Bavarian rhapsody

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 12:00am

The Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich ended last Sunday, with 5.4 million people having munched through 51,000 pork knuckles, 35,000 spit-roasted chicken and 150,000 sausages in two weeks. Serving this smorgasbord were 1,600 waitresses and 12,000 staff. Oh, and thirsty festival patrons drank six million litres of beer!

Those numbers wouldn't have featured in the wildest imaginations of Bavarian King Ludwig I, who started the merrymaking in 1810 to celebrate his wedding to Princess Therese. Their anniversary has turned into this monumental beer festival, which begins with the Mayor of Munich tapping the first keg and ends in one gigantic beer-drinking and brass-band-playing romp.

The Oktoberfest events in Hong Kong aren't on the scale of those in Munich, but the German pubs here serve interesting beers from Deutschland. Two of these pubs are right next to each other and adjacent to Lan Kwai Fong - Schnurrbart (29 D'Aguilar Street, tel: 2523 4700) and Bit Point (31 D'Aguilar Street, tel: 2523 7436). Schnurrbart is the livelier of the two, with more buzz and good food, and has been a regular hang-out for almost 20 years. It serves three types of draft Pilsener, each priced at $38: Jever, a deep-gold lager with a head like whipped egg whites and a powerful bitter taste, measuring 44 BU (bitterness units); the clean-tasting, slightly carbonated, golden-yellow Konig; and Warsteiner, which is paler and lighter-bodied than other German pilseners, with a well-rounded flavour but no bite.

Bottled brews at Schnurrbart include the ever-popular Erdinger ($48) from Germany's largest wheat-beer producer. Whereas most beers are concocted from malted barley, the tart refreshing taste of this weissbier (white beer) comes from its being 60 per cent wheat. Its fresh clean aroma stems from the three varieties of aromatic hops used. The Erdinger dunkel (dark) is slightly spicier and has more character. Both Erdingers have a residual sweetness in the finish. Erdinger goes well with weiner schnitzel ($115) or pork knuckles with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes ($119).

What neighbouring Bitpoint lacks in atmosphere it makes up for with its interesting beer list: Bitburger, Kostritzer, Diebels Altbier ($38 each) and Schneider Weisse ($54): four remarkable beers, each a champion of its style.

Bitburger is probably the best-selling German pilsener in the world, made famous by its advertising slogan: Bitte eine Bit (one Bit please). It is fairly bitter (35 BU) with a delightfully rich and floral aroma.

Kostritzer Schwarzbier from the same brewery has the looks of a stout and the soul of a lager, with its dark colour, roasted malt flavour and bitter chocolate aroma, yet smooth and easy lager-like drinkability.

Diebels from Dusseldorf is from the Altbier family - a distant relative of English and Belgian ales. It is malty, a little syrupy in character and aromatic. My favourite is the Schneider Weisse, the original Bavarian hefeweizen (wheat beer with a yeast sediment). Smelling of cloves, fruit and pepper, it combines all the delights of wheat beers into a refreshingly spicy and thirst-quenching drink.

Tucked away in Stanley is another great place for German brews: the al fresco balcony of the King Ludwig Beerhall (Murray House, Stanley Plaza tel: 2899 0122), where you can enjoy hefty German pints with sausages and sauerkraut while looking out across the sea.

Unfortunately the traditional Oktoberfest beer brewed specifically for the festival, Marzenbier, is unavailable here. For that you must make the October pilgrimage to Munich.