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Why Beer Is the World’s Most Beloved Drink

A trip to Munich’s annual Oktoberfest comes with a few guarantees. Food will be in abundance: sausages, baked pretzels, punchy sauerkraut and buttered noodles. The crowd-puller will host gaggles of costumed guests, decked in lederhosen for men and dirndls (bodiced Bavarian dresses) for women. Music and parades will provide constant entertainment. And most important: there will be beer.

Dating back to 1810, the harvest festival was begun to mark the nuptials of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. The traditional beer, called Marzen, was brewed in large quantities in March and consumed throughout the summer. Celebrators finished the brew at Oktoberfest. Today the two-week event attracts about 6 million visitors a year, who down more than 7 million liters of the cold stuff. At Munich’s Oktoberfest, only six local brewers are permitted to sell beer: Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu, Spaten and Augustiner. “A good Oktoberfest beer is a masterpiece of balance and integration, delicious without being extravagant,” wrote New York Times critic Eric Asimov when he visited the festival in 2008. “It does its job in the background, refreshing the palate with enough flavor to pique the interest without interfering with the conversation.” The world’s largest beer festival draws in a hefty sum of money for Munich. Tourists coming in to sample the brews need places to stay, spend money on other restaurants and need taxis to get around. Those kinds of expenses add up to more than 1 billion euros a year for the city. But beer’s impact on Munich is not isolated. The brew has impacted the way people unite and interact with their communities since the beginning of time.

People have been celebrating with beer (and other booze) for millennia. When archaeologists traced the origins of human civilization, they found that communities centered on alcohol. The Göbekli Tepe site in southeastern Turkey, dated to more than 10,000 years ago, shows evidence of beer brewing at ancient feasting sites. “Production and consumption of alcoholic beverages is an important factor in feasts facilitating the cohesion of social groups, and in the case of Göbekli Tepe, in organizing collective work,” Oliver Dietrich, an archaeologist for the German Archaeological Institute, told LiveScience.

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