How to do Oktoberfest like a pro.
Upon arriving in Munich you’ll undoubtedly be hit with a wave of desperation. Desperation to drink beer, that is. Thankfully, breweries abound in this city—a testament to its Bavarian roots. Beer here has a protected status as food and is taxed as such, making it extremely cheap, often cheaper than water. Munich’s Oktoberfest, a folk festival that consumes the city each fall, attracts millions—yes, millions—of visitors from around the world and has spurned imitation festivals in dozens of countries.
Most people don’t know that Oktoberfest’s origins, in fact, were not a celebration of beer at all. Actually, the celebration began with a wedding. In 1806, when the region allied itself with Napoleon, it became the Kingdom of Bavaria. This made the new king’s son Ludwig I the first crown prince of Bavaria. When Ludwig wed his bride Therese in 1810, it was Bavaria’s first royal wedding. The celebration was unlike any before it, and so Oktoberfest was born. Today, the festival is essentially a 20-day rager in the heart of Munich during which beer is siphoned from barrel to gullet as fast as you can tip the waiter to get his attention.
Oktoberfest’s origins, in fact, were not a celebration of beer at all.
Festival aside, beer in Bavaria is truly special. Since 1516, Bavaria has employed a beer purity law, called “Reinheitsgebot,” limiting the ingredients that can be used in the brewing process (this law dates to the late 1400s in Munich!). The law limits the ingredients in beer to three simple components: water, barley, and hops. Modern revision of the law has since allowed for the use of yeast, but the principle is the same. As a result of the strict attention to ingredients and tradition, there are only six major breweries in Munich today, most of which date back several hundred years. These breweries are Augustiner Bräu, Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu, Spatenbräu, Löwenbräu, and Paulanerbräu.
With centuries of experience under their belts, the Big Six breweries have turned a short list of ingredients into an equally short list of beers, but they’ve perfected them. Still, Munich is a quantity-over-quality place. Beer is typically consumed by the liter, which, in Bavaria, is called a “Maß” (“measure” in English). One liter of beer is thus one standard measure. Grab a beer with friends from all over the world and set aside all your systems of measurement. There’s no need to squabble over gallons and liters anymore: instead there is only the Maß.
Antonia is spending her summer pretending she knows a lot about wine and collecting tourist keychains she has no use for throughout Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Germany. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she spends much of her time schlepping through the wilderness and enjoys backpacking, kayaking, and low-pressure longboarding (because she’s just not good enough to brake efficiently so crowds make her nervous). Catch Antonia eating carbs, looking fly in white Crocs (Crocs is the most innovative company in the world), and pleading for her mom’s REI dividend.