However, I do not believe anyone can match the collective social awkwardness that occurs when a man walks into a packed, German-owned bar in Rotorua which is running its annual Oktoberfest, wearing full World War Two dress German Army uniform. I actually witnessed this happen. 

For the record, I have to stress that the man in question was not me. Amongst the many, many reasons why I would never do such a thing is that I loathe hierarchies and hate wearing a suit. All of that means that the uniform of an authoritarian regime is hardly going to be my beer drinking garb of choice, even without the historical “issues”.  In retrospect though, that man – who was the soberest person in the bar and behaved impeccably apart from the exact moment he chose his outfit for the day – did divert attention away from some of my Oktoberfest party fouls.

Said party fouls included, but were not limited to, drinking with people who chose to live in Hamilton, [1] yelling “more cowbell” at the quite awesome oompah pah band even though they already had eight cowbells, [2] and attempting to start an acapella version of “Don’t Stop Believing” whenever the band stopped to drink beer.  That said, even the most offended patrons had to laugh when, after the local constabulary talked to the guy in uniform but could find no legal reason to evict the chap, [3] he surreptitiously followed them out of the building doing the Ministry of Silly Walks walk.  

A quick review of my diary shows that this year I am attending and/or running a relatively modest six Oktoberfest beer events.  None of them will compare with the original in Munich which sees close to 7 million litres of beer drunk but that may be a good thing. New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans have a generally poor reputation at Oktoberfest, at least in part because the German hosts try to place us in the same tent (the Hofbrau tent) under the mistaken assumption that we all get along in the Southern Hemisphere. [4]

Here is how I summarised the origins of Oktoberfest on this “stossel” [5] blog just a year ago:

Officially, Oktoberfest began as a festival celebrating the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen [6] on October 12 1810. There was free alcohol and horse racing and the local populace decided to continue the tradition even after the Royals stopped paying [7] and the horse racing was dropped. 

British Beer Writer of the Year Pete Brown describes the origins of Oktoberfest as “commemorating the ill-fated marriage of a randy duke and a fair young maiden.  That, and as far as I can see, a very dodgy horse race.”  The marriage did indeed break down as the ageing king fell in love with an exotic dancer called Lola [8] and the first horse race was won by Franz Baumgartner who was admittedly a proficient horseman but was also the guy paid to design and build the racetrack.

The Malthouse is not having an Oktoberfest party this year though this is apparently unrelated to my stories of 2011 related above. It will be serving the traditional Hofbrau Oktoberfest (6.3%), a strong, full-bodied beer brewed in Munich and served at the actual festival in the famous Hofbrau tent mentioned earlier.  Designed to be drunk in hearty measures in tents by people in tight leather shorts, Hofbrau Oktoberfest is easy drinking with some light caramel flavours, a touch of floral hops and a quenching bitter finish. 

This Friday and Saturday there will be some serious Oktoberfest partying going down just 600 metres from Malthouse in a marquee outside Odlins Plaza on Cable Street (next to Mac’s – near Te Papa). It is the inaugural Oktoberfest: The Bavarian Showdown event, organised by Mike Sander and the Wellington Brass Band, financially supported by the Wellington City Council and diplomatically supported by the German Ambassador.  

Clearly, readers of this blog will be most interested in the beer and there will be Kiwi offerings from Tuatara, Fork & Brewer, Black Dog, Sprig & Fern and Mac’s. The German brewers will be represented by two of their most famous brands – Erdinger and Hofbrau.

As is becoming a welcome trend at beer festivals, the food list looks impressive with bratwurst, sauerkraut, pickles, hamburgers, pulled pork, schnitzel, spit roasted chicken, spit roasted pork and pretzels. I suppose I should mention there will also be sugar doughnuts, stout ice cream, coffee, bottled water and soft drinks.

In terms of music, the festival is unashamedly “oompah all the way – no rock bands at this event!”  Ten Bavarian bands are competing for the title of ‘Champion Bier Band’ in the National Bavarian Band Championship. Now, I have mixed feelings about this style of music. 

If you Google “flatulent, cheesy racket”  my article about oompah bands at a previous Malthouse Oktoberfest appears near the top of the list. In my defence, I was quoting Pete Brown (again). Conversely, I’ve seen these bands do kick ass (“stossel”) versions of Elvis songs and, in a surreal moment at the Malthouse a few years ago, the Canadian national anthem.

I’m going to support this new event and will be one of the first through the doors on Friday. [9] I’m unlikely to be raising too many Hofbrau but you might find me later on enjoying ein bisschen hoppy ale, singing German drinking songs I don’t know the words to, and demanding more cowbell. Prost!
Next time we drink to Miley Cyrus – a young woman on the fast track to being the next Lindsay Lohan.

[1] City of Future.  I may have to name Greig McGill if he does not send me some fine Brewaucracy beers… 

[2] The most I have seen outside of a Waikato rugby match.

[3] See the reference to sober and impeccably behaved above.

[4] That is right up there with “oh you are French? You will love this guy, he’s German. You will have so much to talk about.”

[5] “Kick Ass” – presuming my on-line translation engine is accurate. Given it has been approved to be on the internet I have to assume it is completely above board.

[6] Her name is pronounced exactly as it is spelt.

[7] A rare example of the monarchy dipping into their own pockets for a knees-up…

[8] This may have been the secret inspiration for Barry Manilow’s song Copacabana. If so, it has a lot to answer for.

[9] Perhaps literally the first.  Media passes are the most wonderful invention since bacon.

“O’zapft is!”

Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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