As the calendar flips to September, beer lovers around the world know that means one thing: Oktoberfest. While the annual celebration in Munich, Germany has been canceled for the second year in a row, smaller festivals and activities are taking place in pockets just about everywhere else, including here on Tucson’s Mt. Lemmon.
Stepping foot into any grocery store around town, the most prominent beer displays right now are for Sam Adam’s Octoberfest (one of the few beers that spells it with a “C” and not a “K”). Some might believe it to be too early for a fall beer to hit store shelves, but Oktoberfest has always begun in the middle to late September.
Oktoberfest itself is a Bavarian festival, celebrating the marriage of the prince of Bavaria (who became King Louis I) to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildurbhausen. Originally, when the marriage took place, the initial celebration was in the middle of October. However, as the celebration grew longer, it pushed into September due to the warmer days and longer hours of daylight. So, while it’s called Oktoberfest, it kicks off in September.
In Tucson, the place to be for beer lovers has long been Mt. Lemmon’s Sky Valley. The cooler daytime temperatures make it the perfect opportunity to break free from the lingering Tucson heat while enjoying a number of German-influenced activities, ranging from singing, dancing, eating, and, yes, drinking.
This year Oktoberfest is back at Mt. Lemmon, although it will only be held on weekends and not throughout the entire week. Starting Saturday, September 18, and running through Sunday, October 10, that gives four weekends of activities for anyone looking to partake.
For each weekend, hours of the celebration start at noon and run until 5 PM. This gives enough time to make it back down the mountain, although if you book a room up at one of the lodges, or you rent out an Airbnb, the celebration can continue far longer into the night.
There will also be live music, plus activities and games for the kids, so it isn’t just an event for adults.
Traditionally, there is a single style of beer that is offered at Oktoberfest celebrations, although a second style has spun off more recently. Marzen is the kind of beer that is most often associated with Oktoberfest. The beer, which means “March” in German, simply references the month in which the brewing process begins. Unlike current beers, which lean more towards a hoppy, bitter, IPA style, marzen beers are more malt-forward, which can give them a toasted biscuit kind of flavor. However, in the 1950s, the festbier began popping up at German celebrations.
Festbier is a lighter beer style (whereas a marzen is a darker lager), closer to a pilsner with a touch of malt characteristics. For individuals who do not like the intense, malty flavor of a marzen, festbier is a desirable alternative and, in many breweries in Germany now serve the festbier as the main Oktoberfest beer. Ultimately, it comes down to preference,
But whatever the beer preference is, the season of German celebratory beers is now right around the corner, and for anyone looking to celebrate, Mt. Lemmon will be the place to be. There will be a handful of other, smaller celebrations around town, with some local breweries holding their own events. However, for anyone interested in getting away from the sweltering Tucson heat while taking a peaceful drive, one of the four weekends of the Mt. Lemmon Oktoberfest celebration is the place to be.
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