It was over a month ago that I had a chance to sample Dogfish Head NAMASTE a remarkable take on the Belgian Whit style that immediately reminded me of the first Belgian white I had many years ago: Celis White, from Austin, Texas. Celis of course, refers to Pierre Celis, the Belgian milkman who was responsible for saving this beer style from extinction, first creating Hoegaarden Whit. A beer that became successful enough that big business wanted in, as Mr. Celis stated: “That’s when things went downhill. The bankers wanted to take over and cheapen the ingredients used in my beers. I resisted awhile, but finally in 1990, I sold the rest of my shares to Interbrew. I was 65, and didn’t want to fight with bankers anymore.”
Of course Interbrew was just an earlier manifestation of the behemoth we know now as Anheuser-Busch InBev. Pierre Celis, no longer connected with Hoegaarden, decided to set up shop in the United States, choosing Austin, Texas because he liked the way Texans talked. The Celis from Austin was very good indeed. So much so that it produced imitations, most notably Blue Moon Belgian White. But soon the same business considerations came into play, in this case, Miller Brewing Company who purchased the brewery, and then shut it down on the last day of the year 2000.
Pierre Celis died at 86, in 2011. His daughter Christine hope to revive her Dad’s famous recipes, after reclaiming the rights to the Celis name. Pierre’s philosophy towards artisan brewing is worth repeating: “I think the most important thing is always quality. If you have no quality, it is always the same thing: you are short term. Fancy labels and marketing must come after the quality of the beer is there.”
Cheers to this Celis wisdom.
When discussing the history of Oktoberfest, a little known fact these days is that at the original, held in 1810, there was no beer! That was when King Ludwig I tied the knot with Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, and renewed his nuptial happiness every year with the autumn party. By 1814, beer gained importance. But it wasn’t until 1841 that a major step in the creation of what is now known as Oktoberfestbier, came into being. That is when Gabriel Sedlmayr of Spaten Brewing collaborated with Anton Dreher of the Dreher Brewery in Vienna, and introduced Vienna malt which lightened the color of the brew and also saw the creation of Vienna Amber lager. This is why it has been said that Oktoberfest beer is Vienna lager’s big brother.
The history of Marzen, or bier de Mars, goes back to a time before refrigeration, when the beer of March was stored in caves to be consumed at the end of summer. This is why traditional Marzen can be lagered (or aged) for 3 to 4 months.
There is plenty of time for this malty brew to become rich and mellow.
I have heard people speak ill of the Marzen style which I find puzzling. Maybe they don’t like a malt forward recipe style. Or maybe they just don’t like beer. Whatever the case, I have always enjoyed Oktoberfest beers.
Left Hand Brewing’s Oktoberfest stays true to the Marzen style, although at 6.6% abv is one of the stronger examples, although there are super strong Imperial Oktoberfest beers, such as The Kaiser from Avery and Dragonhosen from Boulder Beer, along with Hansel and Kettle from Three Notch Brewing.
Here in Cincinnati, Oktoberfest beer abounds. From Samuel Adams Octoberfest to Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier (a personal favorite) to Christian Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest to Franz from Rhinegeist Brewery.
I have been often asked which one is best? I say that is meaningless. They are all variations of a very beautiful theme.Prosit!