Fest First

Sour and hoppy beers are sharing the stage with a lineup of funky jazz bands at the first-ever Fünkendänk Oktoberfest, happening next month at SOMO Village Event Center in Rohnert Park.

Gordon Biersch cofounder and HopMonk owner Dean Biersch and RateBeer.com founder Joseph Tucker conceived of the idea, a twist on the traditional German harvest celebration, as a way to spotlight what are today the two most innovative craft beers being produced in the United States.

“We think they’re great companions, not only because they’re the two most popular styles of beer right now, but they’re also balanced flavors,” says Tucker of the sour and hoppy selections. As he explains, sour beers cleanse the palate after hoppy brews coat the tongue, and hoppy beers smooth out the prickly flavors of the sours.

Biersch adds that the event is taking a page from Belgian brewers, where wild yeast produces more random flavors in the beer, in contrast to the German practice of precise beer making.

“You don’t expect to taste exactly the same beer every time around,” Biersch says. “I think that’s appealing to the small-batch beer culture happening right now; rather than looking for the same flavor every day, [people are] looking for the nuance.”

When hoppy and sour beers first emigrated here from Europe, American brewers pushed the flavors to their extremes. Tucker notes that beer makers are now concerned more with balance, subtly and complexity in their flavors.

“We’ve arrived with sour,” Tucker says. For German beer purists, Biersch will also be pouring traditional Hefeweizens and pilsners from huge oak barrels.

Fünkendänk Oktoberfest not only highlights these flavors from breweries like HenHouse, Lagunitas, Marin Brewing, Russian River and many others; it also boasts a lineup of nationally touring bands to add to the party atmosphere.

Headlining Fünkendänk is New Orleans institution Galactic, a funky favorite of the Crescent City for more than two decades who have cultivated a massive following. Also from New Orleans, Big Sam’s Funky Nation mixes in everything from hip-hop to rock ‘n’ roll into their jazzy grooves. Frontman Big Sam (pictured) is a veteran of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and his ensemble’s credentials could fill a jukebox.

Brooklyn Afrobeat soul band Pimps of Joytime also make their way to the North Bay for the show. Local trad and Gypsy-jazz groups the Dixie Giants and Royal Jelly Jive do their thing as well.

“These are jammy bands, great technical bands and super fun,” Biersch says. “The focus is to get the party started and make this an annual event.”