O’zapft is!

Boys put on your Lederhosen. Girls get out your dirndls. Stock up on some Festbiers, it’s Oktoberfest!

The world’s largest “people’s festival” takes place in Munich, Germany every year. Just how big is this party?  This year a whopping 6.2 million guests from all corners of the globe visited the 184th Oktoberfest.

It all started back in 1810 at the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on the 12th of October. The citizens of Munich were all invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates. The fields were named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s fields) in honour of the Crown Princess, known by locals as “die Wiesn”. The party lasted for five days ending with a horse race. In the following years, the celebrations were repeated, establishing the tradition of Oktoberfest!

Over the years, the festival grew with the addition of an agricultural show, amusements, and beer tents. Some smart party planners decided to start the event in September to take advantage of warmer nights, and end it on the first weekend of October. The official opening of Oktoberfest occurs when the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg of beer. With the words “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!), the beer begins to flow.

Let’s talk about the beer. An incredible 7.5 million litres of beer was drank over 18 days at this year’s Oktoberfest. That is three Olympic size swimming pools of beer!

Guided by the famous Bavarian Purity Law, only the big six Munich breweries Augustiner, Hacker Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten are allowed to brew the beer for Oktoberfest. With over 3000 years of brewing history between them, believe me, they know what they are doing.

In the old days, I mean the really old days, it was decreed that beer brewing in Bavaria was only to be done during the cooler weather months of October through April. This was mostly a quality control measure as the bottom-fermenting beer being made needed the low temperatures to avoid spoilage. For conditioning, the casks were stored in cool caves.  The German word lagern, meaning “to store”, gives us the name lager. In March (März in German) the last batch of beer was started. It was brewed a bit stronger as it would have to last through the summer months until October, the beginning of the next brewing season.

Can anybody guess what beer they originally served at Octoberfest?  That’s right, Märzen.  The original Oktoberfest beers were the popular Munich dunkels, a dark amber beer with subdued hops and a clean malty flavour. Also known as Oktoberfestbier or Festbier, today’s versions are more golden in colour but still brewed a bit stronger with an ABV of 6%. A perfect beer for the fall season.

If you go to Oktoberfest here’s some advice: hang on to your stuff. This year the Lost and Found collected 1300 passports, 620 pieces of clothing, 600 wallets, 520 cellphones, 360 keys, 325 pairs of glasses, 120 umbrellas, 100 bags and rucksacks, 95 pieces of jewellery and 15 cameras. Also found: a set of dentures, a pair of crutches, a drinking horn, and a pair of leather pants.

It’s a great day for a beer. Prost!

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