When the calendar turns over from September to October the thoughts of many beer enthusiasts turn towards Munich and Oktoberfest. I have never attended this iconic brewing occasion. I did have an opportunity to do so many years ago but turned it down on the general principle that I really don’t like occasions that encourage excessive drinking that abuses and debases the customers and the products. Perhaps I focus too much on the inevitable consequences of an atmosphere in which inebriation is the inevitable result instead of the fun to be had along the way!
I guess there are still vestiges of my Victorian grandparents’ rigid DNA surviving into my DNA that makes me think like that. Fortunately, such restrictive thinking has been diluted by one more generation and my children have no such reservations. As a result, my son Robert attended this year’s Oktoberfest and this column is based on his recounting of his experiences there. He obviously had a great deal of fun and his report changes my opinion of the event.
First let me provide a key to the algebraic construct that appears in the title to this column: the secret to Oktoberfest is 3L2P. Robert attended the event with a group of friends who are experienced Oktoberfest goers and have learned this secret advice by experience. Translated into words 3L2P means drink three liters of beer before you go to the toilet. I think this advice will mesh with the general experience of serious beer drinkers everywhere that tells us that once we start going to the toilet we will need to go often and so this natural break is best delayed as long as possible.
Since one liter represents the beer in three 12oz cans, three liters is the equivalent of downing one-and-a-half six-packs of beer. Burp!
Robert had much the same impression of Oktoberfest as I described --- boozy to excess and, these days, a tourist thing with relatively few Germans participating --- however he found a different reality. In fact the local population was really into it and men and women turned out in traditional dress that added immensely to the happy experience. Robert in fact bought lederhosen in the hope of fitting in (photograph).
Robert spent three days at the event and he said that was plenty of time. On the first day he watched the colorful parade through town in which breweries participate with their horse-drawn drays and floats and the towns and villages of Bavaria parade with bands and banners and in traditional dress: he then attended the fairgrounds that are reminiscent of a county or state fair in the USA with rides and booths and all sorts of displays.
The serious beer drinking-eating-singing Oktoberfest itself takes place on the Weisn (originally Theresienwiese or Theresa's Meadow) where the breweries install enormous beer tents each with its own theme and either German or English language dominating; the quality of the surroundings and the food depends on the price of entrance (reservations recommended). Robert said he enjoyed the Martell tent on the second evening, which was one of the smaller (only about 4,000 capacity) and more expensive venues. The beer served there is from the Spaten-Franziskaner-Brau (incidentally part of the AB-inBev empire).
Only beers brewed in Munich are permitted to provide beer for the fest known as Oktoberfest Beer, which incidentally is a trademark of the brewer’s organization.
There are two sessions each day: the evening session runs 5:30 to 10:30 which is thought to be enough time for a serious devotee to put down 10 liters of beer. That’s a lot. My uncles, who were prodigious beer drinkers, boasted of 10 pints of beer in an evening: that’s about five liters. The beer served at Oktoberfest comes only by the liter and the choice is light, dark or wheat. Most people choose the light beer because the other choices might cause unwelcome early satiation. I am sure the Munich brewers who provide the Oktoberfest beer do not overdo the alcohol but whether they make a beer with less alcohol than normal I do not know.
Now a liter of 5% beer (assuming the amount of foam does not seriously compromise the liter volume) will contain say 50 milliliters of pure alcohol or about 100 milliliters or roughly four ounces of 50-proof booze. So imbibing three liters according to the 3L2P formula will be about the same as consuming a beer-can-full of whiskey.
I would call that a good evening’s drinking.
Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, and the academic director and lead instructor of UC Davis Extension’s Professional Brewing Programs. Lewis has been honored with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Award of Merit and the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He is also a recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award.