Munich's annual Oktoberfest (ironically starting in September) is a hedonist spectacle that sees one of Bavaria's most popular cities flooded with tourists, eager to sup local beer, and, as we all now know, become raucously drunk. Still considered a cultural staple, with approximately 8 million litres of beer served here every year (7.7 million in 2013), for some beer fans, the bacchanalian nature of the event is too much a blend of sensory overload and overcrowding to contemplate, but luckily there are other ways to experience German brewing at its best, and even some calmer highlights of the main event. Here are our suggestions.
A local beer of renown, kölsch is exclusively brewed in Cologne. It's a pale ale with a distinct flavour, served in a traditional tall, cylindrical glass, often in darling pubs and taverns that dot Cologne's ancient stone streets. A guided kölsch tasting experience is well worth it - consider it the sophisticate's answer to a pub crawl. Expect hoppy flavours crafted with love, tradition and exacting standards.
Sup pilsner in a beer garden
German pilsner originates in Bohemia, a German-speaking region, once belonging to the Austrian Empire. Many of the locals will order 'pils', so don't be surprised to see it listed as such on the menu. Germany is home to beer gardens up and down the country, and many of them date back decades, even centuries - if you're in Berlin, be sure to stop off at the Prater Biergarten, which has been open since 1837. Prater Pilsner is the local choice here, and if you happen to be visiting at a less seasonable time of year, an adjacent beer hall is offered in place of the chestnut tree-shaded garden.
The Oktoberfest Museum
Literally 'Oktoberfestmuseum' in German, the four floors of this Munich museum are dedicated to all things Oktoberfest, for an academic view on the infamous spectacle. Explore a collection of Oktoberfest items, from brewing vats to photos of celebrations past, all housed in an elegant 14th century building.
A somewhat overlooked part of Oktoberfest is the Mass, a religious ceremony that has been part of the festivities since 1956. The Mass gives thanks to all those who facilitate Oktoberfest, as well as offering remembrance for those who have passed, and usually takes place in the Hippodrom tent. For a relatively quieter side to the festival (though it may still host up to 4,200 guests), check it out.
Beck's Brewery tour
If you prefer lager to craft ale (and there are some out there who do), what better way to celebrate your love than with a tour of the Beck's Brewery? Running for two hours through the Bremen-based brewery of this internationally famous beverage, the tour explores the history of the beer, which has been produced for over 140 years. Although there are now Beck's factories across the world (unsurprising, given that some 3,000 bottles are produced a minute), returning to where it all started is a fascinating experience, intertwining the history of the city with that of its most famous produce. Each tour also includes a chance to sample the beer afterwards, though if you somehow miss your chance, there are plenty of pubs in Bremen and indeed across Germany where this famous beer can be enjoyed.
Of course, if you do want to brave the crowds, Oktoberfest runs annually, with schedules for specific events (such as the opening parade) published well in advance.