Sunday, September 23, 2012

What is Oktoberfest?

It's a beer and a festival! This year marks the 179th Oktoberfest, which started yesterday and will last for 16 days. Held in Munich (Bavaria, Germany), Oktoberfest is the world's largest fair, with somewhere around 5 or 6 million attendees each year (1). During the festivities, visitors consume almost 2 million gallons of beer.

Beer maids and waiters must be able to carry 10 beer-filled mugs at a time. (3) (7)
(Image Source: http://goo.gl/75eOZ)
The Oktoberfest tradition started in 1810 (2) to celebrate the October 12th marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the festivities which were held over five days on the fields in front of the city gates. The main event of the original Oktoberfest was a horse race! Anniversary celebrations were held annually thereafter, which each becoming larger and more elaborate, including the introduction of carnival rides. (3)

Underneath one of the big tents at Oktoberfest 2012.
(Image Source: http://goo.gl/malIv)
Oktoberfest beer is a variety of the Märzen style, which I discussed in a previous post about smoked beer. Like all German beer, the Oktoberfest beer is brewed according to strict German standards called the Reinheitsgebot (4), which has been in effect since 1516. Also known as the German Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot precisely defines the four ingredients allowed to be used to brew beer: barley, hops, malt, and yeast (3). While I'm a big fan of innovative craft beer, I can certainly respect the brewing traditions that Germany has upheld all this time.

I've tried a few different Oktoberfest-style beers this year, including:
  1. Tröegs' Scratch #73 "Fest Lager", which they've unofficially dubbed OkTröegerFest. At 5.5% ABV and 35 IBUs, this yeasty lager was growler-worthy. I very much enjoyed this one-off and would be appreciative of another appearance next year (hint to the Trogners if you're reading this!). You can read more reviews on BA and RB. Justin's Brew Review gives it an "A-".
  2. Yuengling's Oktoberfest was also rockin'. However, it was a limited release because Yuengling does not have the capacity (5) to produce seasonal brews. I had difficulty finding any to try, but I did receive a sixer thanks to my father-in-law who was able to purchase an entire case! I'm milking it (beering it?) because I don't want to run out too quickly. BA likes it better than RB, but Justin's Brew Review gives Yuengling's offering a solid "A".
  3. Samuel Adams calls their version Octoberfest (yes, they Americanized the beer's moniker). It is both excellent and available. Boston Beer (brewer of the Sam Adams brand) rarely disappoints in my opinion, and this is no exception. If you like the Oktoberfest style beer, you should go get yourself some of this. It rates well on BA, and RB ranks it very highly for the style. Justin's Brew Review gives it an "A+".


The mayor of Munich ceremonially taps the first keg at Oktoberfest 2012.
(Image Source: http://goo.gl/7eucr)
Many places throughout the world hold their own (smaller!) version of Oktoberfest. Locally in York, PA, we have the 2nd Annual Yorktoberfest coming up on October 27-28. My wife and I will be attending, so let me know if you'll be there too -- we can toast a brew. Also, look for a post after the event. You can read about my experience at last year's Yorktoberfest here (a "live" post) and here (a more detailed, follow-up post).

How are you celebrating Oktoberfest? Are you planning on attending any festivals? Wearing lederhosen? (6) Or drinking Oktoberfest-style beer? Let me know in the comments or send me a message on your favorite social media site: you can get me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Prost!


Footnotes
(1) Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oktoberfest
(2) Note that the math does not add up: 2012-1810 = 202, but this is only the 179th festival. That's because the fair has had to be canceled 24 times due to cholera epidemics and war (3).
(3) Source: http://www.vistawide.com/german/oktoberfest/oktoberfest.htm
(4) I love long German words! This one is pronounced RYN-hytz-geh-boht. You can listen to the pronunciation here.
(5) Sources: a tour of Yuengling's Pottsville, PA brewery that my wife took me on over a year and half ago that I have yet to blog about (yes, I'm behind) and http://www.brewbound.com/news/yuengling-introduces-second-seasonal-oktoberfest
(6) You can get a nice, basic pair of lederhosen (leather pants) for a mere 165 euros ($215) here.
If you really want to go all out, you can get some premium pants for $325 on the same site. They also sell dresses and other authentic German garb on that site.
(7) The Guinness world record was set in November 2008 by Bavarian Anita Schwarz when she carried 19 full beer steins (5 in each hand and 9 on top) that weighed a total of about 90 pounds over a distance of 40 meters and placed them on a table without spilling a drop. (Source: http://www.harrimantravelbooks.com/Oktoberfest_Facts_Tips.html and Image Source: http://goo.gl/DmTPw)