Dining Out: Oktoberfest with the Sacramento Turn Verein

Oktoberfest with the Sacramento Turn Verein, 10/1-10/2

The Sacramento Turn Verein, founded in 1854, claims to be the oldest active social organization in Sacramento. Turn Verein (“gymnastic club” in German) focuses on preserving German culture and heritage and has several events during the year as well as offering German language courses and several sports teams. German immigrants had a substantial impact on the development of Sacramento especially as far as beer is concerned (see the book  Sacramento’s Breweries by Ed Carroll for a detailed history of pre-prohibition brewing and a window into the German-American community in Sacramento) so it only seems fitting that beer and history come together for this Oktoberfest. The Sacramento Turn Verein’s Oktoberfest celebration was October 1st and 2nd, and by all appearances a good time was had by all.

Oktoberfest originated in Munich in 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Theresia of Saxony-Hildburghausen. It was such a success (possibly due to the beer provided by Prince Ludwig) that it was continued the following year and has become a huge festival in Munich and probably the best known German festival in the U.S.  

The only problem with the Sacramento Turn Verein’s Oktoberfest celebration (their 43rd) was its great popularity. Large crowds turned out for such traditional treats as Oktoberfest beers from Munich, sausage, sauerkraut and (my favorite) German-style pastries. I can’t remember the name of the almond and cream confection that I helped to devour, but it was the best pastry I’d had in ages, reminding me favorably of those made by the Austrian trained pastry chef (Master’s Degree in Sugar Baking) of Konditorei in Davis. The crowds were large enough that we had difficulty finding places to sit and eat our food and drink our beer. From the number of people I saw holding pitchers of beer I don’t think we were alone (though some of them were drinking straight from the pitcher).  

The enthusiasm of the crowd was noteworthy. Lederhosen and traditional German dresses were much in evidence as were German-style beer steins. Most people seemed to know most of the words during sing-alongs, though a few obviously made up words, including a group of middle-aged women that tossed in “Vagina” in place of one word to the surprise and entertainment of those around them. There were some people dancing, but at least upstairs the amount of available room was a little small. One small complaint – it was hard to hear the music.  The amplification couldn’t quite keep up with the boisterous crowds.

Oktoberfest anywhere does tend to be a party scene and Turn Verin’s Oktoberfest was no exception. There were very tall women in very short skirts and very high heels offering apfel schnapps and Jagermeister for sale in tall tubes. I was tempted, but as I’ve gotten older Jagermeister has become a rare indulgence, and besides I had to drive at the end of the evening. There was also wine for sale, but I don’t remember seeing a single glass of it being drunk. Beer was the beverage of choice.    

Oktoberfest beer tends to be a bit stronger than the average beer (around 6% alc/vol), though a bit weaker than a hundred years ago. Oktoberfest beers were traditionally brewed in the spring before temperatures got too hot for brewing in the summer and stored until it was time to drink them. The extra strength was intended to help preserve the beer.

Oktoberfest beers are usually malt-accented, with a rich, sweet taste and an amber color.

I enjoyed the Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest, which is pleasantly malty, leaning towards a caramel flavor, but balanced with a faint, spicy hop bitterness. Rich in flavor and medium bodied. Very drinkable and smooth, at 5.8% alc/vol, it can creep up on the unwary. My wife noticed the strength, probably due to the fact that we had gotten into the beer line before the food line since it was longer. Alcohol is not present in the flavor even after it warms a bit. Some (especially West Coast hopheads) may find the beer a bit sweet, but the beer is actually quite well-balanced, as all the flavor aspects make a contribution to the overall flavor.   

The atmosphere at Turn Verein, however, was family friendly enough that the kids and teens present did not seem out of place.  Many groups appeared to have three generations in attendance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the tradition continues for many years to come. As the Sacramento Turn Verein states on their website: “Beer! Food! Music! What a way to celebrate life! And the Sacramento Turn Verein invites you to come and participate. So bring your mug, and Eat! Dance! and G’suffa!”

By Ed Edsten

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