Are Beer Fests a Rip? An Oktober Showdown

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Seattle Weekly
With the coming of Oktoberfest celebrations across the country, Voracious thought it would be an apt time to debate the merits of beer festivals.

Daniel Person would rather drink Keystone Ice in his living room alone than endure another beer festival.

Let's start by talking about Budweiser.

The name is a geographical descriptor for the city of Budweis in the Czech Republic, known for making an amazing pilsner; in other words, a pilsner that tastes nothing like Budweiser. And since the rise of capitalism in the Eastern Bloc, Anheuser-Busch has been mired in lawsuits with Czech brewers from who claim the Americans have no right to market their tasteless swill under their city's name (the suits have had limited success).

The Budweiser fight gives us insight into another botched rip-off set to kick off in the coming weeks: the American Oktoberfest.

Named after the grand Bavarian celebration in Munich, the fall-time beer festivals in America - in my experiences - seem more like trips to a boozy Costco than any sort of celebration of fall or beer, though there is plenty of polka.

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Creative Commons
Actual size of typical beer festival cup

Here's the typical set-up: For some unreasonable price, you receive a puny glass and some "drinking tokens." With these items in hand, you proceed to increasingly long lines at various beer vendors, where you give up a token and watch in suspense as the dude at the keg decides how much of your 5-ounce schooner to fill. From there, you pivot away from the booth into an elbow-to-elbow crush of people, take a few swings to empty the glass, and repeat the process.

And just like Budweiser set the standard for commoditized beer in America, the Oktoberfest model has spread across all beer festivals, each one a more miserable experience than the next.

But, hey, you get to keep the glass!

The moral, then, is to give up on cheap imitations of Central Europeans and get busy drinking beer. Real beer. At your neighborhood bar. The lines will be shorter, you can get a pint, and, God willing, there won't be any polka. DANIEL PERSON

The mountains, and a good drunk, made Mike Seely a believer.

I used to half-agree with Mr. Person until I headed to Leavenworth for that faux-Bavarian town's Oktoberfest a few years ago There, I found the experience to be affordable, homey and rambunctious--without prematurely devolving into inebriated slop.

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Wikimedia Commons
Leavenworth, Wash. Where true drinkers drink.

The key to a good beer fest is to weed out the amateurs. If you set such an event in, say, Fremont, this is tough to do. Site it in a remote location in the majestic Cascades, however, and you attract drinkers who prepare and train for the event, as destination drinkers typically go to great lengths to ensure that their final port of call isn't Blackoutsville, U.S.A.

Oktoberfest has enterprising value as well. Specifically, that value is to learn how to develop a tolerance for massive quantities of alcohol. This is an important social skill for one to possess, even in America. When schmoozing potential clients at a booze-soaked cocktail hour, it is important to not lose your shit. For Germans and Europeans at large, this is something that's impressed upon them from birth (relaxed drinking ages has something to do with it). In America, it's more of an acquired taste--and Oktoberfest can prove an important proving ground for the aspiring functional alcoholic.

If anything, Oktoberfest and its ilk should be held more, not less, frequently in America. After all, we're a nation of immigrants, a culture built on the borrowed. MIKE SEELY

 
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