Oktoberfest is the biggest beer party in the world. It's a place where countries come together, where generations mix and where strangers become friends. Author and former beer writer of the year, Adrian Tierney-Jones, recalls his visit, and tastes the official Oktoberfest beers available on PerfectDraft. Photo: Tommy Loesch/Munich Tourism
Oktoberfest is one of the great celebrations of the world of beer, a raucous and frenetic, vibrant and restorative party that the city of Munich puts on for 16 days at the start of autumn. As soon as you arrive at Hauptbahnhof, the heaving crowds thronging the wide open spaces of the station’s concourse can bring a sharp jolt of noise, people and visual stimulation to even the most timid of souls.
“Yes, it is misrule and disturbance as millions of strangers crash through the walls of reserve and talk to each other and make friends, sometime for life. It is about enjoyment and living in the moment, and embracing a joyous and anarchic carnival and sticking two fingers up to all our fears and drinking beer instead.”
Men are clad in the classic uniform of Bavaria, hardcore leather lederhosen and collarless, short-waisted jackets, while hats decorated with feathers sit jauntily on many of their heads. Women aren’t afraid to celebrate their heritage either, many squeezing themselves into the traditional dirndl with brightly coloured billowing skirts flowing outwards and decorated with frilly aprons. A real ale beer festival or even a craft beer gathering this is not.
Theresienwiese is where the Festival has taken place since 1810, a vast open park that is taken over by all kinds of fairground attractions and what are called beer halls, but which are really massive tents adorned with all kinds of decorations and brewery names. Each has a different theme and features beers from one of the six Munich breweries allowed to take part — Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Hofbräu and Spaten. These breweries have roots in Munich that go back centuries and, even though several breweries have set themselves up more recently in the city, these six have an almost devotional relationship with the festival.
All the beers brewed by the big six are styled as Oktoberfest beers, which are on average 6% in alcoholic strength, while their colours range from bright golden to a glowering ruby reddishness (until 1990 the beers especially brewed for Oktoberfest were all reddish-brown Märzens but since then everything has become lighter). Despite their strength, these are all exceptionally easy-drinking beers, which have entrapped many an unwary drinker who has decided to have a session with the one-litre Maß glasses that are standard issue.
“Spaten’s 5.9% Oktoberfestbier sparkles like a wedding ring, orange gold with glints of sunlight, and beneath its fluffy, ample head of foam there’s a satisfying breadiness and caramel sweetness.”
Let’s try a couple. Spaten’s 5.9% Oktoberfestbier sparkles like a wedding ring, orange gold with glints of sunlight, and beneath its fluffy, ample head of foam there’s a satisfying breadiness and caramel sweetness. Or pour yourself Löwenbräu’s 6.1% Oktoberfestbier with its restrained sweetness and hushed lemoniness before its briskly bitter finish.
As well as the lake of beer, there is also plenty of food, which given that we are in Bavaria is mainly a carnivore’s collection of delights — roasted half chickens lie prone on the plate, sausages are stuffed into soft, gently fluffy rolls, chips seems to giggle away like schoolchildren in their cones beneath an avalanche of ketchup, while pork loins and roast oxen surrender to an army of flaming griddles.
Yes, it is misrule and disturbance as millions of strangers crash through the walls of reserve and talk to each other and make friends, sometime for life. It is about enjoyment and living in the moment, and embracing a joyous and anarchic carnival and sticking two fingers up to all our fears and drinking beer instead.
It is also about beer gleaming in the Munich sunshine, the laughter of strangers, the foot-stomping, ground-swelling sense of singing, the back-to-back, crash-bang-wallop poetry of intoxication, the heightened and brightened music of the crowds and the fabric of the night sky being ripped apart by the beads of light from the funfair. That it is what it is and sadly this year because of Covid-19 it has been cancelled for the first time in decades and come autumn Theresienwiese will remain the province of runners, dog-walkers and flâneurs. But it will be back and when it is to understand the place of beer in the space of Bavaria and especially Munich that is where you have to travel. You might only go once, as I know I will, but if you have a fascination and want to hear the golden voice of beer speak its melodious poetry it is somewhere you have to visit.
Even though Oktoberfest is cancelled, PerfectDraft is bringing the festival to your home with the Oktoberfest Bundle. Inside, you'll find a PerfectDraft machine, two steins, beer mats, a keg of Spaten Oktoberfest and a keg of Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfest beer.
Through our partners at Beer Hawk, we're also selling everything you need for the ultimate celebration, including official branded banners, flags, chalkboards as well as a pretzel making kit and a salami wheel (really!). Prost!