I'm just back from a week in Munich, including quite a bit of time loitering within tents at the Wies'n, the world's biggest folk festival, known in these parts as Oktoberfest.
It's often referred to as a beer festival, but given that the whole shebang is governed by a closed shop of four brewing giants, and that only six kinds of beer are available, it's much more a festival of drunkenness. The beer is merely a contributing factor.
It was tremendous fun, though, mostly thanks to some careful planning. The beer tents fill up early in the afternoon (even earlier on weekends) so I found the best strategy was to go early and have one or two. At noon, generally, the tent was filling up, the atmosphere was building, the music was playing and things were at their best. I tended to leave soon after, since by two it became crowded, noisy, smoky and unpleasant. So I put the work in: I made it to all twelve tents, and managed to have a beer in all but one (I got to the Augustinerbräu tent at 9.50 yesterday morning and there was no space left, consarnit). So what about the beer?
Each of the six brands makes an Oktoberfest beer especially for the festival, which are sold at the shops and pubs around town as well as in the tents. They are roughly of the märzen variety: slightly stronger and sweeter than ordinary lager. Spaten was the best of them, in my opinion: dark gold and rich tasting. Second I'd place Löwenbräu which is much lighter and easy to drink, which is a clear advantage when trying to get through a litre of it. Augustiner is very smooth, but this tends towards a lack of flavour, which puts it in third. Very close behind it, and for similar reasons is Hacker-Pschorr. Hofbräu is fifth: I found it the fizziest and thus the hardest to drink. And bringing up the rear the mighty Paulaner brewery which seems to have put very little effort into adjusting their ordinary helles lager recipe into something special for the festival.
So that was the festival. Further notes on other beers of Munich and Bavaria to follow.
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