Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival in the world. It originated in Germany, but today it is celebrated all over the globe.

The very first Oktoberfest was held in 1810, for the wedding of Princess Theresia of Saxe-Hildburghausen and Crown Prince Lodewijk of Bavaria. The five-day festivities included horse races and a celebration of culture and tradition. It became an annual event, centered around beer.

Every year the festival starts on the first Saturday after September 15th. It ends on the first Sunday in October, unless this is on October 1st or 2nd. In that case, the event will be extended until October 3rd, the Day of German Unity. Oktoberfest therefore lasts 16 to 18 days.

Traditionally, Oktoberfest is still celebrated on the Theresienwiese in Munich. Today it receives more than 5 million visitors. The men are often dressed in lederhosen and the ladies in dirndl.

They can go to one of the huge tents, or the surrounding beer gardens. However, not every brewery is allowed to participate in the official Oktoberfest. That honor is reserved for a special selection of Munich brewers. Currently these are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu München, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten. They serve a special Festbier, which is served in a Maß, a beer glass of no less than 1 liter.

You will also find a fair and the largest carnival in the world. Because who wouldn’t want to go on a roller coaster or rocking boat after a few large pints of beer?

Nowadays, Oktoberfest is no longer only celebrated in Munich. In addition to numerous parties, there are large editions in Stuttgart, Düsseldorf and even the Dutch Sittard. But the event is also gaining ground in the United States.

Beer enthusiasts have claimed several historical persons. The legend of Gambrinus is one of those stories. Another well-known patron saint is Arnold of Soissons, better known as Saint Arnoldus.

Arnold (then Arnulf) was born in 1040 in Tiegem, Belgium. At the age of thirty, he entered Saint Medardus Abbey in Soissons, France. There he lived as a hermit for years. Although that role suited him well, Arnold was – reluctantly – promoted to Bishop Arnoldus. Legend has it that he wanted to escape his responsibilities, but a wolf brought him back to the abbey.

In that capacity, he was sent to Flanders in 1083 to help with peace negotiations. This tour was a success and was awarded with the founding of St. Peter’s Abbey in Oudenburg. Arnoldus then resigned as bishop. He died a short while later.

But why is this man still revered by beer lovers? Since his death, his unofficial status became the patron saint of brewers, hop pickers and innkeepers. This has to do with a legendary statement that he is said to have made.

In the eleventh century many infectious diseases were circulating. These were partly spread by polluted water. Arnoldus therefore called on people to drink beer. Since the water was then cooked, there was a smaller chance of contamination. According to tradition, Arnoldus saved countless lives with his own abbey beer.

By the way, don’t immediately think of modern beer when reading this story. In that period, it was more comparable to today’s low-alcohol Table Beer and it was even drunk during breakfast.

Nevertheless, Arnoldus is often depicted with a beer keg or mash paddle. His feast day is August 14.

Namaste! June 21 has been designated International Yoga Day. These spiritual, physical and mental exercises have their origin in Hinduism. That’s all very well, but what exactly does this have to do with beer?

Around 2013, a new, playful form of yoga emerged in the United States. While it’s not exactly clear where or how it started, Brooke Larson is the one who brought it to a large audience in 2015. She started an official company that now provides lessons throughout America.

Around the same time, German teachers Jhula and Emily discovered the phenomenon at the Burning Man festival. They decided to teach in Berlin and through various events it spread throughout Europe.

You should of course taste some beer during and after the exercises, but that is not all. In beer yoga, the popular drink is really integrated into the classes. By adding a beer bottle you can play with balance and weight. It is not the intention to get drunk. With beer yoga you normally only get one or two bottles for the entire lesson.

Breweries are more than happy to capitalize on the hype. They regularly organize events where beer yoga is central. With a little searching you will probably find a participating venue nearby.

Not everyone is positive about beer yoga, however. Fitness experts call it an unhealthy marketing gimmick. And although it is indeed mainly a fun movement, there is some historical awareness. In as early as the sixth century, yogis used alcohol to get closer to their Gods.

The basis is entertainment, but beer yoga has become a serious phenomenon. It does seem more suitable for a pleasant day than for a weekly workout. Will you soon be tipsy with a bottle of beer on your head, balancing on one leg?

Image © Otwarte Klatki

Every year on April 11, beer lovers toast to the legendary beer king Gambrinus (or Cambrinus), also known as the patron saint of beer. Unfortunately, he was no saint or king; Gambrinus never really existed. But that doesn’t mean this legend isn’t interesting.

In reality, Gambrinus was probably loosely based on Hertog Jan (Duke John), also no stranger to the world of beer. This popular Jan van Brabant was a lover of beer and he often went among the common people. According to the stories, he once addressed his army from a pile of beer barrels. The name Gambrinus could be an amalgam of Jan Primus (Jan the First), although this is questioned by historians.

The name seems to have originated earlier when the ancient Romans wrote about a Germanic people they named Gambrivians. Although there was never any evidence for this, this story developed over the centuries until it was not a nation, but a king named Gambrivius. Poets and story tellers ran off with it and various stories came to life.

He is said to have learned brewing from the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, or he was rewarded with an honorary title when he drank beer for three days and three nights in a row. Or was it a simple brewer who won a race, by emptying the barrel of beer he had to carry along the way?

It wasn’t until 1874 that the legend really came to life. Then the short story collection Contes du roi Cambrinus – or The Stories of King Gambrinus – by Charles Deulin was published. In it, a heartbroken man makes a pact with the devil himself. If he may forget the beautiful Flandrine, he will give up his soul. The dark creature grants him the miraculous hop plant and teaches him to brew.

In addition, Gambrinus – in order to take revenge on his village – gets the talent to make music that one has to dance to. However, the brewer outsmarts the devil. When the latter comes for his soul, Gambrinus plays his music. The beast has no choice but to return the soul in order to be released from the dance. That’s what one calls a hero!

When the story was also made into a play, King Gambrinus became known throughout the Low Countries (now The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and a small area in France). He has therefore become an indispensable part of the beer culture. Several beers are named after him, such as Primus of the Haacht brewery or Rosé de Gambrinus of Cantillon. There are also several breweries, beer associations, festivals and bars named after the legend. Not to mention, he has his own day on April 11.

All in all not bad for a saint who never existed…

Flickr photograph by Howie Luvzus.

It is not clear when roasting in rotating drums became popular with special maltsters. It is nowadays the most used and safest machinery to make roasted and caramelised malts and cereals.

There was a time roasting was done in partially open spheres and direct fired. Consistent malt quality was very difficult to be obtained and danger of fire was prominently present all the time. The use of special roasted malts was limited. The success in the 20the century of specialty beers (trappists and coloured higher density beers and of course the revival of the craft beers, boosted the use of special malts

We can define two mean purposes for the use of drum roaster equipment in the maltings:

1. The perfect caramelisation tool.

Caramel malts are made from germinated cereals. Instead of bringing the green malt to a kiln to dry for making regular malt, the green malt is brought into a rotating drum roaster. The drum can be closed air tide and when temperature raises between 65 and 75°C the brewing enzymes: α and β amylases are on their maximum power and will degrade the sugar polymers from the endosperm, amylose and amylopectin into maltose.

Because the drum is a dynamic system constructed in a way optimal even temperature is reached on every spot in the drum, the saccharification process is fully and fast obtained within 30 minutes. This cannot be achieved with a tradition static kiln (green malt is not moving). The inside of the kernels during saccharification become almost liquid and drying is starting. Once most of the moisture is gone (45%→10%) temperature is raising and the sugars start to degrade into complex molecules which are given a brown colour and taste like toffees and caramel. A minimum of 110°C is needed to allow that process and roasting starts from here.

Combination of Maillard reactions and sugar degradation influence further at higher temperatures (max 165°C) the creation of all different caramel malts: from 20 EBC hell to 400 EBC aroma. The production of caramel via malt is without treatment of ammonia and or acids and is therefore a wanted product in baking and brewing.

2. The perfect roasting tool.

Crude cereals or finished malts are used to heat up and being roasted at higher temperatures (max 235°C). As the cereals and the malts do not contain sugars but only starch, there is less danger for burning the endosperm. The coloration is the result of only Maillard reactions. The higher the roasting temperature the higher the coloration.

Taste will evolve from biscuit up to chocolate and astringent burnt. For brewing purposes only the low colours (max 100 EBC biscuit malts) and the higher black malts (coffee, chocolate and black 700-1500EBC) are used. In the window 200-500 EBC are the malts which are used for colouring flour of wheat used for different types of bread.

In the middle-ages – before the effects of hop in brewing were known – people used a special herb mixture for bittering and flavouring beer. This mixture – and the eventual beer – is called Gruit, also known as grut, gruut or gruyt. And because 1 February declared is International Gruit Day, we will take a closer look at this unique beer.

Gruit originated in the area of the Netherlands, Belgium and part of Germany. It goes back at least to the 11th century, because that is when the Roman Emperor Henry IV started taxing Gruit. As soon as hop was “discovered”, the use of herbs took a dive. By the 15th century Gruit all but disappeared.

Thankfully, the recent craft brew craze has also revived nearly forgotten beer styles, like Gruit. Brewers all over the world tried their hand in brewing with herbs instead of hops. In Ghent, Belgium there is even a brewery that solely commits itself to Gruit.

The mixture of herbs is not fixed, but most use heather, ground-ivy, horehound, mugwort, sweetgale and yarrow. Other ingredients could be – but are not limited to – juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, nutmeg and cinnamon. Today, even hop is allowed, although that seems a little redundant.