In 1810, Germany began what is now the largest annual fair in the world. Not surprisingly it is centered around beer. That’s right, everyone’s favorite fall indulgence: Oktoberfest. Chock full of beer, spatzle, potato pancakes, wursts, cabbage and more beer, it’s two weeks full of frothy fun. It is also a locavore event: all of the beer brewed for Oktoberfest must be brewed within the city limits of Munich (Oktoberfest is held in Bavaria at the fairgrounds known as “die Wiesn”).
It makes sense then, that so many breweries in the States brew an Oktoberfest-inspired brew this time of year. But what makes a German beer German? Reinheitsgebot. Leave it to the Germans to come up with what is literally, a “purity law” for beer. Passed in 1516, Reinheitsgebot regulated what ingredients went into beer. Brewers were limited to water, barley and hops. That’s it. Looking at the ingredients that American brewers use, it’s safe to say we’ve got a few more ingredients in our Oktoberfest homage brews.*
There are also lots of events around the country where we will guzzle all of our American Oktoberfest beers (and ESB’s and IPA’s). While we aren’t all going to drink our beer out of one-liter steins, we will probably listen to an Oompah band and there will be that guy who shows up in lederhosen.
And that’s pretty great. Because we all can’t make it to Munich for a two-week binge. But we can celebrate the fine craft brews that are unique to our region, state, town and neighborhood. We can raise a pint to the brewers who experiment and create special brews where we live. We can appreciate the resurgence of American beer ingenuity and what that means to the world. And, we can keep the craft movement moving forward by raising our awareness of how we got here. 205 years of beautiful beer tradition.
*To be fair, the Reinheitsgebot is no longer part of German law, although it is a stated rule for official Oktoberfest Beers. It has been replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law, which now allows for additional ingredients such as yeast, wheat malt and cane sugar.
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