Your intrepid liquor reporter has been in a rigorous training regimen to prepare himself for Oktoberfest for the last several weeks, which mainly consists of guzzling brewskis and gobbling bratwurst while listening to an Oom-pah band on my iPod.
Oktoberfest’s regal beginnings were on October 12, 1810, as a public party in Munich for the royal wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony. The anniversary of the event was celebrated each year with increasing enthusiasm.
Things started heating up in 1816 when carnival booths were added to the festival, and in 1819, the elder statesmen of Munich took over the festival management, making it an even more raucous affair.
The more observant readers in the audience may be wondering to themselves “Oktoberfest in September? What madness is this?”
Yes, gentle reader, it is true that Oktoberfest starts in September and ends two weeks later, on the first Sunday in October.
It was back in 1816 that the city fathers of Munich decided to take advantage of the warmer weather in September, and extend the one-day event to start two weeks prior to the first Sunday in October. This year’s event will run from September 18 to October 3.
The event has been celebrated ever since, missing only 24 years out of the last 201 due to world-shattering events like wars, cholera epidemics, and the like. Munich still plays host to Oktoberfest, with nearly 30% of the annual beer production of the Munich breweries being consumed in that time. Hmm…that sounds a bit reminiscent of the Calgary Stampede….
Today, the Oktoberfest celebrations attract around six million visitors to the 42 hectare festival site. The city of Munich maintains 14 semi-permanent structures that resemble enormous beer tents, each seating thousands of people. The entire festival grounds have seating for 100,000 people.
To give you a comparison, the Calgary Stampede attracts just over one million visitors to the 61 acre Stampede grounds. Remember how crowded the Stampede grounds are? Multiply that by six and you’ll have an idea just how many beer-soaked revelers wearing lederhosen you can find at Oktoberfest!
If you’re not a beer fan, you should probably stay away from Oktoberfest celebrations, wherever they may be. The typical Oktoberfest reveler will be swilling large amounts of fine German beer, munching on bratwurst, and maybe even polka-ing up a storm in their ill-fitting lederhosen or booby-baring dirndl.
On a more Canadian note, my drinking companions from Onterrible have many beer-soaked memories of North America’s largest Oktoberfest celebration, held annually in Kitchener-Waterloo. With K-W’s large German population (the Ontario town was named Berlin until the First World War), it hosts the annual Bavarian celebration that is second only in size to the original in Munich.
The Canuck version of Oktoberfest will be celebrating its 42th anniversary this year in K-W from October 7-15, and I’m sure they will still be recovering from the effects when Halloween rolls around.
The traditional beer consumed at Oktoberfest is not your average sipping beer – Oktoberfest is a time for swilling large mouthfuls from your stein glass to wash down spicy bratwurst sausages. Oktoberfest beers are derived from an old Vienna style of brew with a reddish hue caused by the sugars being caramelized while the beer is being brewed. Early Bavarian brewers picked up the style from their Austrian neighbors, and refined into the smooth-tasting lagers that are referred to as an Oktoberfest-style brew.
If you’re in the mood for sampling German beer, head on over to the Wild Rose Brewery located in the large Quonset hut beside the now-closed farmers market in Calgary. They produce a seasonal Oktoberfest beer called Marzen that is only available for a few weeks, so get some before it’s gone.
This local Marzen beer is faithful to the style, and your humble narrator has already enjoyed a few pints. Expect a medium body with a distinctive toasted malt flavor, with a clean finish that makes it good for swilling by the steinfull!
Finally, if you’re in the mood to get a little bit of Oktoberfest closer to home, check out the Oktoberfest party hosted by the Austrian Canadian Club in Calgary. It runs over 2 weekends in mid-October, and features more beer and bratwurst than you’ll know what to do with. Look for me there in the lederhosen!