The fifth annual C-U Oktoberfest barreled through the rain and wind to provide patrons with plenty of bier und brezeln. Despite the inclement weather, the mood was still jovial amongst vendors and patrons alike. Lucky for us, at an Oktoberfest, a bierzelt (beer tent) is a fundamental tradition and these did well to shield the masses from Mother Nature. Big props to all those involved in helping make “the show go on.”
I happened to be one of those patrons who attended during the worst block of weather during the event, which is why I was especially grateful for the smiling faces and upbeat attitudes as I approached their tables with my tickets looking like a drowned rat. This year was not unlike the others in that the festivals three large tents were set up in the same location (the parking lot in front of Orpheum Children’s Science Museum) and the $5 entry fee goes towards benefiting the Developmental Services Center. You could spend $5 more for an Oktoberfest mug that got you a little more beer per pour. If it wasn’t for already having so many at home, we would have sprung for them again.
As I mentioned, there were three large tents set up, with the larger main tent housing long wooden tables (you can reserve your table of 8 ahead of time), the main stage for the bands and a nice open area to polka to your heart’s content. The second tent, and perhaps most important, held all the beer (and a small selection of wine). There were plenty of local favorites like Riggs, Triptych, Blind Pig, Destihl, and J.T. Walkers mixed in with other distributors that carried celebrated beers from Hofbrauhaus, Hacker-Pschorr and Paulaner. All beers were 5 tickets ($1 per ticket) and to make it easy (or dangerous), there was an ATM located inside the beer tent. You could find German inspired food in the third tent which housed tables for Destihl and Pepsi Products/water, and Chester’s BBQ food truck was back (all five years, I think!).
I grabbed a handful of tickets and made my way over to the food tent first, for the stomach must be properly prepped in order to soak up large quantities of beer. I liked that there were multiple tables selling tickets. It helped cut down on lines and made it easier to obtain rather than going back and forth to one source located at the entrance. Destihl was serving up more than just pretzels, as they had a menu of miscellaneous sausages, German potato salad, and sauerkraut. No full plates this year, which I didn’t mind so much. With a crowded festival I’d rather more quick, grab-and-go items. I ordered the smoked chicken and apple sausage (5 tickets) and chilled German potato salad (2 tickets). I was a little disappointed in the sausage in that I expected more flavor. It was rather bland and the spicy mustard I put on top definitely overpowered any flavor there might have been.
I wish I would have opted for the ale sauerkraut. The potato salad was spot on with its German style preparation (though there’s still just as many variants as there are with American versions). It was served slightly chilled and coated lightly with a spicy mustard containing whole mustard seeds. The potatoes were cooked perfectly “al dente” and with minimal sauce (unlike the thick/creamy American version) you can actually really taste the earthy/starchiness of the potatoes themselves.
With my belly full (for the moment) I marched over to the beer tent to imbibe in my first Oktoberfest beer of the evening. I’ve had all the Riggs beers before, which I love dearly. Loads of other people do as well — so much so that they sold out of Oktoberfest in their tap room! The Riggs brothers pride themselves in attempting to never run out, so you know it’s gotta be good. Lucky for us, they did have plenty of kegs for this festival. With that being said, I at least wanted to try a couple other Oktoberfest’s I hadn’t had before.
I tried Triptych’s first and it was a well-rounded Märzen style beer. Most Oktoberfest beers are brewed to be a somewhat, for lack of a better word, mild beer that’s smooth and drinkable (in large quantities). Forgive me as I don’t feel fully confident in my beer/brewing knowledge to provide you with a nerd-level review of said beers, but I stumbled upon this article that explains the differences rather nicely. For any and all beer lovers out there, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on your favorite beer of the evening.
By now the rain had let up and we were able to move freely between tents without fear of being drenched. Die Musikmeisters Band played between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. And if you’ve never seen The Polkaholics before, don’t let the name fool you. They will, without a doubt, rock your socks off! Then, the Bolzen Beer Band ended the night. Young and old, there were lots of people dancing all through the night. Also, all throughout the night, no matter which tent you were in, I loved hearing the loud cheers of the German toast to health, “Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy, Oi Oi Oi!”
It was time for another beer and the swords of soft pretzels being paraded around were making my mouth water. Destihl provided the pretzels (3 tickets) and apart from not being piping hot, they were still very soft and fluffy and well-salted. While I went to grab napkins, my husband started chowing down before I took a picture (that'll teach me). It would be nice if there were also some dipping sauces/mustards around but they still tasted good on their own. Two thumbs up. Blind Pig’s C-U Oktoberfest Lager was probably the lightest one of the bunch, in terms of flavor. I got the bottom of the barrel, so it wasn’t very cold. It was also about time for Triptych to tap their Chocoweizen (6.2%, chocolate dark wheat); it smelled like chocolate and bananas... and it tasted like chocolate and bananas. Surprisingly, I found it very enjoyable. It was a rich-chocolatey dark color, but was light and smooth — very flavorful and drinkable.
Chester’s BBQ has always seemed like an odd choice for a German fest, but they’ve done well to add German style items to their menu like pork schnitzels and half chickens. Their schnitzel on a stick (7 tickets) has always been my favorite. They maintain a fairly tender, thin cut of meat under an extremely crispy, golden crust. It’s then topped with lemon slices, parsley, and your choice of condiment. Of course we went with German mustard. The mustard was a delicious gravy-brown color and tangy and sweet. For the 7 tickets we got two schnitzel sticks which I thought was a good bargain. I could have eaten a whole platter of schnitzel. I can see how it could definitely get messy, but I almost wish there were a table of different German mustards/condiments available to sample. There was only ketchup, yellow mustard and a spicy brown mustard from which to choose.
All in all, I’d say it’s been a good five years. First and foremost, you’ll always find great Midwest hospitality and the organizers have done well to improve on things each year. More seating and standing tables have been added. The idea of setting aside singular tents for music, food, and beer have helped to balance out the crowd. Having so many great local beers/brewers is absolutely fantastic and there’s always a decent food selection. I do think, if anything, the food section could be amped up a bit (of course this idea is coming from a food writer): Perhaps from 4 to 8 p.m. there’s a larger selection of full German menus or buffet, and then from 8 p.m. on there are lighter bites like the soft pretzels and meat-on-sticks. The bands are always a blast and the festival has continued to be family friendly. Even though I think some of the children’s activities got rained out this year (inflatable slide), I still saw everyone, young and old, having a great time. “Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy, Oi Oi Oi!”
All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake