Where do you find lederhosen, schnitzel, funny Alpine hats and beer styles like dunkel, gose and Märzen? The Oktoberfest party at Beau’s, of course! This past Saturday was the second Oktoberfest party thrown by Beau’s held at the Vankleek Hill Fairgrounds (the first was held at the brewery). Though it was a chilly day, lots of excited beer drinkers braved the winds and muddy grounds to drink some German styles and enjoy Oktoberfest with the hassle or expense of actually going to Germany. Lots of events were happening during the day, both on-site and in Vankleek Hill, where DIY tours of the brewery were going on. Shuttle buses were in place to take people around, though most of the action was located near the beer.
Last year 5,000 people showed up on the weekend, far more than Beau’s predicted, resulting in long lines and a moderate amount of chaos (or so I’m told). This year they capped the number of tickets and sold extra beer tokens in advance, easing the process of getting inside and getting a drink in your hand. Walking in at noon, the grounds were already fairly busy with lots of people carrying their Beau’s Oktoberfest beer steins ($8). After a quick stop to get me own, it was off to the first beer tent for a tasting of Opa’s Gose, a style made with salt and coriander. The salt was disappointingly absent, but the Gose was still a nice, fruity wheat beer. The banana was almost overpowering, but it should also be noted that I was shivering due to the weather and a refreshing, fruity beer was not what I needed. Similar in taste and style was the Lug Tread WTF, which was the normal Lug Tread but fermented with a wheat beer yeast (and not, as one employee told me, a bad batch of Lug Tread that magically tasted delicious). The different yeast definitely brought out the fruitiness and obstructed the grassy flavours. An interesting experiment that showed the influence that yeast has in the final taste of beer.
The Night Märzen was better suited to the day, complementing the weather with a heavy pumpernickel taste and slight chewiness. Definitely a beer to help fortify yourself against the elements. The other maltier option was the Late Night Sneaky Dunkel, a nice amber lager with lots of roasted and nutty flavours. As someone who always says he is not a fan of darker German lagers, these were flavourful, balanced and well made beers. The one disappointing beer was the Happy Pils, which was far too sweet and had streaks of diacetyl. Volo’s Cask Days were also in attendance, but as someone who had tried most of the beers on cask already it seemed like the polite thing to do was leave everything for those who normally didn’t have access to lots of cask beer.
If you’ve ever watched the episode of the Thirsty Traveler where Kevin Brauch goes to the Oktoberfest in Munich, you know that music is a big part of the celebration. This integral part was missing at this celebration – in fact, it seemed like the music never stopped. Schteev & the Lederhosers got the crowd dancing and singing some traditional Oktoberfest tunes, which was a nice touch for the first hour. But by the end the words “Oktoberfest is wunderbar” seemed to activate my Kill Switch. Thanks for clarifying that fact – it was good to know that nothing had changed in the past half-hour. The German dancing troupe took me back to my childhood days of going to the Austrian Club with routines that included lots of thigh and shoe slapping, plus some large bells. The one thing I didn’t remember was the content of the dances, which often involved the men saucily courting the women then doing some dance moves while the women spun around in circles. Oh, and there was also an anvil routine that wasn’t nearly as awesome as one would hope. Overall, the entertainment was a nice touch to help recreate the Oktoberfest experience.
My one recommendation for next year is to spread some of the entertainment to the beer tents. All of the music and dancing was on a main stage that was near the tents, but you could only hear the music from the tents. Competitions like the malt sack races and sauerkraut eating competition were tucked away behind the beer stations. If the tents didn’t have beer in them they would have been rather bleak and depressing. They blocked out most light and didn’t really encourage the mingling of parties at the tables.
Beer talks were happening throughout the day in the “town hall” on the fairgrounds and I’ve always been a fan of mixing education and drinking (just ask my cataloging class). Mirella Amato of Beerology was doing a talk on beer and cheese pairings, which is now my new official beer obsession. Mirella was given quite the challenge with this pairing as the event was planned over the phone without her having tried any of the beer or cheese, as well as being restricted to only Beau’s beer and cheese from Fifth Town. She pulled it off though, especially the Lug Tread WTF with a gouda that contained cumin seeds. The cheese was really citrusy on its own, but the beer really accented the whole cumin seeds. The pairing for the Sneaky Dunkel also brought out an intense roasted almond flavour, creating a new flavour that worked with both the beer and cheese. The line-up had to be capped for the cheese pairing and it looked quite long for other talks, so this is another area that Beau’s can definitely expand next year.
A quick trip to the brewery was mandatory, just to see where all the magic happens. If you’ve seen one craft brewery you’ve kind of seen them all (at least that has been my experience so far) and obviously no actually brewing was being done on Saturday, which is always the part I’m most interested in seeing. But they were serving some unfiltered Lug Tread straight from the fermenters, full of lots of yeast deliciousness. The beer was so cloudy with sediment that it confused the macro-focus on my camera. After a quick look around it was back on the shuttle to find some more beer.
And it wouldn’t be an Oktoberfest celebration without some food! Lots of Eastern Ontario eateries, cafes and mongers were selling various food, often inspired by German cuisine. Being the lazy journalist that I am, no notes about the vendors were written (in fact, no notes were written the entire day), but the food was definitely memorable. The day started with spaetzle poutine, a delicious mixture of curds, spaetzle (little dough dumplings) and gravy. That was wolfed down pretty quickly. The schnitzel stand had a long lineup all day, so I went for some goulash which was a little tough but was a nice substantial meal during a day of drinking. There was a disappointing lack of sauerkraut, except for the one soup that contained cabbage. A little surprising as this would seem to be a really easy food item to make and keep throughout the day, but this is a minor complaint. Lines moved fairly quickly and there were plenty of options (unless you were a vegetarian, but they should have expected as much). By five or six in the evening some stands had sold out of all their food, so there were obviously lots of satisfied customers.
Beau’s has always been a brewery that knows how to market itself, always highlighting the fact that the brewery is family run, uses organic ingredients and gives back to the community. They also have a great design aesthetic, which was partially represented in their massive merch tent at the fairgrounds and store at the brewery. T-shirts, sweaters, toques, scarves and their bowling-shirts that say “Oh Yeah!”, all with different colour schemes and design. Probably some lederhosen too, though I didn’t see anyone brave enough to wear it (outside of Beau’s employees that probably had no choice). Their branding really puts other Ontario craft brewers to shame.
Then it was time to go home. Sitting on the bus coming back, I was happy not to have been intoxicated as others were given that a yellow school bus is not the cure one needs after a day of drinking. After the problems of last year, Beau’s ran a tight ship throughout the day and delivered a good party with some tasty beer. It was definitely worth the trip to Ottawa/Vankleek Hill, especially when you include a beer run in Gatineau. For those who can’t make it out to Munich, it is the next best thing.