Chances are good you know at least something about Oktoberfest. Even the most buzzed among us would be able to deduce that it’s some sort of German party, and of course everyone knows that its mascot is someone raising a liter-sized stein of lager, wearing either a dirndl dress or lederhosen. (Yeah, I had to look up what the dress is called.) But if you are someone who professes to love beer, you should really know a bit more than this. Luckily for you, the Tap Trail is here to help with this list of 5 things every beer lover should know about Oktoberfest.
- Oktoberfest is a festival that has been held in Munich (almost) every year for the past 217 years. Its very first incarnation, in 1810, was intended as a celebration of the wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became king of Bavaria) and Princess Therese, married on October 12th of that year.
- Only six breweries are allowed to serve beer at the festival today: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbraü, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten-Franziskaner. The style of beer served – given the trademarked designation “Oktoberfestbier” – is a light, malty lager, in the same flavor family as the Munich Helles. Chuckanut’s Festbier is a beautiful version of the style.
- The style of beer served at Oktoberfest today is different than the style that was traditionally a part of the festival, which was darker and toastier. That older style is what you would be likely to get if you bought a beer here in the States that calls itself “Oktoberfest”. It also sometimes goes by the name “Märzen”, which allows breweries to distinguish this amber-colored brew from the lighter fare served at today’s festival. But having two names for the same beer also creates confusion, especially since “Märzen” means “March”.
- So why is there one beer that is associated with both October and March? The short answer: those months mark the beginning and the end of the traditional German brewing season. The longer answer: before refrigeration allowed brewers precise control over their fermentation temperatures, brewers in Germany had to stop brewing once it got too warm outside. So their last brew of the season would be sometime in March, at which point it would be put in caves to age over the summer, to be drunk at the start of the new brewing season once temperatures cooled down in October. (Aubrey’s got more info for you over here.)
- And finally, perhaps the most confusing thing about Oktoberfest: it’s not in October. Kulshan is hosting a local Oktoberfest event this year, for example, and it’s on Saturday September 23rd. Even the official Oktoberfest in Munich begins on September 16th. What gives? Well, the answer is boring but it’s an answer: September has better weather for sitting outside and downing liters of lager. Turns out that’s as true of Bellingham as it is of Munich (we’re both on the 48th parallel), but it does mean that Oktoberfest celebrations can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.
So, now you know. Go forth and celebrate. Prost!