The beer culture is no stranger to the impacts of pandemics. In 1854, and again in 1873, officials cancelled one of the world’s great beer celebrations — Munich’s Oktoberfest — due to cholera outbreaks. The first of those pandemics killed 236,000 people in Spain alone within a year. That same year, cholera ended the lives of 3,500 people in Chicago — 5% of the city’s population at the time. Canceling festive beer celebrations was certainly a wise decision at the time.
Today, as the coronavirus death toll surges past a quarter-million, officials have little choice but to cancel gatherings of people big or small — especially, perhaps, those oriented around drinking alcohol in tight quarters. Unsurprisingly, German officials announced in late April their decision to cancel the 2020 Oktoberfest, which usually draws about 6 million people over a two-week period in September and early October. There is no reason to think, after all, that the coronavirus will be under control by the fall.
Oktoberfest is just one festival of many that have been, or will soon be, nixed by the coronavirus pandemic. Basically, every drinking and tasting festival this spring has been called off, with good reason, and it seems just a matter of time before the summer calendar is wiped clean of such scheduled events.
Even if beer events remain on the calendar this year, who, I wonder, would want to go? The paranoia caused by the coronavirus could, I expect, entirely kill the tradition of gathering in large groups to drink and be merry — until, that is, there is a readily available vaccine.
In Marin County, the Breastfest — sponsored each year by Marin and Moylan’s brewing companies in July — has been cancelled, according to an announcement on the event’s Facebook page. The Fairfax Brewfest, which usually takes place in March as the kickoff to spring, was rescheduled for this weekend but will likely be delayed further or cancelled altogether for 2020. The SF Cider Summit, initially scheduled for April 11, has been postponed until October (and with the Oktoberfest’s cancellation, we’ll see if October becomes a reliable rescheduling time or not).
In Mendocino County, the Boonville Beer Festival — put on each May by Anderson Valley Brewing Co. — was wiped off the calendar in February.
“After consideration we have come to the unfortunate decision to cancel the May 2 Boonville Beer Festival due to concerns about COVID-19,” the brewery wrote on its website in late February.
“We are hoping to find an opportunity later this year to do something to help replace the philanthropic contributions that we would have made following the Boonville Beer Festival,” says Anderson Valley Brewing Co. president Kevin McGee.
“However, we are nimble and have 30 acres and a brewery at our disposal, so chances are we’ll be able to come up with something fun,” McGee says.
In Colorado, the Great American Beer Festival, scheduled for Sept. 24 through 26, remains on the calendar. The San Francisco Oktoberfest by the Bay also appears to be proceeding as planned. The pessimist in me doubts these festivals, which bring thousands of people into close quarters, will take place.
Even if health officials, come autumn, allow some of these events to proceed, attendees will find a variety of health and safety measures in place that will likely suck the merriment from the air. Could one enjoy a day of beer tasting while wearing a medical mask and rubber gloves, minding that 6 feet distancing protocol, and generally being preoccupied with not catching a feared virus?
And a suggestion: If you managed to get by without dirty looks for spitting beer into the dump buckets before, don’t count on it during the COVID-19 crisis.
By ALASTAIR BLAND | firstname.lastname@example.org | IJ correspondent