Oktoberfest started in 1810. It was a two-day, free-beer and free-food celebration of the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. With steins full, Munich keeps the party going each year.
The festivities begin in September, when the weather is better in Germany, and continue for up to 18 days, before concluding on an early October weekend.
In recent decades, Oktoberfest beers have tended to be medium-bodied, golden to light amber in color, with more sweet maltiness than even minimal hoppy bitterness. The beers poured at Munich's Oktoberfest come from the city's big breweries, including Hofbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, and Paulaner.
They're all very good. You also should look for the brews of dependable Spaten and, a personal favorite, the richly satisfying Ayinger Oktober-Fest Marzen, available in 16.9-ounce bottles.
American brewers have been joining in the late-September blast for many years. Among the best of these beers is the very consistent Samuel Adams OctoberFest, the full-bodied and balanced Brooklyn Oktoberfest, lively Magic Hat Hex, refreshing Victory Festbier, easygoing Leinenkugel Oktoberfest, smooth Stoudt's Oktoberfest, vivid Left Hand Oktoberfest and the snappy Dogtoberfest Marzen from the Flying Dog Brewery.
After a few sips, dip into "The Pocket Beer Guide" (Sterling Epicure, $14.95), by Stephen Beaumont and Jim Webb, a compact handbook that manages to cover 3,000-plus beers. The authors start by noting "There can be very little doubt that beer drinkers have never had it so good."