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As the warmth of September gives way to the cool of October, doubtless do palates begin to change and many begin to crave the offerings which this season brings, for example freshly picked apples from a trip to a local orchard or the pumpkin-spiced flavoured almost anything that “food” marketers promote. But for some this season harkens to something else: Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is the sixteen-day festival that begins in late September and runs until the first Sunday in October. Thus, we are in the midst of it and it concludes this coming Sunday. Officially itself, Oktoberfest, one of the world’s largest festivals, happens in Munich, Germany, the capital and largest city of the German state of Bavaria. It’s historical roots began in 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig—who would eventually became King Ludwig of Bavaria from 1825 to 1848—married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on the 12th of October. A marriage celebration was held for the subjects of the Kingdom of Bavaria which included horse races outside of the city of Munich. These races continued in the following years, as well as an agricultural fair, and eventually a parade, a commemoration of sorts that eventually became named Oktoberfest. This festival continues to this day drawing over 6 million people to it annually. Not only has it remained a local celebration in Munich, but it has been replicated both around Germany and around the world with similar Oktoberfest festivals.
As with many festivals, and especially to those who celebrate the fullness of Oktoberfest now, it is about the tastes of Oktoberfest. The various food cravings this season and celebration harken to are the very traditional German foods of the Bavarian region: pretzels and potato pancakes, wurst (sausages)—especially Weisswurst (white sausage), sauerkraut, red cabbage, and one of my favourites—cheese noodles or Käsespätzle. But the food that is most associated with Oktoberfest is obviously beer.
Beer however is facing many challenges these days. From climate change to contaminated water, humanity is affecting beer with adverse results. As we have known for sometime but may only occasionally be reminded of, where your food comes from, the source of your ingredients, and especially the environment that supports it, affects its taste and nutrition profile. This is called terroir. And it’s not just about wine and cheese. Beer is significantly affected by the water from which it comes, not only by basic sanitary necessity, but also by pH levels and its mineral profile. As a posting on NPR’s The Salt blog reported:
For instance, consider the famed “Burton snatch” — a term for the sulfurous quality of certain beers, especially those made in Burton-on-Trent, England. As [Garrett] Oliver wrote in his Oxford Companion to Beer, “high levels of sulfate in Burton waters (up to 800 ppm) bring a hard dry mineral edge… and this makes the water ideal for the production of pale ales.” Its unique water turned Burton into a brewing boomtown back in the 19th century, building such a solid reputation that just a few years ago, it was called “the world’s most important beer town.”
As craft beer makers have been expanding and replicating their breweries into new and different locations, much effort has been taken to mimic the waters of their original sources.
But what happens when that very water source is changed, fouled, or polluted? Much has been the coverage that the US west coast is facing, especially California. But less coverage has been directed at what that drought means for the craft beer industry. This summer one of the largest craft brewers in the country have contemplated on changing from their original water source, water from northern California’s Russian River, to ground water. The ground water in that area has a heavy mineral profile that would drastically change the taste. The change of waters sources though would be in reaction to the severe drought and water shortage of Russian River water and restrictions.
More bad news, a recent scientific analysis of beers discovered “stuff” in the liquid that one simply doesn’t want in there:
Researchers lab-tested samples of 24 varieties of German beers, including 10 of the nation’s most popular brands. Through their superpowers of microscopic analysis, the team discovered plastic microfibers in 100 percent of the tested beer samples.
Pieces of plastic in all the beers tested! That is not a good thing. This research was done in Germany with German beers, but if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere!
Admittedly, beer may not be the most reformed of subjects to contemplate, but as John Calvin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!” Actually, I have no proof Calvin said that. It is most often misattributed to Benjamin Franklin who most likely never said it either. Still, I think Calvin could have said it. For sure God does love us. Happiness may not be one of God’s highest objectives…but anyway. Calvin would indeed uphold the goodness of God’s creation and of our place and role in it. I’m pretty sure Calvin would care about the standards of the water that goes into our beer or whatever. I’m quite sure God cares, especially when creation groans.
Which is why during this changing of the season, as late summer of September becomes the early autumn of October, and the chill in the air brings one’s senses to think of apples or pumpkin-spice or Oktoberfest beer, we need to have gratitude for all God’s good gifts, but also responsibility to see the connections and to work for wholeness and healing. Even of the waters in our beer.