockbuster or two Oktoberfest-style beers ready for the season.
Their traditional Märzen lager, Blocktoberfest, uses German malts, hops and yeast, says Graham Spence of Block Three.
“It’s fermented cool and then lagered for four weeks for a crisp dry finish. You’ll find light aromas of biscuits and bread crumbs with a floral hop nose, and balanced bitterness,” he says.
To that add their Hollinger Helles, a light German lager of 4.6% abv. “It’s grassy with hay-like aromas from the German malts and with a medium body and low bitterness,” according to Spence.
TWB – Together We’re Bitter, Kitchener
From their home on Mill Street, TWB is a beer anchor in the region and a creator of the Craftoberfest beer event that has caught on as well.
According to TWB’s Alex Szaflarska, special seasonal beers include a wet-hop Bitter Harvest using Tavistock hops and a Märzen named “Antidote,” which is in the classic style with German malt and hops to produce a beer that has a low level of bitterness and good malt flavour.
“We will also have a pumpkin beer, and we also collaborated with Kuntz Brewery. That’s a recognizable brewing name in this region and will be a new small brewery,” says Szaflarska.
The Kuntz collaboration is a NEIPA (New England IPA) that gets its aroma and full-bodied flavour from Galaxy and Azacca hops while staying low in bitterness, according to Szaflarska.
“It pours hazy with a bright white head,” she says. “The recipe was a collaboration between Ryan Dunlop, the Kuntz recipe developer, and Peter Collins, TWB’s head brewer.”
Counterpoint Brewing, Kitchener
Rich Hrytzak of this new Kitchener brewery says there aren’t specific Oktoberfest beers in their current plans.
“We create several seasonally-inspired beers, however, which may be of interest to beer lovers this fall. We’re working on an oak-aged porter for release in a few weeks and will be releasing an imperial stout aged in freshly-emptied bourbon barrels sometime in late fall,” Hrytzak says.
They also have a pale ale which was fermented with carrot and pineapple juice, he adds. “This should be ready in a few weeks as well,” Hrytzak. “It pours as orange as a pumpkin.”
That seems a perfect colour for the season, doesn’t it?
Short Finger Brewing Co., Kitchener
Located on Hurst Avenue near Courtland and Stirling, Short Finger thumbs its nose (in the friendliest hoppy way) at traditional Oktoberfest beers, according to co-owner Rob Hern.
“Like most things we do, our Oktoberfest release is a little outside the norm in terms of style. Instead of going with a Märzen or a Festbier, we release Maus every fall. It is a mouse melon Gose made with fresh produce and coriander from Steckle Heritage Farm,” says Hern. (The mouse melon, or cucamelon, looks like a miniature watermelon and has cucumber flavour.)
The connection with the farm is key, given the agrarian origin of Oktoberfest. “We look at our fall release as a celebration of the summer’s harvest, and the work of processing thousands of pounds of local fruit and produce is more than worth it. We get great beer and get to work with farmers such as Joel Knight at Steckle. He helped us hand-pick the mouse melons for this year’s Maus brew,” Hern says.
The easiest way to get the beer is to visit the brewery; it will also be available at select beer bars in the area, so check with Short Finger for those details as they are determined.
Red Circle Brewing Co., Kitchener
The small park with the water fountain that today sits in the green space at the corner of King and William streets in Waterloo was, nearly 200 years ago, called “Crystal Park.” It belonged to the Kuntz Brewery, which was started by David Kuntz in the 1830s. His son, Louis, took over the business in the 1870s and renamed it “L. Kuntz’s Park Brewery.” As a Labatt brewery, 125 years later, it was closed and the buildings demolished.
But Red Circle Brewing Co. has taken up where Louis left off and closed the circle, as it were, with their unfiltered German-style pilsner made with German malt and noble hops. The lager captures the brewing history – a Germanic one – of the city and the region. With that spirit around it, it’s almost certain that the beer will taste even better during Oktoberfest.
But add to that the fact that Red Circle co-founder and brewmaster, Brett Croft, is rightly pleased with another seasonal creation: In addition to the Pilsner for Oktoberfest, he’s made a Raspberry Berliner Weiss.
“I’m obviously quite pleased that the Berliner just took home the bronze medal at the 2019 Ontario Brewing Awards,” Croft says.
And to that we just have to say, “Prost!”