October 21, 2014 • 10:44 am

by Greg Mayer

Jerry has been enjoying Bulgarian cuisine, and I’m he sure will continue his reporting, but I thought I’d report on a stateside culinary event. Southeastern Wisconsin is noted for its German heritage due to its large number of German immigrants. One of the traditions they brought with them is Oktoberfest, a fall celebration associated in the US with German beer and food. I’ve never been to an  Oktoberfest in Germany, so I can,’t say how authentic the American versions are. In the particular place in southeastern Wisconsin where I am, the immigrant heritage is actually more strongly Danish and Italian than German, but there are plenty of Oktoberfest events, so I went with some companions to Ashling on the Lough, an Irish bar, to experience their Oktoberfest.

Spaten Munchen at Ashling on the Lough, Kenosha, Wis., 18 October 2014.
Spaten Munchen at Ashling on the Lough, Kenosha, Wis., 18 October 2014.

Most important of course is the beer. As I had tried some of the beers they were featuring for Oktoberfest on previous visits, I decided to have a blind tasting of the two I had liked most, Paulaner Marzen and Spaten Munchen. The bartender poured two small glasses of each while my back was turned, and I then tasted them. The winner, by a nose: Spaten!

We actually began with Bloody Marys, which are a house specialty. The vodka comes from a large bottle of hot peppers, where it becomes infused with the pepper flavors. They also add a quick pull of Guinness to the drink. The garnishes are string cheese, pickle, beef stick (a Wisconsin specialty), pimento-stuffed olives, lemon slice, and lime wedge. In addition, one of my companions brings marinated asparagus and bacon (pre-cooked, of course), which we add to the mix. On the side there is a chaser of Harp, a Canadian beer (which was once made in Ireland, hence its use in an Irish bar).

Bloody Mary, Ashling
Bloody Mary, at Ashling on the Lough, Kenosha.

With the first drink having so much to eat in it, I did not require much more, but my companions ordered the “Munich burger”, a passable hamburger, made more German by having sweet German mustard and sauerkraut as the condiments. The sides, German potato salad (a common Wisconsin recipe– not sure how German it is) and potato pancakes (crispy, not the more traditional pancake-y kind) were good.

Munich burger.
Munich burger.


German potato salad.
German potato salad.

I went for something lighter than the full meal: German beer and cheese soup. The bartender gave us a taster, and it was quite good, so I went for the full bowl.

German beer cheese soup.
German beer cheese soup.

The beer was Hofbrau (not sure if it was the German original or made in US under license; there’s a mix of the two in the US, and most brewers with overseas operations try to make it hard to figure out exactly where the beer is coming from), and the cheese a mix of cheddar and Irish (naturally) white cheddar.

We had gotten there early, so the first of two bands, the Brewhaus Polka Kings, was setting up as we finished. The band members were wearing lederhosen. I had thought polka was more Polish than German, but one of my companions reminded me of the popular Liechtensteiner Polka with German lyrics, and Liechtenstein is a German-speaking principality. Perhaps a reader with more knowledge of the popular music of Mitteleuropa could enlighten us.

59 thoughts on “Oktoberfest!

  1. I’ve been to Germany only a few times and mostly on business. The beer is the best anywhere in the world but it is also local. I happened to find Licher in the area I visited and this beer is produced in the small town of Lich. Never pasturized and mostly out of the keg, it does not travel well.

    It is the best Pilsner I have seen and those tiny foam bubbles are not known in America.

    1. “The beer is the best anywhere in the world” – that is a subjective view – I agree it is very good & never bad, however different beers are like different wines – each has its place!

      1. Seconded. Spaten Optimator (which is a doppelbock) is one of my top five favorite beers. Since Greg mentions Paulaner Märzen, I’ll say that Gordon Biersch Märzen is another of my top 5.

        What is this “Spaten München”? I don’t see it on the Spaten web site. Though I do see that Spaten Dunkel has the word “München” in small type above the “Dunkel”. I suppose that’s it?

        1. Looking around the internets, it seems that Spaten’s labeling for the same beer varies, sometimes including “Munchen” on the label, sometimes not. The beer I had was their Oktoberfest.


          1. If they hew to the correct Bavarian styles, then Munich should be a straight Munich style lager, the Oktoberfest a stronger lager, with the bock even stronger and the dubbelbock stronger yet, though all with similar flavor profiles, becoming more malty and caramelized as you go up in strength.

            All yummy, just watch out for drinking a lot of the higher-strength ones. With very high-gravity beers, you end up with other sugar, alcohols, and various other “stuff” in the mix (the yeast are under stress) which can yield a killer hangover.

  2. I’ve never been to an Oktoberfest in Germany, so I can,’t say how authentic the American versions are

    Well I have never been to an Octoberfest in the U.S. but I am from Munich. I doubt that there is much that you can do wrong. Just mix strong beer, a hearty meal and a brass band and you’ve got yourself an Octoberfest.

    The food that was offered might not really reflect what you would see in Munich. And of course you wouldn’t find beer being served in such tiny quantities but every town and region does things a little different.

    But whatever the food. It is the party that counts.

    1. Yes! But give me local Federweissen (fizzy, cloudy, half-fermented wine) and the Zwiebelkuchen!!! (Onion pie). Yum!!

      Wisconsin is blessed with:
      Good beer (German, Czech, Polish heritage)
      Good sausage (German, Czech, Polish heritage)
      World class cheeses (now)
      and, need I add? The Packers! (My WI relatives are Packer nuts; I don’t care about football.)

      1. We have those good things, but you missed ubiquitous Friday Fish Frys, the only positive residual left from all that immigrant Catholicism.

        Then again, we’re cursed by a bad dose of Scott Walker.

  3. I don’t want to start a string of cheesehead jokes, but doesn’t the heel of the bun go under the lettuce and tomato?

    1. LOL!

      I’ve often had burgers served with the lettuce & tomato on the side…my impression was that those who wanted them could add them as desired.

  4. I like Germany’s approach to beer, but the last time I went to Slovakia I found out that Beer Spas (involves sitting in a bath of beer with as much beer as you’d like to drink on tap) are a thing…

  5. Ashling on the Lough… Is that just across from the Kenosha Public Museum and the Civil War Museum? Good to know for my next visit to the museum district!

  6. As a northern German who has never been to the Octoberfest I cannot say much about that tradition. But that burger does not look very German to me; it looks like American Fast Food with a little cup of Sauerkraut.

    Really that is very amusing. I assume that Chinese or Indians would think the same about “Chinese” or “Indian” food in other countries.

    1. My friend from Bangalore assures me that the only place on Earth where you can still get decent Indian food is London. When I asked him about India, he replied, “We have the best Chinese food in the world there, but at the expense of our native cuisine.”

  7. not sure what german potato salad may be in Wisconsin but here in PA, it’s boiled potatoes, in a warm sauce of chopped fried onions, bacon fat, celery seed, more bacon fat, crumbled bacon, apple cider vinegar, thickened with flour.

    and yes, I no longer have my gallbladder….

    1. and yes, I no longer have my gallbladder….

      Didn’t they give you the option of taking it home in a little glass of formalin?

        1. I am told, by people who had to endure it for a couple of days until they could get medivacced (medical evacuation) to shore, that passing a kidney stone is high on the list of unimaginable pains.

    2. Yes, that’s pretty much it in the Midwest as well, though there are often liberal doses of vinegar and sugar in it as well.

      I love the stuff. Much better than your basic yellow, mustard/mayo potato salad (IMO).

  8. A different look on the original O.:


    Ein Vater erklärt seinen Kindern: “Das ist nicht der Himmel der Bayern. Und das ist die Wiese für die Preißn. Ausländer!
    Auf dieser Wiese machen sie alles. Auf der Wiese wird gebieslt. Auf der Wiese wird gekotzt. Auf der Wiese wird geschissn…”

    If foreign friends would enquire about German beer festivals (not my thing) I would rather suggest visiting a local Biergarten or – if they persist – send them off to a smaller party (Gäubodenfest, Erlanger Berch etc. pp.).

    Prices in Munich’s most famous tourist trap are about three times as high.

    1. Before giving up on beer, try the following:

      Hoegaarden Wit Bier (Belgian white (wheat) beer)
      Lindeman’s Framboise (Belgian lambeck highly flavored with raspberries, very low hopped) Sort of hard to call it beer, though it is.

      Stella Artois is a Belgian Lager with very mild hopping. My (non-beer drinking) wife likes Stella pretty well. Although S-A is owned by the Budweiser colossus, it is still brewed well.

      I would also recommend some of the very malty brews from the UK, such as Old Peculiar (lovely stuff) and Mackeson Stout.

      I’m not sure where you live; but I no longer drink most American micros — they have just gone too far over on the hops (and always the exact same types of hops). This is slowly changing; but still very dominant. I keep sticking my toe into the water and thinking: yes, still unbalanced.

      (Obviously avoid all the standardized “American Lager” such as Miller, Bud, etc.)

      1. I agree that most of our microbrews are over-hopped in the US. But you can usually find alternatives, at least in Wisconsin there are plenty… Octoberfest style brews, many called “xxx Amber Ale”, etc. But I steer clear of anything labeled “IPA” or containing the word “hop” incorporated into the name.

      2. I live in Australia, which makes not drinking beer pretty anti-social at times. Although women are not expected to drink it as much as men are. We get Stella Artois so I’ll give it a go.

  9. One of the traditions they brought with them is Oktoberfest, a fall celebration associated in the US with German beer and food. I’ve never been to an Oktoberfest in Germany, so I can,’t say how authentic the American versions are.

    Some bars over here are running their own variant under the banner of “Ochtoberfest.”
    I don’t think they’re going for authenticity, except in the “lots of beer sales” department.

  10. Home made pickled “dilly” green beans are a great addition to a Bloody Mary. I’m not sure that I could find room for one in the drink you posted, however…

  11. The German potato salad in that photo is creamier than that I had in my nine years in Germany. And I don’t see evidence of the various spices.

    Not that I was looking for any but I never saw or tasted a “sweet” mustard in Germany. There was mittelscharf and sharf (middle hot and hot.) In fact, my neighbors asked if I could get the US mustard (typical French’s type) for them from the commissary…for their toddler.

      1. Perfect, I love it!: Kindersenf.

        I never use that stuff either. I love the coarse (texture) German mustards and some great facsimiles are made in the US. Generally, though, we just have pretty generic “Dijon” style mustard in the fridge at home (mainly because many recipes call for it.)

        I love mustard and horse radish. (Not so much wasabi.)

        But then I also love vinegar and chilis!

  12. Had an Oktoberfestbier taste test this fall, with Spaten, Paulaner, Samuel Adams, Penn Brewery, along with a locally-made draft from the Rivertowne Pour House. Notably lacking were Hacker-Pschorr and Ayinger, which are always stellar (particularly the latter). My German-born palate preferred the Paulaner hands-down, but my all-American companion selected Penn Brewery’s Oktoberfest as lacking the “metallic aftertaste” he detected in the German brews. The Sam Adams we both found drinkable but overly-caramel in flavor and otherwise unremarkable.

  13. The potato salad looks okay, for Southern Germany. There’s a traditional iso-line , with mayonnaise, usually egg and gherkins on the Northern side.
    What I highly recommend in tHt respect is in stores a Eastern product from Spreewald/Silesia/perhaps in Poland as well: Potato plus herring in such a salad, Heringshäckerle.
    The weird thing is that due to the after effects of GDR (25 yrs!) I get that in most stores at the Baltic Sea while it is Not available in the West.

Leave a Reply