It’s no surprise, Oktoberfest cornerstone is beer

Kris Williams of Seymour has total recall of his first beer, drunk illegally at 16, while vacationing with a friend in Captiva Island, Florida.

The now 44-year-old man and his buddy stumbled upon an abandoned cooler in the sand. When they flipped the top, they were confronted by a load of Bass Ale.

The curious types felt compelled to confiscate a couple of bottles and then found a lonely crab trap and used wire from that contraption to open the drinks.

Williams recalled the incident Saturday while sitting in the biergarten sipping another brand, Mango Cart, at Oktoberfest in Seymour.

“It was strong,” he said of the beer he found as a teen.

Hardly a deserted Florida beach, dozens of beer imbibers were jammed together at tables under a beer tent, which the rest of the year masquerades as a parking lot.

This Seymour’s 49th annual Oktoberfest, a German tradition exported around the world, essentially to celebrate beer. There may have been 73 food booths and 42 arts and crafts vendors and children’s carnival rides, but this was basically the second coming of the Jackson County Fair.

Availability of lemon shake-ups, funnel cakes, elephant ears, fried Oreos, fried Twinkies, cheddar nuggets, taffy and fried pickles led one observer to note, “Is there nothing people won’t try?” But at the heart of it all was beer.

All of the action, parents pushing baby carriages, Seymour expats returned for family visits – and beer drinking – played out in the shadow of the John Mellencamp mural. Mellencamp may have been born in this small town, but as crammed with people as it was on a 75-degree clear autumn day, Seymour was not quite so small over the weekend.

Oktoberfest dates to a royal wedding in 1810 and these days lasts more than two weeks in Munich, Germany. Among the choices for Seymour drinkers were two brands of Oktoberfest beer, including Spaten Oktoberfest, which boasts a brewery opened in 1397.

John, 59, who kept his last name anonymous despite the expiration of the statute of limitations, drank his first beer at 13. While helping an uncle on a construction project, he was handed an Ultra Miller Lite.

“It was awful,” John said. Then of adulthood, he said, “It’s not my favorite, but it’s good.”

He likes the darker, more bitter Spaten Oktoberfest.

“It’s very strong. It’s very hoppy,” John said.

Two visitors from Columbus, Tony Grimes, 66, and Allen Tran, 70, who came to the United States from South Vietnam in 1975, drank the same German beer.

Tran said his first beer experience occurred through American troops.

“Budweiser in the PX,” Tran said. That was all they had. He chuckled. “When I came to the United States, I saw there were thousands of kinds of beer, so I tried them all.”

Kids can relate to that in their own way. Cotton candy, hot dogs, candy, ice cream, cheesecake on a stick, macaroni with pulled pork, apple cider, fish sandwiches, soda pop and Italian sausages were all available during Oktoberfest.

Midway games, such as popping balloons with darts, firing squirt guns at targets to win races, cost cash to play. Rides, including a Ferris wheel, bumper cars and other staples, required tickets.

Fistfuls of tickets cost a fistful of dollars. They could be purchased in lots of 22 for $30 and rose to $120 for 88. At the rate of three or four tickets per ride, Nick Mulles of North Vernon, traveling in a group of five, including three youngsters, worried his 88 tickets would evaporate before the kids finished riding.

“It’s expensive,” he said while admitting Oktoberfest is a holiday of sorts in the family. “We come all the time.”

Shelby Goodnight of Indianapolis but a former Seymour resident brought Charlotte, 7, as part of a family outing and rode the Sizzler with her. Strapped in, they twisted and turned, and Mom said afterwards she was a bit dizzy. Not Charlotte, though she did admit to screaming as the ride spun.

Lukas Brooks, 8, glowed as he climbed out of his bumper car. The monitor’s instructions to drivers were simple, “Step on the pedal and turn the wheel.” Then slam into the closest vehicle.

“I was trying to hit somebody,” said Brooks, who also rode the big slide and described the fast descent as “going and bumping.” Brooks was going to remember this day for driving a car but also for eating pizza and cotton candy.

One booth that seemed to be a kids hit featured face painting. A quickie paint job for those 2 to 12 at $12-plus offered such styles as a princess, Spiderman, mermaid and dragon and did a brisk business with a long line.

Juan Mateo, 6, of Seymour, got himself painted with “wild things” decoration for no publicly known reason. “Just because,” he said.

Harper, 6, chose a mermaid (“Because I like it”), which she also was planning to dress as for Halloween.

A parade skirted the edge of the biergarten bleacher seats erected at the corner of Walnut and Second (temporarily renamed in German). It may not have rivaled the Tournament of Roses parade, but there was no shortage of flashing lights from police cars, firetrucks and ambulances. Seymour High School cheerleaders cheered and the Seymour marching band played a tune.

While beer drinking was segregated by a fenced-in area, anyone was allowed to drink a lemon shake-up. The lemon-flavored drinks mostly sold for $7, making them more expensive than beer. Beer tickets were $5 each. Call that an “Only in America” thing. Mellencamp already has his “Ain’t that America” song. This seemed possible bonus lyric fodder.

Mango Cart beer featured the brightest advertising and owes its origins to fruit cart vendors in Los Angeles. Williams called it “sweet. It knocks the bitterness down.”

Ashleigh Thompson, 25, of Columbus drank a Mango Cart beer but also sampled Big Wave, which is from Hawaii, and a Spaten Oktoberfest.

Jace Crouch, 30, of Columbus expressed a fondness for the Spaten beer. He claimed the record for earliest beer at age 8. There was beer in his house, and to quench Crouch’s curiosity about what might be in the cans, he said, his mother handed him a beer saying, “Hey, you’re going to hate this.”

Maybe then, not now.