OKTOBERFEST The Oktoberfest is a two-week festival held each year in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, during late September and early October. It is one of the most famous events in the city and the world's largest fair, with some six million people attending every year. The event traditionally takes place during the 16 days up to and including the first Sunday in October. The schedule was changed following German reunification in 1990 so that if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or 2nd, then the festival will go on until October 3rd (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival is now 17 days when the first Sunday is Oct. 2 and 18 days when it is Oct. 1. The festival is held on an area named the Theresienwiese (Field, or meadow, of Therese), often called "d' Wiesn" for short. Beer plays a central role in the fair, with every festival beginning with a keg of beer tapped by the Mayor of Munich, who declares "O'zapft is!" (Bavarian: "It's tapped!"). A special Oktoberfest beer is brewed for the occasion, which is slightly darker and stronger, in both taste and alcohol. It is served in a one-liter-tankard called Ma. The first mass is served to the Bavarian Minister-President. Only local Munich breweries are allowed to serve this beer in a Bierzelt, a beer tent which is large enough for thousands. Note: the words "stein" and "lager" do not mean what many English speakers think they do so instead use "Mass" or "Helles," respectively. Visitors also consume large quantities of food, most of it traditional hearty fare such as sausage, hendl (chicken), kSsespStzle (cheese noodles), and sauerkraut, along with such Bavarian delicacies as roast ox tails. Now you know what it's all about lets get down to making some kraut food. BEER-BRAISED SAUSAGES AND SAUERKRAUT I cooked the sausages and sauerkraut with the Oktoberfest beer that we're serving at the hotel with the dish. Using a lager like this results in a deep, caramelized flavor. Serves 6. INGREDIENTS 9 cups drained sauerkraut pound smoked bacon (preferably slab), cut crosswise into -inch pieces 2 medium-large onions, sliced thin 4 medium carrots, cut crosswise into -inch -thick slices 5 cups Oktoberfest lager (44 ounces) such as Paulaner 1 cup chicken broth 3 bay leaves 1 teaspoon salt teaspoon whole black peppercorns 1 tablespoon vegetable oil if desired 1 pounds assorted smoked and precooked fresh sausages* (we use smoked kielbasa cut into thick slices, frankfurters, and baernwurst, and precooked fresh bratwurst, weisswurst, and chipolata) Accompaniment: coarse-grained mustard METHOD Preheat oven to 325F. In a large bowl soak sauerkraut in cold water to cover 20 minutes, changing water once halfway through soaking. While sauerkraut is soaking, in a large heavy skillet cook bacon pieces over moderate heat, stirring, until golden. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons drippings and add onions to bacon. Cook mixture, stirring, until onions are softened. Drain sauerkraut well in a colander, pressing out excess liquid, and in a large flameproof roasting pan combine with bacon mixture, carrots, beer, broth, bay leaves, salt, and peppercorns. Bring sauerkraut mixture to a boil on top of stove and boil 1 minute. Cover pan tightly with foil and braise in middle of oven 4 hours. Sauerkraut may be prepared up to this point 1 day ahead, cooled, uncovered, and chilled, covered with plastic wrap. Reheat sauerkraut before proceeding. If desired, in a heavy skillet heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and in batches brown sausages. Add sausages and pork loin to sauerkraut, partially submerging them. Braise sausages and sauerkraut, covered tightly with foil, in middle of oven 30 minutes and transfer with a slotted spoon to a heated platter, discarding bay leaves if desired. (Do not eat bay leaves if leaving as garnish, obviously!) AND FINALLY... True story - I was at the local Irish pub here in Miami a few days ago, and they were putting up signs advertising their Oktoberfest plans. I cheeckily said to the manager, "I didn't realize Oktoberfest was Irish." He answered, "Anything for a buck. And that's very Irish." CHEERS CHEF GILLIGAN