Oktoberfest Is Full Of History ... And Brews

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Oktoberfest marks its 200th anniversary. The German festival was first held in 1810 in Munich to celebrate the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The celebration has come a long way since then. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with Larry Hawthorne, author of "The Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich" about the event as well as brews recommended for those who are unable to get to Munich.


Some would call it art and others, debauchery. For most of us who have ever taken part in an Oktoberfest celebration, the annual event probably ranks somewhere in between. The official Munich Oktoberfest wrapped up last week, but today, this Tuesday, marks an important anniversary for the event. The infamous celebration that includes its share of imbibing liters of beer and consuming all kinds of wurst, as in bratwurst, and Bavarian delicacies, started 200 years ago today and its origins might surprise you.

Here to talk with me all things Oktoberfest is Larry Hawthorne. He's the author of "The Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich."

Larry, welcome to the program.

Mr. LARRY HAWTHORNE (Author, "The Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich"): It's good to be on.

LYDEN: Let's talk about the origin of Oktoberfest. How'd it start and where?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, it goes to back to October 12, 1810. It was the royal wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig. Later he became King Ludwig I, to Princess - this is a long name - Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. They had the wedding reception just outside of town in a field which today is about 104 acres, which is right in the middle of Munich. And they had such a great time. They had a horse race and they had obviously a lot of beer drinking. It was such a big hit, it went on for days, the bride and the groom had already left for the honeymoon and the band played on. They decided that with that kind of success they'd do it every year around the same time and that's where it is today.

LYDEN: So I haven't been to Oktoberfest in Munich. What's it like?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: It's the biggest beer keg party in the world, in the world's most beer-soaked city. This year, I believe, the early returns are that about 6.4 million celebrators showed up, they drank seven million liters of beer and had quite a bit of fun over the 17-day run.

LYDEN: Now, I understand that in Munich, if you go to Oktoberfest, all the beer is served in these one liter mugs, right?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Yeah, it's a one size fits all, one liter mug, which is about 34 ounces. You can sometimes cheat a little bit if you order what they call a Weizen beer and you'll usually get that in a half liter glass. But other than that, youre going to get a liter of beer whether you like it or not.

LYDEN: Hmm. So, since I didnt get to the Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, can you make some recommendations for those who might want to go to something stateside?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, yeah, they're a lot of them. A lot of them now take place in October, having more to do with the name. The reason that they moved it up in Munich was because of the weather. You won't find an Oktoberfest in Munich that goes on beyond about October 7th. It always ends the first Sunday of October, wherever that lands.

LYDEN: So what's a good Munich-style brew if you want to get one here?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, if you want to get one here you can always get one that's imported. But there's a brewery called Gordon Biersch and they are brewing Munich-style beers. Not coincidentally, the guy who is their main brewer, a Dan Gordon, he matriculated from a place on the outskirts of Munich called Weihenstephan, which happens to be the oldest active brewery. It goes back to about 1080, and it's the oldest school for brewers. He was graduated from that school and he took that knowledge and some yeast, which is important, to America, and he started brewing Gordon Biersch lagers.

LYDEN: Let me go back to Munich. At the Munich festival, music is a large, huge part of this, right?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Yes, it is. Lots of traditional oompah bands, they call them, and blast music. And by the way, there's a few additions to that. One of the most popular ones being "Country Roads," if you remember that one by John Denver.

LYDEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: You know, almost expect that in any given tent, they're going to be playing that one a lot.

LYDEN: Did you get over there this year?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Didnt make it this year. We had some personal things come up but we usually do make it every year.

LYDEN: Well, I'm sure you'll go again. Larry Hawthorne is the author of "The Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich." Thanks so much for joining us on the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest.

Larry, prost.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Thank you for having me.

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