At the start of beer festival season around the world, we look to the history books to see how these gatherings began and why they are still so popular today.
In 1810, the 'Oktoberfest' or Munich Beer Festival was held as a public celebration of King Ludwig's marriage to Princess Therese from Saxony-Hildburghausen. It has survived to the present day, and from its royal beginnings has become the world’s ultimate beer festival, with people of all nationalities flocking to the German city for beer and bratwurst.
With the rise of craft beer, there has never been a better time for quality ale. There is something of a revolution going on around the world – beer is being refreshed, revived and reinvented, and with it, the rise of craft beer festivals has been witnessed.
In America, craft beer festivals are booming, with the American Craft Fest held in Boston in June offering more than 550 beers. Held at the end of September, The Great American Beer Festival is thought to be the biggest in the world, with more 1 600 different beers available for tasting.
The Great British Beer Festival, held every August since 1977, hosts about 600 beers from around the world, including around 400 from Britain alone. British beer festivals focus on draught real ale, although bottled beers and ciders are often included. There is an emphasis on variety as well as volume.
Closer to home, South Africans also enjoy attending large gatherings of people praising their favourite drink.
In Johannesburg, you can sip a frosty and jive to live music at the Jozi Craft Beer Festival at Pirates Rugby Club in May.
In August 2012, the first SA on Tap Craft Beer Festival was held at the Brightwater Commons in Randburg, while later in the month, Sandton came alive with the Spring Ale Festival - a day dedicated to the art of fine ales, craft market foods and live music.
German schools in both Cape Town and Johannesburg also host annual “Basars” which incorporate beer along with traditional foods.
Oktoberfest comes to KwaZulu-Natal in late September with the Pecanwood Pig and Beer Fest in the Midlands, with more than 20 types of beer to be enjoyed.
November features the country’s largest beer festival, The Cape Town Festival of Beer, which is held at Hamilton’s Rugby Club. The three day festival celebrates all things beer, with more than 150 beers from 42 world-class brewers as well as entertainment. On a smaller scale is the Hop ‘n Vine Festival, where 15 craft breweries come together in Constantia along with Garagistes wine makers to showcase their limited edition wares.
Further afield, the quaint town of Clarens hosts a namesake Craft Beer Festival each year in February, pouring more than 50 different craft beers and ciders from across the country.
South African Breweries (SAB), a staunch supporter of the craft beer industry, has a presence at most of the craft beer festivals and are a key sponsor are many of the events.
At this year’s Clarens Beer Festival, SAB’s Brewers Apiwe Nxusani and Sandra Innes brewed four distinctive and interesting craft beers. “The more people that are interested in beer, the better it is for the entire beer category, ” explains SAB Chief Brewer Martin Brooks. “We help our fellow brewers with raw materials, skills transfer and industry related issues such as maintaining the integrity of hops in the country.”
Next time you sip a beer at a festival, raise a toast to the woman whose marriage brought you these festivals – while the concept has thrived through the intervening years, poor Princess Therese’s marriage did not enjoy similar loyalty from King Ludwig - his infidelity with Lola Montez saw him abdicate the throne in 1848.