IGNORE THE September listings in your Day Runner. As any dedicated zymologist will tell you, this is Oktoberfest season, when special bocks and wheat beers abound.
If you're interested in a completely unstructured course in German beers -- a sort of independent study -- drop by the Wurzburg Haus in the Red Mill Shopping Center on Muncaster Mill Road in Derwood (330-0402). Although it's primarily a laid-back German family restaurant, it stocks about 15 light and dark beers in bottles, plus the Spaaten and Hofbrau Oktoberfest releases (just flown in this week); and Dortmunder Union dark and light and the superb, toasty Schlosser Alt amber on draft in your choice of a glass or a stein-sized mug.
You can sit at the wide formica bar (well, it is just a little shopping center storefront), listen to the appropriate live accordion music on weekends, drink Schlosser, feast on homemade German breads and some of the easiest herring in cream salad ever to make your acquaintance (sour cream to do penance for, but user-friendly sweet celeriac -- I think -- instead of onion) and have a hefty lunch for about $10. Of course, the aroma from the kitchen may give you the wurst kind of hunger pangs, but that's okay, too. Chef Helmut will take good care of you.
If the combination turns out to be addictive, you can even take the bread and herring home: Wurzburg Haus also operates a market just a couple of doors down.
And yes, zymologist is just a euphemism for brewer or student of fermenting phenomena, but there aren't all that many opportunities to use words beginning with Z.
For other Oktoberfest activities around town, see page 24.
MAERZEN DOTES: Speaking of seasonal recipes, fans of Olde Heurich beer may have noticed a change in the label, one that seems to suggest the recipe has changed from an "amber lager" to a "Maerzen beer." Actually, the brew's the same -- it's just a case of accuracy in medium.
"Maerzen beer" is a "March beer," one brewed a little stronger to survive the summer without refrigeration (this is from way back, as they say). Olde Heurich himself, D.C. brewer Christian, always brewed a Maerzen beer and took a medal for it at the Paris Exposition of 1900. The current official O.H., grandson Gary, says that amber lager is a sort of catchall phrase that used to separate the drinking sophisticate from the swiller. (Gary Heurich did not use exactly those words, swill fans -- he's much more diplomatic.) However, there are now, by his estimate, 180 microbreweries in the United States, and more people are developing specific preferences and tastes. So he decided to take advantage of a necessary relocation -- Olde Heurich is now brewed by the F. X. Matt Brewing Company of Utica, N.Y. -- to redesign the labels to make his own family allegiance clear.
Heurich has also had a pamphlet printed to insert in the six-pack cartons describing the recipe and recommending a serving temperature at 45-50 . He also recommends pouring the beer straight into a glass, as do the makers of Philly's Dock Street amber. See? Doctor Nightlife always told you a head was a terrible thing to waste.
MODERATING INFLUENCES: The Olde Heurich pamphlet also includes a note from Gary Heurich that recommends combining convivialty with responsibility. That is a very adult approach (and presumably, patrons of the premium-priced Olde Heurich tend to be a little more mature). Miller Brewing, a more general-audience company that sponsors a large number of concert tours and local events, is testing a temporary ID bracelet, a plastic wristband that looks something like an airline luggage tag, which identifies the wearer as being of legal age. Wristbands are issued only to customers with clear ID; thereafter, only wristband-wearers are allowed to purchase beer. A single-lock fastener makes the band "non-transferable."
Miller's Beverly Jurkowski says the company has made venues aware that the wristbands are available; all they have to do is ask. Hint.
DOTTED LINER NOTES: Washington's guitar guys are beginning to get noticed: Danny Gatton signs with Elektra, Michael Fath signs an international distribution agreement with Ichiban, and now former hometown hero and latter-day E Streeter Nils Lofgren is headed into the studio in Los Angeles to produce (along with Melissa Etheridge mainstay Kevin McCormack) his own record for Rykodisc.
"We're going to be recording it as live as possible in the studio -- vocals, rhythm and lead -- a very raw approach, really shoving myself and my guitar out front, so in that sense it'll be radically different from my other records," says Lofgren, who hopes to have the record out by March.
Lofgren, who thinks he's at his best in front of a live audience, says he wants to release this album "with all the rough edges left on."
For a preview of live Lofgren (backed by brother Tom Lofgren and Paul Bell of the NewKeys), drop by the Birchmere Monday and Tuesday.
THE NAME GAME: Speaking of local guitar good guys, the August Guitar Player magazine includes a pullout 45-sized (but 33 to play) bit of black vinyl from Alter Ego's Glen Kuykendall, who took first place (from a field of 300) in the magazine's third annual Sound Page competition. The confusing news is that like Wrathchild-now-America, Alter Ego has stumbled onto another band with the same (trademarked) moniker. Henceforth, Alter Ego is Sunday's Child; and as such they're playing the Bayou Friday.
IT'S SMOKIN': And speaking of responsibility, Doctor Nightlife salutes Cactus Jack's new Tex-Mex joint on 19th Street, not for bringing in the Aggies and Longhorns by satellite (although, to each his own) but for banning smoking inside the entire restaurant. Smokers, hit the patio.