Today The Thirsty Beagle blog brings you a conversation with Mike Turek, owner of Old Germany restaurant and the main man behind the annual Choctaw Oktoberfest celebration. This year will be the 21st annual celebration, and some big things are in store. First and foremost, Turek has expanded the festival to seven days this year. It will run over two weekends: Sept. 2-4 and 7-10. Second, Turek has secured 44 beers on tap this year, a figure he believes is the largest selection for any Oktoberfest celebration in the country. But I’ll let him fill you in on the details.
1. The Thirsty Beagle: The festival this year will be held over seven days and cover two weekends – is this the first time you’ve done that? If so, why did you decide to expand it?
Mike Turek: Yes it is, mostly to weatherproof the event. It costs so much to stage this event — if my Friday and Saturday get rained out on a four-day event it would hurt severely financially. Also many people have events scheduled that prevented them from attending the festival, so this gives them an opportunity to finally see the Choctaw Oktoberfest.
2. TTB: The festival will have 44 beers on tap. You mentioned to me that may be the most of any Oktoberfest in the country. Will that include local brews, or anything exotic or special for the occasion?
MT:Yes some local, even some 3.2 percent beers, but a whole bunch of awesome imports from Germany, like the original Paulaner Wies’n Bier. Wiesen (long form) Bier is the very beer served at the Munich Oktoberfest Theresien Wies’n Platz (Therese’s Meadows Place) where the original Munich Oktoberfest is held for 16 days each year. Also, Stiegl Lager from Salzburg, Austria, is a new addition. But there are so many great beers.
3. TTB: Could you provide an explanation of the purpose of Oktoberfest celebrations, generally speaking, for someone who doesn’t know about the history?
MT: It was a celebration for King Ludwig’s wedding and a celebration of harvest season. There were horse races, lots of dancing, food and of course Oktoberfest bier! In March of every year the monks brewed a slightly stronger, more amber-colored beer that would survive the warm summer months a little better. During Oktoberfest they would drink the remaining “March-brewed” beer. That is why Oktoberfest beer is often called “Maerzen Bier” (March Beer). “The wedding party and this celebration should last until the last guy drops,” King Ludwig proclaimed! It turned out to be 16 days. Today they generally find the first Sunday in October, back up 16 days and that is usually the beginning of the Munich Oktoberfest. They add a day here and there to accommodate special occasions, but that is the gist of it.
4. TTB: This is the 21st Choctaw Oktoberfest. How has the festival changed over the years? Has the increase in Oklahoma beers the last three or four years been a big boost?
MT:It is now 21, it has come of age! There is now more music, more food variety, certainly more beers to choose from. Yes, Oklahoma brewers have stepped up and are making some really great beers. I always look forward to COOP’s Oktoberfest brew; it’s awesome!
5. TTB: When you’re talking about dozens of beers on tap, tons of food, tents, parking, the whole works, how hard is this event to pull off? How early do you have to start preparing? Why is it worth it for you?
MT: We literally start the day after the Oktoberfest ends. You have to book the tents, bands, tables and chairs early on. It is a yearlong process. Then when the festival starts it takes about 400 volunteers to stage the event. As for the city of Choctaw, it quadruples the population by 400 percent, plus sales tax revenue jumps dramatically. Of course it has to be good for Old Germany to go out on that financial limb. No one remembers that we lost $30,000 in 1999 and in 2001 when the storms hit us on Friday nights and killed attendance. No one except my banker, who had to bail us out, that is. It is a tremendous undertaking with all kinds of risks and rewards but the overall publicity for Old Germany is worth all the effort. Maybe that is why we are the longest running German restaurant and Oktoberfest in central Oklahoma.
Thanks Mike! As usual, Choctaw Oktoberfest will include all the music, fun and food you’ve come to expect. Mike also reports on the Oktoberfest Facebook page that organizers are looking for volunteers and booster clubs who want to man booths in exchange for donations to their clubs. You can learn more about those opportunities, and the fest in general, at www.oldgermany.com. And coming up tomorrow, I’ll post an excellent list of all 44 beers set to be on tap at the event.