The origins of Oktoberfest
21 September 2015, By Jonny Garrett
There are two vital things you need to know about Oktoberfest. It’s the biggest beer festival in the world, and it doesn’t happen in October.
Over 7 million people attend the world’s biggest beer bring each year, drinking 8 million litres of beer between them and failing to soak it up with around 500,000 chickens and 300,000 sausages. Being a German beer event you could have probably guessed all that, but what you may not know is that it’s actually held in September, finishing on the first Sunday of October.
So what are the origins of Oktoberfest, and how did we get to this giant celebration of beer and food? Well it starts with a different kind of celebration – a wedding. The first Oktoberbest was on 12 October 1810, when Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The peasants of Munich were invited to celebrate on the fields just outside the city gates, and seem to have had a much better time than the stuffy people at the wedding.
How Oktoberfest began
Trying to relive the golden summer of 1810, the next year they held a similar event on the now-named Theresenweise (Therese’s fields) and Oktoberfest was born. Since then only war has stopped Bavarians drinking their fill every September.
Nowadays, Oktoberfest is somewhat surreal. The stalls are now tents the size of football pitches and the traditional horse racing has long since been sacrificed in the name of fairground rides and shops. But that doesn’t mean the experience has been watered down over the years. The only festivals like it around the world are those that try to emulate it. It is still a unique experience and one everyone should try.
Oktoberfest is as much a celebration of drinking as it is a celebration of beer. Instead of wandering around sampling, you simply site with friends and strangers alike, drinking and eating while the staff bring you more beer before you’re even done with the last one.
What the beer is like
Unlike craft beer and real ale festivals, there are just on six beers on tap, brewed by the six breweries within the city limits of Munich – Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbrau, Lowenbrau and Spaten.
They all brew the same style, a strong, amber lager called a Marzen or Oktoberfest. Typically around 6%, with a strong bready malt taste and crisp hoppy finish, everyone seems to have their favourite of the six. On Beer Merchants you can buy the Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr versions, which we think are the best alongside the Augustiner one.
If that’s not enough and you’re looking to get to an event, flights can be pretty pricey to Bavaria at this time of year, but there are events cropping up all over the world to cater for people’s love of German lagers and lederhosen. Brazil has the biggest one in the world, and Tobacco Dock in London will host 30,000 people in early Oktober, with Paulaner pouring the pints. There are still tickets left!