Oktoberfest history: Why is it a fall tradition?
Autumn harvests have long been accompanied by annual celebrations of nature's bounty, showcasing some of the season's finest food and drink.
Every year in Munich, Oktoberfest is held in the early autumn to celebrate Bavarian history, culture and one of the world's oldest and most popular beverages — beer.
While the abundance of seasonal German foods might be a draw for many, Oktoberfest's fame comes from its beer, which is a long standing keystone of Bavarian culture.
Beer was such an important part of Bavarian society that it resulted in one of the first food regulations in human history under the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law.
"The original Bavarian Reinheitsgebot allowed only barley, water and hops. That was 1516 or earlier," retired German and French language professor Dolores Buttry said.
Buttry served as an assistant professor of German and foreign languages at the University of Pittsburgh until 2013 and has taught courses on medieval history and Scandinavian literature at Harvard University and the University of Kentucky.
"There were lots of changes after that, and now they allow wheat, and of course soon after the original law, they allowed yeast," Buttry said.
Beer's origins stretch back thousands of years, but the recipe remains essentially the same, millennia later.
Mother Nature is responsible for providing the main ingredients of barley, hops, water and yeast, but it is the job of brewers around the world to craft the countless unique ales, lagers, stouts and porters of their day.
According to Buttry, German beer is still brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, which prohibits the use of other ingredients commonly found in American beer styles and seasonal brews. Only the basics such as malt, hops and water can be used in German beer.
On Oct. 12, 1810, the very first Oktoberfest was held to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, according to the official Munich city website.
A year later, horse racing and an agriculture show were added to help promote Bavaria's agricultural trade. While the horse racing has long since disappeared from the event, the Agriculture Show is still held every three years during Oktoberfest on the festival grounds.
This year, Munich's Oktoberfest kicked off on Sept. 16 and will continue until Oct. 3. For many people, however, traveling all the way to Munich for a cold pint of world famous beer isn't feasible.
In order to quench America's thirst for annual Oktoberfest celebrations, numerous fall festivals celebrating brewing are held across the nation, some of which showcase their own domestic styles and ingredients.
Despite the prominence of European brewing during the 18th century, America was never without skilled brewers of its own. Even George Washington had his own recipe for porter, which is reported to have been one of his favorite beverages.
In order to promote brewing in the United States, the state of Massachusetts went as far as to pass an Act in 1789 to encourage the domestic consumption and manufacture of strong beer and other malt liquors.
Since then, Americans' love for fine ales, porters and lagers has not slowed. The Brewers Association reported more than 4,000 active breweries in the U.S. as of 2015.
Today, there are hundreds of beer festivals of all sizes held across the country. For those looking for an Oktoberfest event closer to home, here's a list of five of America's most popular autumn beer festivals.
The Great American Beer Festival — Denver, Colorado (Oct. 5 - 7)
Founded in 1982, the Great American Beer Festival is one of the United States' largest beer festivals and competition events. The festival showcases one of the largest collections of U.S. beers for public tasting by hosting brewers from across the nation.
Hunter Mountain's Oktoberfest — Catskill Mountains, N.Y. (Weekends Sept. 23 - Oct. 15)
Located in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York, Hunter Mountain offers weekend Oktoberfest celebrations for an entire month. Admission to the event is free, making it one of the most affordable events of the season. The harvest festival features authentic German entertainment, live music, food and a variety of vendors. In addition to beer, the event also offers a nice vantage point for viewing the fall foliage.
New Mexico Brew Fest — Albuquerque, New Mexico (Oct. 14)
New Mexico's Brew Fest coincides with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta event and is set to host beer brewed by some of the region's most prominent craft breweries. In addition, live music and local food can be found at the EXPO fairgrounds.
New Ulm's Oktoberfest — New Ulm, Minnesota (Oct. 6 - 7, Oct. 13 - 14)
New Ulm's Oktoberfest celebration is held for two weekends during October and is modeled on Bavaria's own Oktoberfest celebration. This Minnesota folk festival is a great place for traditional German entertainment, offering both indoor and outdoor venues for live music, as well as a variety of specialty shops, food vendors and local beers and wines.
Wurstfest — New Braunfels, Texas (Nov. 3 - 12)
Founded in 1963, Wurstfest started as a small German folk festival and has now grown into an annual celebration that hosts thousands of visitors each year. Wurstfest features more than 30 different craft beers from breweries around the state of Texas and the United States. In addition, live music, amusements, food trucks and shops are available to visitors of the state's most popular German harvest festival.
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