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Some of the World's Best Beer Festivals

World's Best Beer Festivals

If you worry you need an excuse to celebrate beer then October seems to be the month for it, Oktoberfest, now thought of as one of the world's largest beer-loving events is on, as is the Great American Beer Festival, and if that's not a good enough excuse to celebrate every shade of amber ale there is, then you're not really a beer lover are you!  

As a tribute to these great events, and of course to the beer behind them, World Reviewer is taking the opportunity this October to find out which are the World's Best Beer Festivals

Oktoberfest, spilling out of Munich's Hofbrauhaus is the classic beer themed celebration, and is now also a contender for title of 'world’s largest public celebration'. It began as a royal wedding celebration in 1810, but has morphed into a festival or beer, where local breweries conspire to brew dangerously darker, stronger fare and drench the city in joyous, drunken revelry. Regional food is also a vital component, and whole roast chickens, sausages and various indulgent Bavarian specialities are cooked freshly and sold to passers-by amongst the street carnival shows and traditionally-outfitted locals. A lot of the other festivals have taken their inspiration from Munich's party.

The Cannstatter Volksfest is one of the beer festivals vying for the title of the world's second largest, but it's more than a beer festival, it's also an autumn fair – the kind with the good food, the oompah bands and the world's largest portable ferris wheel, as well as a carnival of other rides. One of the traditions involves a fruit covered pole 26 metres high and weighing over three tonnes... Also called the Stuttgart Beer Festival, Cannstatter Volksfest kicks off the week after Oktoberfest and runs for 16 days so serious beer lovers can go to both.

Gäubodenvolksfest in Straubing, is Oktoberfest's younger sibling. It was founded in 1812 as a festival of the agricultural of the Danube region. These days it's like the family version of the beer-y blast, they have carousels, roller coasters and beer tents to seat 24,000 Bavarian-ly dressed people at once.

Only beers from the Straubing-Bogen region's breweries are served, and on the first day the tipples of offer are tested in parade form: 2,000 people in traditional dress transported on horseback try all the beers. By the end of the festival each year the organisers reckon on 700,000 litres being drank.

The US has numerous Oktoberfests – well, what's not to like, right – but La Crosse's Oktoberfest USA presents itself as one of the US's few authentic 'Old World' folk festivals. The festival was started by a couple of homesick Germans in 1961, so as well as beer drinking it's got the outfits, and the steins and the German music and the German food and a passion many Germans and Americans share: beer drinking, or did we say that already.

The whole place makes a big deal out of it – local businesses and industry, community groups they're all involved in proceedings, which is what gives this festival 'heart' as the Americans would say. It's not all polka and bratwurst though, there's rock and Budwiser as well.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati competes with Oktoberfest USA for the title of America's Most Authentic Oktoberfest. Both festivals claim the title is theirs, both of them claim they're folky and Germanic, and the best.  Zinzinnati also claims to have the largest attendance at more than half a million visitors. From the reviews it would seem that the other thing Oktoberfest Zinzinnati does well is the food side of the event, bragging that at one recent event festival-goers consumed 80,500 bratwurst, 64,000, 3,600 lbs. of sauerkraut, 56,250 sausages, 24,640 potato pancakes, 702 lbs. of Limburger cheese and 700 pigtails. Another thing that sets this Oktoberfest apart from others is their incorporation of the Chicken Dance into proceedings alongside the Gemuetlichkeit Games, and the rolling out of barrels and imbibing of the contents.

Canada has a contender for the title of Best Oktoberfest in North America as well, and this one has a theme song as well, promising they'll roll out the barrel for you, which seems to be their themed take on pulling out all the stops to make sure you have a good time “no matter who you are”. As well as the song, the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest has a couple of stout old mascots in Bavarian dress, in the form of Onkel Hans and Taunt Freida.  K-W Oktoberfest incorporates the traditional Oktoberfest sports, German cultural activities, lots of music, fashion, kid sized activities, and of course lots to celebrate when it comes to eating and drinking. They have a free pancake breakfast, a Miss Oktoberfest contest, a barrel race, a parade and music spin off events held at the same time called Rocktoberfest and Hip-Hoptoberfest – are there no end to the words you can add fest to the end of!

Canada's other great beer festival is Mondial de la Bière, a beer festival showcase for micro-breweries, so a good opportunity to try a beer you may only otherwise find in a few local restaurants. There's around 450 different beers, ciders and hybrids to taste and five days to taste them all in.

The Oktoberfest love has spread a lot wider than the states though...

Blumenau doesn't sound like a very Brazilian name does it? If you think it sounds more European you're getting warmer, if you jumped straight to German then you're hot, or else you just assumed that since they have the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations in South America then they must have some link to Oktoberfest's fatherland. But the festival doesn't go back as far as the city's founding, just to the 80s, when severe flooding left the town in need of funds and they held an Oktoberfest to raise them, liked the idea and stuck with it.

Brazil does partying well, and they've added their own local take on it – imagine polka meets samba and you'll have an idea, but the traditions of women and big jugs works for both.

One of the most unexpected Oktoberfest offshoots has to be Shanghai Oktoberfest, it might seem like one of the most unlikely places in the world to find yourself linking arms and singing "Oans, zwoa G'suffa", but the good-eatin', good-drinkin', good partyin' appeal of Oktoberfest spread to the east in the late 90s and it seems to be here to stay. They're boasting Weihenstephan' beer from the world oldest brewery in Germany, German food and an oompah' band for four days running.

London couldn't be seen to be too similar to Munich, even when it's emulating Munich's famous beer halls, complete with Paulaner beer served in steins by women with plats called Heidi – so instead of calling their October festival of beer and other things Bavarian, Oktoberfest they like to call it Bierfest. It's still held in October, mind, when the Main Hall of Old Billingsgate Market is morphed into a Bavarian Beer Hall, with all the trimmings of food, entertainment and drink.

The Great British Beer Festival moves right away from the Bavarian theme. This beer festival is a Mecca for breweries, beer stalls and avid consumers of alcohol. Organised by CAMRA: the Campaign for Real Ale, the Festival aims to educate people about the value of locally produced and historically significant beers, ales, bitters and cider, and the difference between them, if you weren’t already aware there was any.

Windsor brushes aside the polka in favour of jazz, holding a Beer and Jazz Festival: five days of jazz and liquor (hot jazz and cool beer - or visa versa) in the English summer.

But the UK's love of beer pervades the whole country – there's the Brew Wharf Beer Festival in London, the Ayrshire and Galloway Real Ale Festival, and Bedford, Bolton and Liverpool all have beer fests. in October. And Nottingham has a Robin Hood Beer Festival, whatever that may entail.

Belgium is another European country known for it's love of beer: they make it in as many colours and flavours as you could possibly imagine – including fruit flavours – and make some of the most potent brews known to man. One of Belguim's most accessible beer events is the Brussels Beer Weekend.  It's organised by the Belgium Brewers and the Knighthood of the Brewer's Mashstaff – those names sounds promising don't they. And when you consider the 225 beers on offer, from near and far, more often than not served by one of the people who helped brew it, then you really have yourself a promising beer related event.

The Great American Beer Festival is the other great October beer event: people come from all over the world for the three days of this event – which doesn't sound like it gives enough opportunity to try the 1,800 different American beer and 500 or so international beers. This is a competition – across 75 categories but there's also lectures and classes in how to be a beer judge. The best advice around is to pick up a map before you get there and plan your route. A pretzel necklace is also suggested – save time waiting in the food queues...

The Oregon Brewers Festival is another serious beer event, hosting 80 breweries, hop growers and all sorts of people involved in beer production. And The Great Taste of the Midwest is also supposed to be good.

If you're in the southern hemisphere visit the Tasmanian Beerfest on Hobart's beautiful harbour, or the New Zealand Beer Festival, so large it runs in both Wellington and Auckland.

And if they run out of something before you get a chance to sample it don't worry, there are about 900 other Beer Festivals world wide, so there will always be another opportunity.

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