What Is Oktoberfest

What Is Oktoberfest? Understanding The Festival And The Beer

In Cincinnati, we know that fall has arrived when Oktoberfest festival season arrives. I say season because there is a series of festivals here that celebrate our German heritage. And as you can guess there is a ton of Oktoberfest beer consumed at these events. But what is Oktoberfest? And what is Oktoberfest beer?

Let’s jump in and learn more about this German festival and the traditional beer style that often defines beer in the fall.

What Is Oktoberfest? History Of The Festival

History of OktoberfestIt all began in 1810, King Ludwig I married Princess Therese on Oct 12th. To celebrate, the citizens of Munich were invited to celebrate in the fields outside the city gates. The festivities included a parade, horse racing, wine and of course beer. In the following years, more and more activities were added to the event and by 1819 it was declared that Oktoberfest would be an annual event.

Eventually, the date was moved into late September because it offered better weather. The event lasts for 16-18 days ending on the first Sunday in October. Unless that happens to be prior to October 3rd in which case it is extended to end on the 3rd.

Over the past few centuries, there were years that illness and war caused the festival to be cancelled. But as soon as the plague or war allowed, the festival started again. There has been a total of 24 years in which Oktoberfest was not celebrated since 1810.

In 1892, they began serving beer in large beer glasses that are now synonymous with Oktoberfest. In addition, the beer booths were upgraded to booths for beers, games, etc were upgraded to beer halls (huge tents) that allowed more space. This is still how the event takes place today.

Modern Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest Beer HallToday, the event is bigger than ever and attracts over 6 million people per year. About 70% of these people are from the surrounding Bavaria region. This mass of humanity consumes nearly 7 million liters of beer throughout the event. The music, food, and attire all point back to the Bavarian and German heritage. Expect a full cultural experience when attending an Oktoberfest event.

This event has inspired Oktoberfest celebrations throughout the world; North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia all have festivals in honor of a wedding in 1810.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati (Cincinnati)

Oktoberfest Stein HoistOktoberfest in Cincinnati is a series of festivals throughout the city that start in late August and ends in early October.  One of these is Oktoberfest Zinzinnati which takes place downtown and is one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the world attracting over a half of a million people each year since it began in 1976.

Cincinnati has a large German population so it makes sense that we would have some of the best Oktoberfest events.

This event even includes the World’s Largest Chicken Dance with nearly 50,000 people doing the classic dance.

Check out this page to get a rundown on the largest Oktoberfest events in Cincinnati this year.

I’ve already attended one event this year, Germania Society Oktoberfest, and hope to attend a few more. This one is really close to where I live and is billed as one of the most authentic around and the longest running in Cincinnati as it began in 1971.

If you aren’t in Cincinnati, I highly recommend visiting during Oktoberfest season.

Related Post: Why Lagers Are The Next Big Thing In Craft Beer

What Is Oktoberfest? The Beer Style

There’s actually a common misunderstanding when it comes to Oktoberfest beer. Most of what we drink is not officially an Oktoberfest beer.

A real Oktoberfest beer must meet the following guidelines:

  • Conforms to Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law)
  • Brewed within the city limits of Munich, Germany

For this reason, only these breweries can brew Oktoberfest beer:

So technically, Oktoberfest isn’t a specific style of beer but instead beer made in a specific region and for the event. The actual style of beer popular at the event has shifted over the years. In the beginning, Marzen (brewed in March and lagered over the summer) were popular which is why the Marzen style is often called Oktoberfest.

Many believe that these early lagers were very close to what we consider to be a dunkel. Then vienna style lagers, lighter in color and body, were common until 1990 when the Festbier became the official beer style of Oktoberfest. Festbier is every lighter in body and color which shows the shifting taste of those attending the festival.

Today’s Oktoberfest Beers

Sam Adams OktoberfestToday, the term of Oktoberfest beer can mean many things. When looking to buy an Oktoberfest beer, check the label to see what details are provided. Many will say it is a Marzen. If not, then you are probably getting a Festbier.

Festbier –  Golden in color. Flavor will have a sweet, bready taste with slight hop bitterness. This is a well balanced beer with a light to medium body.

Marzen  Pale to reddish-brown. The aroma an flavor will have a similar sweet, breadiness to it but adds a toasted characteristic. Some even have a slight caramel flavor. Slightly heavier than Festbier with a medium body. Many versions made in the US are quite dark with a noticeable sweet, caramel flavor.

Both of these styles can be a form of an Oktoberfest beer. Just be prepared that an Oktoberfest beer can range in appearance and flavor. Either way, you’ll get a nice, easy drinking malty lager that fits the season perfectly and pair quite well with a bratwurst and sauerkraut.

Final Thoughts

As a Cincinnati native, Oktoberfest is always an exciting time of year. The festivals are full of food, beer and fun. The weather is just about perfect as the heat of summer has given in to cooler fall days. And there are lots of great beer for us to try; whether it is a Marzen or Festbier.

Have You Attended An Oktoberfest?


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