CHOW loves holiday parties. But sometimes we feel “tradition” could use some help. Take Oktoberfest. We love drinking good beer and eating hearty grub with our friends when the weather turns cool. But we wanted to do something lighter and more complex than bratwursts and salty sides. So we created Moktoberfest: a feast with traditional ingredients like pork and spätzle, but put together in more interesting ways.

To create the menu, we tweaked classic dishes and cooked up new ones inspired by cuisines of German-speaking Europe. Our onion tart with leeks and crème fraîche, for example, is a riff on flammenküche, a tart with cream, onions, and bacon found in the area around Alsace. The butter lettuce and pumpkin seed salad is a nod to the fact that the German-Austrian border produces the most pumpkin seeds of any European country. For dessert, we deconstructed traditional Black Forest cake into a creamy layered parfait with chocolate cookies. But rest assured: The spätzle, the side dish of comforting dumplings, is traditional. You don’t mess with spätzle.

We asked a beer sommelier for some interesting pairings: Phil Baxter of the LAX Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Los Angeles, which boasts more than 75 bottled beers from all over the world. For each course, there are two suggested brews: One is a complement, containing flavors that marry with the dish; the other is a contrast, to offset and show off flavors. With the Black Forest “Strata,” for example, we pair the complementary Lindemans Kriek Lambic, which we use to soak the dessert’s cherries. For the salad, we recommend Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout, dark and malty but more mellow than a traditional stout. The barley in the nose and the good malt flavor offset the tartness of the salad dressing. You don’t have to choose one or the other: We got both at Suppenküche, San Francisco’s modern yet homey German restaurant, and had fun sampling them all.

You’ll also find lots more information about German beers, as well as handy tips on how to make spätzle, stuff pork chops, and shape pie crusts.

Complementary Beer:

Contrasting Beer:
Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout

Party photographs by Joe Budd and Tom Sicurella.
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