It’s October, and you have an easy excuse to party.
Get your best friends together, put on some lederhosen, grill up some brats and drink lots of beer. It’s an Oktoberfest party! And it’s guaranteed to be a smash.
But why do really celebrate Oktoberfest? And how did drinking beer get associated with this festival?
Well, it all started with a wedding.
Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (crowned as King Ludwig I) and Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen were married on Oct. 12, 1810. To mark the occasion, a huge public party was thrown the likes of which no one had seen. Five days of festivities centered around a horse race on the Theresienwiese (the Teresa Meadow) in Munich. More than 40,000 Bavarians came out to celebrate the event, which drew both nobles and members of the general public, according the Beer Advocate.
It was a huge success, and they decided to have it again the very next year, adding an agricultural show to boost Bavarian agriculture. The festival became an annual event.
Meanwhile, once upon a time, the brewers of Bavaria were dealing with a major problem — trying to keep their beer from spoiling in the summer months due to heat and bacteria.
The brewers came up with two remedies for this problem, according to drinkwiththewench.com. First, the brewers increased natural preservatives in their beer by adding hops during brewing and then upping the alcohol content by brewing at a higher gravity.
Secondly, they adjusted the schedule of the brewing season. The best tasting beer, they discovered through trial and error, was brewed between early October and March. This led to what would be known as “Märzen-Bier,” or “March Beer” in English.
The brewers had succeeded. And by storing the beer in cool cellars and mountain caves, the beer just got better from summer to fall, as drinkwiththewench.com tells it.
Just like Cinderella had to be home by midnight, all of the old Märzen casks needed to be returned to the brewers by October so that they could begin brewing another years worth. And naturally, the casks needed to be empty – which meant that the last of the Märzen beer needed to be consumed. And as fate would have it, Munich just happened to host an enormous folk fest in the world at the end of September through the beginning of October. And what better time and place to consume the last of the Märzen beers than Oktoberfest?
There was indeed beer at the very first Oktoberfest in 1810, but the Oktoberbest-beer association didn’t really happen until 1818, according the Beer Advocate. That’s when beer stands were introduced at the festival.
Oktoberfest now lasts 16-18 days, beginning in mid-September and ending on the first Sunday in October. Up to 6 million attendees converge on Munich for the world’s largest fair.
And, nowadays, it’s all about the beer, according to the official Oktoberfest website.
The ‘liquid gold’ is probably the most important thing at the Oktoberfest. As usual, over 6 million liters of beer will be drunk this year.”
That’s a lot of beer.
Anyway, here’s a few other interesting tidbits.
•The statue of Bavaria, a 19th-century female personification of the Bavarian homeland, has watched over Oktoberfest since 1850. (wikipedia.com)
•Beer was first served in mugs at Oktoberfest in 1892 (beerinfo.com).
•Oktoberfest has been cancelled 24 times due to war (World War I and II), disease and other reasons, including inflation. (wikipedia.com).
•Only six breweries are allowed to participate in the Munich Oktoberfest: Spaten, Löwenbräu, Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr. (drinkwiththewench.com)
•Beers brewed for Oktoberfest in Munich contain 4.5 percent alcohol. (infoplease.com)
•Since 1950, Oktoberfest has opened at high noon with a 12-gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer by the mayor of Munich, who says, “O’zapft is!” or “It’s tapped!” (beerinfo.com).