The festival has been an annual tradition since 1810 and, since then, has been cancelled just 25 times, mainly due to various wars and/or pestilence.   Despite the name, Oktoberfest starts in late September and runs for around 16 days.  Oktoberfest 2012 began last Saturday and this year is expected to attract around 6.5 million visitors who will likely drink over 7 million litres of beer. [1] 

In 2004, noted British beer writer Pete Brown went to this iconic event and ironically could not get a beer.  Due to an uncharacteristic lack of research, [2] he and his colleagues were forced to go “for a walk” to “take in the ambience” of the hundred acre site [3] before admitting defeat and heading off to a local beer garden.  After four hours of standing and walking in the sun, Pete describes the first cold beer there as “shooting to every cell like a cold fire, a moment of pure, unalloyed bliss.” [4]

From his excellent book “Three Sheets to the Wind”, here is the official explanation as to why they could not get a beer at the event locals call Die Wies’n:

“Possibly the saddest, most predictable and pointless thing I could do at the start of this chapter is make some lazy, half-arsed comment reinforcing the stereotypes about Germans to which we Brits stubbornly cling.  But I’m sorry, this tent runs like a machine.  It’s the most efficient thing I’ve seen in my life.  Seven thousand people are served beer and food at their tables by an army of barmaids.  Queuing at the bar would make the whole thing impossible.  People crowding the aisles would make it impossible.  So to make the system work, there’s one simple rule: if you don’t have a seat at a table, you can’t order a beer.  And on the first day of Oktoberfest, half an hour after the bars opened, there’s not a seat to be had.”

At the exact time the punctual Germans and well-researched visitors were taking the 100,000 available seats, Pete and his mates “were thinking we’d better get a move on and make our way down.”  As a result, they spent half the day looking at a fairground and half the day in a beer garden.  They had much better luck on day two.
Officially, Oktoberfest began as a festival celebrating the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen [5] on October 12 1810.  There was free alcohol and horse racing and the local populace decided to continue the tradition even after the Royals stopped paying [6] and the horse racing was dropped.  

Pete describes the origins of Oktoberfest as “commemorating the ill-fated marriage of a randy duke and a fair young maiden.  That, and as far as I can see, a very dodgy horse race.”  The marriage did indeed break down as the ageing king fell in love with an exotic dancer called Lola and the first horse race was won by Franz Baumgartner who was admittedly a proficient horseman but was also the guy paid to design and build the racetrack.

On Friday September 28, Malthouse will be holding their now annual tradition of Oktoberfest.  Starting at 5pm, there will be Hofbrau Oktoberfest on tap, sausages on the barbeque, an oompah-pah band in full effect and the staff will be dressing up in authentic German costumes (which are likely Made In China). 

Hofbrau Oktoberfest (6.3%) is a strong, full-bodied beer served at the actual festival in the famous Hofbrau tent.  This tent seats over 10,000 people and, appropriately enough, is popular with New Zealanders at the event.  

After much deliberation, Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor selected sausages on the barbeque as the official snack of Malthouse Oktoberfest.  This blog understands that sausages just beat out other traditional Oktoberfest treats such as Liver Dumpling Soup, Red Cabbage and something called – and I am not making this up – Schupfnudeln. [7]

Once again, there will be an oompah-pah band playing an eclectic mix of traditional German drinking songs and modern classics.  Pete Brown had it right when he said oompah music is usually a “flatulent, cheesy racket” which “suddenly sounds so right” at Oktoberfest.  I have already requested that they play an oompah version of “Don’t Stop Believing”. 

Oktoberfest is not the only beer event on Friday.  My second favourite Canadian, celebrated beer writer Stephen Beaumont, has alerted me to the fact that Friday 28 September is also officially “Drink Beer Day”.  His response to this news nailed it: “I must be confused, because I thought that Drink Beer Day was every day, always and forever.”

Next time, we eat the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact.

[1] And, it must be noted, a disturbing amount of non-alcoholic beer and sparkling wine.  It is hard to imagine anyone saying “I really fancy a nice glass of sparkly vino – we should totally pop into the world’s largest beer festival.”

[2] In his defence, Pete was writing a book about visiting 300 bars in 13 countries as part of a personal quest to find “the meaning of beer.”

[3] The Oktoberfest contains numerous roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and dodgems.  This appears risky given the crowd which will consume 7 million litres of beer, half a million sausages, 750,000 chickens, uncountable pretzels and tonnes of pink candy floss. 

[4] As you can see, he really is a very talented writer as well as the man who inspired me to use this style of footnotes.

[5] Pete Brown argues that “perhaps her friends just called her Tee.”

[6] This may be the last recorded instance of a royal dipping into their own pocket for a big party.

[7] Apparently it is cooked, mashed potatoes formed into noodles and served as a side dish.  Sadly, it is not nearly as gross or as funny as I had hoped from the name.

 “O’ zapft is!”

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Beer and Brewer Magazine


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