Busting Oktoberfest Myths
Myth #1 – Oktoberfest takes place solely in the month of October.
False: Oktoberfest draws its official roots from the nuptials of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese in October 1810. The two-day festival was an immediate hit and became an annual tradition, gradually growing into a two-plus week extravaganza that attracts millions of visitors from across the globe.
In the 1870s, Oktoberfest was moved to the last two weeks of September to take advantage of the better weather. This year’s Oktoberfest in Munich starts Saturday, Sept. 22 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 7.
Myth #2 – Employers in Munich give their workers money for beer at the festival.
True: Called ‘das wiese(n)geld’, it is usually 15-20 Euros, or the boss will go to the festival and buy the first round! Sometimes, if they’re very generous, a company will even reserve a table for their employees – reservations can start as early as February – and typically go to Munich and German companies first. Reservations are only for tables of 10, and if you have a reservation you use vouchers to pay for your beer/food (typically a delicious roast chicken dinner)!
Myth #3 – Oktoberfest is the only name for the festival.
False: Locally in Munich, it is also referred to as Wiesn (it also can be spelled Wies’n). The colloquial name for the fairgrounds is ‘Theresa’s meadows (Theresienwiese). In 2010, when the festival turned 200 years old, the South end of the grounds past the Paulaner and Löwenbräu tents was used to create a separate festival, offering a more traditional atmosphere for attendees.
At the ‘Oide Wiesn’ (Old Oktoberfest), as it’s referred to, you’ll find very authentic costumes, nostalgic games, traditional rides, and you guessed it…more beer tents!
Myth #4 – All of the beer is exclusively from Munich.
Remarkably, 30 percent of the beer brewed by the six official Oktoberfest breweries (Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, and Spaten) combined is consumed during the festival. German law dictates that these six Munich breweries are the only ones to serve at Oktoberfest, and are the only ones that can call it “Oktoberfestbier.” Others have to call their beers “Oktoberfest-style.” This only applies to breweries in Germany.
Myth #5 – The Oktoberfest beer style (Märzen) is not what is actually served at the festival.
True: For the first few decades, the Bavarian dunkel lager was the featured style at Oktoberfests. In 1841, Spaten introduced the first marzenbier to that year’s Oktoberfest, and that eventually became the event’s preferred style for over a century.
Marzenbier – German for “March beer” – is a rich, full-bodied, typically golden amber-colored lager that gets its notable aroma and toffee-like flavor from Munich malt. It is named as such as it was originally brewed in March, in great quantity to last through the summer. There was no refrigeration in the early days of German brewing, and beer stored in the summer attracted bacteria and spoiled quickly. A decree from Duke Albrecht V in 1553 mandated that no beer be brewed between April 23 and September 29.
In 1990, a more golden-hued, medium-bodied, subtly sweet lager took over at Oktoberfest. This beer, which shares some characteristics with the Munich helles, is now served to roughly six million visitors every year.
The term “Oktoberfest,” as it pertains to beer styles, covers two types of beers: marzen, and the golden lager now served at the festival. American breweries, such as Left Hand and Victory, generally prefer to brew the marzen style as their Oktoberfest offerings. Ayinger makes a classic marzen popular in the US. As for the golden lager, Paulaner Wiesn is one of the more readily available German examples. Here in the US, Sierra Nevada collaborated with Mahr’s Brau in Bamberg to make a traditional, Oktoberfest-style golden lager.
Virginia is the Products, Programming, and Educational Director for Craft Beer Cellar. In addition to being a Certified Cicerone, she is an Introductory Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Her home base is Chicago, but she’s often found in the Boston area, or wherever her passion for good food & drink takes her.
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