Raise Your Beer. It’s Oktoberfest Time!
Ahh Fall. A time for the changing of seasons, falling leaves and of course Beer!
It just wouldn’t be fall without the annual celebration of beer. So get ready to dust off your lederhosen and dirndl to have some fun. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair). Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, it is a 16-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. This year it runs September 19th through October 4th.
It began with the Royal Wedding on 12 October 1810 of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The original “Oktoberfest” occurred in Munich, on October 12, 1810: For the commemoration of their marriage, Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (namesake of the Theresienwiese festival grounds) organized a great horse race (the marriage took place on October 12; the horse race on October 17 — therefore, there are different dates named as being the first Oktoberfest).
Why is Oktoberfest in September?
The answer goes back to 1810 during the dark days of beer drinking before refrigeration
In those days in Germany beer would never be brewed in the summer months. The batches would never turn out good.
The last batches were usually made in March. These last batches would have higher alcohol content to take advantage of alcohol as a preservative.
Traditionally there would be a big fest starting on the last Saturday in September till the First Sunday in October. The purpose was to drink up the old stocks of beer to make room for the new brew that would be make after harvest. The tradition goes back to the 15th and 16th Centuries.
But what about the beer?
Oktoberfestbiers are the beers that have been served at the event in Munich since 1818, and are supplied by 6 breweries known as the Big Six: Spaten, Löwenbräu, Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr. Traditionally Oktoberfestbiers were the lagers of around 5.5 to 6% abv called Märzen – brewed in March and allowed to ferment slowly during the summer months. Originally these would have been dark lagers, but from 1872 a strong March brewed version of an amber-red Vienna lager made by Josef Sedlmayr became the favourite Oktoberfestbier.
Since the 1970s the type of beer served at the festival has been a pale lager between 5 and 6% abv, and the terms Oktoberfest and Märzen are used by non-Oktoberfest brewers in Germany and the USA to market pale lagers of this strength. The color of these lagers may range from pale gold to deep amber, with the darker colours more common in the USA. Hop levels tend not to be distinctive, though some American examples may be firmly hopped. Modern beers sold as Oktoberfest and Märzen in Europe tend not to be too differentiated from other pale lagers of this strength, while older German and American influenced examples will be fairly malty in flavour and inclined to use a range of malts, especially dark malts such as Vienna or Munich.
Tomorrow we cover some of the best Oktoberfestivals in the U.S. and our picks of some great beer to sample during the season.