Being part German, I spent several summers of my youth in the small town of Bellings located over an hour from Frankfurt and just outside the town of Steinau. Immersed in the country side and flanked by a dense and robust forest, it was a perfect secluded get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Bellings is a rather quaint and close knit village that only had one grocery store, which closed down well over a decade ago. My aunt and uncle live in a converted four floor house right next to where the grocery store was. At the time their three children and my grandmother lived with them as well. Of the many experiences that I was fortunate enough to encounter, I distinctly recall the fully furnished bar in the basement, complete with a tap system. I also remember how they could throw some pretty wild parties that the entire village would attend. Everyone knew everyone and for the most part everyone got along. Sure, it wasn’t without its harsh unavoidable realities but as I stare back into my past with rose colored glasses I can tell you that those were simpler times, those were memorable times, and the memories will never leave me. So I preface today’s blog by alerting you to the fact that I’m quite impartial to German beers and fests.
With that said Oktoberfest possesses it owns bit of magic. Countless devoted beer drinkers from across the globe actually plan and strategize their tactical beer consumption around this glorious event. A fever pitch grips the masses; they are overcome with unbridled glee and vigor as they await the annual kick off of the largest Beer Festival in the history of the world.
Below are 5 things that you should definitely know about Oktoberfest:
What is Oktoberfest?
Often referred to by locals as Wiesn, after the Theresienwiese fairgrounds, Oktoberfest is a traditional German festival that is held annually in Munich, Germany. Around 6 million beer drinkers pour into Munich for the lavish parades, traditional German food, music and of course the beer! Some estimates put the beer consumption at well over 7 million liters (or over 1,849,204 gallons). Needless to say that’s a whole lot of beer.
How did Oktoberfest get started?
The very first Oktoberfest was held back on October 12, 1810 in honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig's marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festivities ended on October 17th with, of all things, a horse race. In the subsequent years as the celebrations grew the festival was expanded and moved forward into September. One of the advantages of starting in September was that it allowed for better weather conditions. Septembers in Germany are a bit warmer then October, and the revelers miss out on some of that early winter chill.
When is Oktoberfest?
We sort of covered this one in the question before, but this year’s Oktoberfest started on September 17th and will end on October 3rd. Traditionally this awesome festival starts on the third weekend of September and ends on the first Sunday of October.
What are the German Purity Laws?
These laws are quite famous amongst fellow beer drinkers. To over simplify, the 1516 Reinheitsgebot insisted that only barley, hops, and water may be used to make the brew. Fun fact, at the time the existence of yeast had not yet been discovered. The law sought to keep beer pure by feudal decree, that is, to keep cheap and often unhealthy ingredients — such as rushes, roots, mushrooms, and animals products — out of the beer.
Essentially this law guaranteed that all German beer would be brewed with only natural ingredients. It strictly forbids chemicals, preservatives, or artificial process enhancers (such as artificial enzymes or yeast nutrients). It also prohibits cheap and flavorless sources of starch (such as rice and corn).
The Germans are ruthlessly efficient in their brewing processes and always held the quality of the ingredients and taste of the final product in the very highest regard.
What is Traditional Oktoberfest beer?
Traditional Oktoberfest beer is Märzen or Märzen-Oktoberfestbier. Beer served at the Munich Oktoberfest comes from one of six breweries—Paulaner , Spaten , Hacker-Pschorr , Augustiner , Hofbräu and Löwenbräu . These breweries are all within the city limits of Munich and typically are the only breweries allowed to participate in the Munich Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest beers, labeled as a Bavarian Märzenbier in style, are actually an evolution of the traditional, strong spring brews, called March beers or Märzen, that were put aside in ice-filled caves or cellars for summer consumption. The left-over Märzen was usually finished off in October, when the fresh beers made with the grain and hops from the new harvest season needed to be put into casks. Oktoberfestbiers, therefore, are always well-aged, sometimes for three to four months. They are usually deep amber in color and have an alcohol content somewhere around 5 to 6.2%.
With that said there are many high quality German beers worthy of your attention. Just because you’re not in Munich doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. There’s a ton of places all over the U.S.A. that are hosting a variety of Oktoberfest events. And if you haven’t tried many German beers then this might be your chance to pop into your local beer store and introduce yourself to a world of delight; there are numerous tasty and delicious offerings in the marvelous world of German beer and you can check out some of my favorites in the pics below.
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