News doesn’t always travel fast. I suppose at some point news becomes history. By that logic, my last few articles have been historical accounts. Here’s another one.
This past September 28, there was a crowd in my yard. It was the 10th annual Oktobrewfest gathering. If you are not aware of what Oktobrewfest is, by all accounts it is awesome. The party has its genesis in bravado. Doug Hogle and I were entertaining ourselves with some friendly banter about which of our two Märzens was the better. We decided we should put it on the line and see. We threw a party with handmade sausages from Paul Blakie, beer pong games, a tent, and beer. Everyone voted blind for their favorite beer. That first year there were 5 entries, and one was an Imperial Stout. Mine proved not to be the best.
The first few years were small intimate gatherings of 20 to 30 people. Since then we have added Barrel Roll, Wench Run, Stein Grabber, and Beer Pong tournaments more beer, more people, more food, and a group to put it all together. There is a group of 12-15 people that organize and administer the entire event. This is known as the “Society”. The society does all the work for preparation and execution of the party. They are recognized by their blue shirts that say “SOCIETY” on the back. Seriously, the heroes of Oktobrewfest.
The food is still brought by the community, and sausage is still made by Paul Blakie even though he farms out the grinding and stuffing job to his local butcher. It is a lot of work to hand grind and stuff 50ish pounds of sausage. Rivalries have sprung up amongst the regular attendees over their dishes. There is the Spaetzle Struggle, the Rotkhol Rivalry, the Kraut Controversy, and the Potato Salad Smackdown. The food gets better every year. See, healthy competition always benefits the consumer.
This was the largest one to date. We had around 160 people in attendance this year. We also added some special prizes and fun just for this momentous year. Costumes have always been encouraged but with a costume competition added, things went up a notch. We also turned up the give-aways with a prize to the person that entered the most games and scored the best aggregate score. These on top of the prizes we already hand out for the individual game winners. Our prizes came from all our sponsors. They gave us lots of swag, gift cards, growler fills, and other fun stuff. Thanks to 2 Guys Brewing, Big Lake Brewing, The Fowling Warehouse, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery, Railtown Brewing, Siciliano’s Market, and Thornapple Brewing.
The beers did not disappoint. A brief explanation of the beer competition. We only allow 12 kegged, homebrewed, German style beers. One entry per person. They fight for the right to take home The Oktobrewfest Cup. The beers are then tapped at once with random placement on the 12 tap Brewsquitos bar. These are then judged by the mob according to personal preference. When adults come in the gate, they are given one ballot to cast. After 10 years of refinements, this is the best method we have come up with.
All the entries were good. Some better than others. We also have on tap other beers to share that range from donated commersh, to ciders, to other non-Teutonic homebrewed styles, and cheap-ass pong beer. There is also the Brotherhood Beer. This is a collaborative effort from all the entrants from the previous year. For 2019, it was a rye lager. Of around 100 gallons of beer, not a drop was left. Paul Curran had the distinction of passing the trophy to Doug Hogle this year. Doug had to accept his award via facetime though due to a recent retinal detachment.
This was also the hardest one to date. Really it mostly came down to the weather. Here is where Oktobrewfest X really stood out to me. Years past we have had wind, rain, snow, cold, humidity, and heat. This year was especially disastrous. The day of the party was a beautiful sunny fall day. That is what most people see. But it had rained all day and all night before the party. Then it rained some more in the wee hours after the party. Friday evening. There was a river flowing just beneath the surface of my lawn. We use a 20x30 pole tent as the Beertent, and another 10x30 frame tent for the taps. The beer tent blew down in the thunderstorm on Friday afternoon before the party, and it was looking like it would blow away again in the night before the party. Usually, we spend the day and evening before Oktbrewfest setting up tents, lights, décor, food service and mostly all the labor intensive stuff. This is a fun time of beer, pizza, music and comradery amongst the Society. Because of the weather, we were forced to wait until Saturday morning, before the party at 2pm. We slogged in the mud and did EVERYTHING in 6 hours on Saturday morning.
This did not solve the problem of the mud. The yard was super sloppy before we even started setting up. Then, when 160ish people tromped all over, it was trashed. As people were showing up, we laid down some palates and plywood as well as astro-turf and tarps just to keep the mud from sucking your shoes off. Soooooo bad. My yard will be getting reseeded in the spring. I wanted to reseed this fall, but again, the weather wouldn’t permit it. It is still too wet to walk across where the tent was, let alone get my mower and a roller on it. I have had so many people try to offer solutions how to keep my yard dry. No, I am not raising the entire height of my yard. No, I am not spreading sand on my grass. No I am not digging an f’ing drainage tile. This was the first time in 10 years it has been an issue, and we had an exceptional amount rain within 24 hours of the event. It was even seeping up through the cracks in the floor of the Pong Gallery. I assure you, my yard is generally not swampy.
Oh well, every year was fun with its own set of challenges. With this year being year 10 we wanted to make it special and memorable. So did Michigan. Every year we strive to maximize the fun, while minimizing the work involved. The years ahead we will continue to do the same. With further refinements and innovations, Oktobrewfest keeps getting bigger and better. See you on September 26 in 2020!