Cancelled more times due to war more times than the Olympic Games, the longest serving beer festival in the world is by now a legendary event, copied the planet over, but never surpassed. The Germans do beer and festivals really very well: The ultimate German beer festival, the ‘Okoberfest’ or ‘Munich Beer Festival’ began as a public celebration of King Ludwig’s marriage to princess Therese from Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. It has survived to the present day, and from its humble beginnings has developed into something altogether more important than the celebration of royal love. Whereas the chances were in 1810 that only a small proportion of the public really gave two hoots about Ludwig’s marriage, most preferring to simply get merry on fine Bavarian brew, it is without doubt now that the sole purpose of this festival is to celebrate Europe’s most ubiquitous drink; beer.
Over the years, the Oktoberfest, which lasts from mid-September has expanded, becoming a centre of entertainment and tri-annually incorporating a local agricultural festival. The festival is now opened to the curious tradition of the local mayor tapping a beer keg at 12 midday on the first day of Oktoberfest every year and shouting: “O’zapft is’!” which translates as “the keg has been tapped.” From hereon the drinking begins. This tradition started when mayor Thomas Zimmer first tapped the keg and shouted out in this manner in the 1950’s. By the sounds of things Zimmer had already started on the kegs sometime earlier!
There are many other Beer festivals in Germany in October and throughout the year, all originating from the Oktoberfest, yet each maintaining its own unique character. Most notable of these is Gäubodenvolksfest, also held in Bavaria in October.
Beer Festivals Across the World
The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), held since 1977, is organised by CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale). The festival hosts around 600 beers from around the world, including around 400 from Britain alone. Its focus is ‘real ale’, and it boasts to be the biggest ‘real’ beer festival in the world. The GBBF is held every August, and is complimented by CAMRA’s Winter Ales Festival, which focuses on under-represented beers such as ‘Porter’ and ‘Stout’. Though these are the two main beer festivals in the U.K. small-scale brewery and pub festivals are thought to number in the hundreds.
The small scale Zythos beer festival in Flanders, Belgium offers around 150 beers, often served direct from the brewer, and is an ideal way to get to know authentic Belgian beer better.
The biggest Oktoberfest outside Germany resides in Ontario, Canada; an area with a large German immigrant population. Canada also plays host to the Toronto festival of beer, which attracts visitors from across Ontario.
The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is thought to be the biggest beer festival in the world, and is usually held at the end of September. The festival boasts more than 1600 different beers. Whilst the GABF started as a festival for craft brewers, it has been encroached upon by large scale breweries, which may detract from its reputation in years to come, despite its huge size.
The beer festival has been central to the development of beer’s reputation in Europe over the last two centuries. It is without doubt that the novel quirks of German festival practice (such as folk dancing and the consumption of metre long frankfurters) and German beer drinking have been a great ambassador for beer. The beer festival, the world over is a great way for people to come together and celebrate the regional diversity of this international drink!