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Alcohol-Free Beer Invades Oktoberfest

Reuters

A revolution is sweeping the froth from drinkers’ glasses at the Munich Oktoberfest Beer Festival. This year they are selling not just alcohol-free beer but milk .

Breaking with 150 years of tradition, the 156th Oktoberfest will offer both beverages to up to 7 million visitors during a 16-day orgy of drinking and merrymaking that began earlier this month.

Traditionalists may dismiss alcohol-free beer as “castrated barley-juice,” but steadily rising consumption of the brew by health-conscious young Germans has won it a place in the 14 huge tents that form the centerpiece of the festival.

City official Barbara Scheuble-Schaefer was one of those who successfully campaigned to have local laws changed to enable all breweries to sell in their tents alcohol-free beer, nicknamed “lead-free” (as in gasoline) by Bavarians.

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“We welcome the growth in consumption of alcohol-free beer for both health and safety reasons,” she said.

Milk is making its debut in a small tent of its own.

The introduction of both drinks has been encouraged by motoring organizations anxious to ensure that drivers have an alternative to overindulgence in more potent brews that could cost them their driving licenses.

“It is encouraging that all the Oktoberfest organizers will offer at least one alcohol-free drink that is cheaper than the same amount of beer,” said Munich Deputy Mayor Winfried Zehetmeier.

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Alcohol-free beer made its first appearance several years ago, but only in smaller tents on the festival fringes.

But now it has been admitted into the “holy of holies,” the 14 central tents run by the main breweries. The largest of these hold about 10,000 drinkers, plus oompah bands, buxom waitresses and heavy clouds of smoke.

Breaking into Bavaria’s leading beer fest marks the coming of age for a drink that accounted for barely 2% of the West German market last year.

West Germans, the world’s largest beer-drinkers, are turning more and more to weaker varieties, and the brewing industry expects alcohol-free beer to capture 15% of the market eventually.

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