When lederhosen litter the streets and beer vanishes from the aisles of Tesco, it can only be time for Oktoberfest in March. Boasting an international guest majority and an impressive number of alumni in attendance, the St Andrews Charity Oktoberfest cannot be fully appreciated with words. This past Saturday, Kinkell Byre was completely transformed from a remote barn into a beer hall to rival those found in Munich, featuring an assortment of tables, endless pitchers of beer, and a rousing band flown directly from Germany. Nearly every attendee donned their finest Bavarian costumes to complete the foreign feel of the afternoon, transporting us from Scotland to the genuine Oktoberfest at a fraction of the cost.
Organised by an eight person committee for the support of Tayside Children With Cancer and Leukaemia, the massive event required coordination with both local and international guests, all of whom would collect their wristbands on Saturday morning and journey to Kinkell from 1:45 pm onwards. The event, which officially began at 2 pm, was preceded by hours of boozy brunches, in the traditional Oktoberfest fashion. As a result, the party was in full swing by the time we arrived at the venue.
Despite the beer goggles, the impressive setup was impossible to ignore: serving as the entryway, the smoking area was contained within an open, wooden-floored tent. Inside the main building, we were immediately greeted by a storm of general merriment, with beer flowing from two bars and spirits (particularly jager) from a third. Anticipated as being the most popular drink of the day, beer could only be purchased with tokens bought at a committee-run booth near the entryway, which permitted for moderately shorter queues as we were served by staff from Event Bars St Andrews. Framing the dancefloor, a sprawling array of picnic tables remained full throughout the afternoon as tired guests sought to rest their feet following a particularly exuberant song or two.
The dancefloor, as in previous years, remained consistently crowded thanks to the musical stylings of Stoabach Buam, a Munich-based band who swigged from litres of beer and carried the crowd from two pm to close. Even as many guests remained in this centre area, the surrounding spaces were still crammed with a constant circulation of tipsy revellers. It was rather difficult, admittedly, to avoid any beer spillage as one navigated his or her way through the tightly packed corridors. Once safely at a table, fortunately, the drink could be enjoyed at one’s leisure.
In accordance with Oktoberfest tradition, beer was served strictly in glass pitchers. This made for wonderful photo opportunities, but the sound of breaking glass became a commonplace occurrence throughout the afternoon. Most of these accidents could be chalked up to the jostling of the crowds, rather than to drunken clumsiness: in preparation for hoards of intoxicated guests, the committee had prepared a massive water station by the main bar, offering endless amounts of bottled water to anyone in need of a break. This, combined with the ability to find a seat nearly anywhere in the room, gave guests ample opportunity to catch their breaths should they feel unwell.
The beer itself was, naturally, a vital component of the day. Stocked with 5000 litres of Paulaner imported directly from Munich, two of the bars were equipped solely with branded taps that did not appear to stop running until the event’s end. Though beer isn’t always everyone’s drink of choice, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone without a pitcher in hand at some point during the event. It would seem that the “when in Rome” rule applied here: even if only for a picture, a foamy litre of beer was the single must-have item of the day.
A close second to the beer in terms of authenticity was the food. Supplied by a total of seven caterers from near and far away, Oktoberfest did not lack for a wide variety of stomach-lining snacks. Bratwurst, sausage rolls, pastries – all could be purchased anywhere from the entryway to the depths of the venue. By spacing out the food stalls, the committee prevented a hungry mob from forming in a single location. Instead Kinkell was reminiscent, at times, of a street fayre, packed with stalls that rarely required much of a wait. Guests could pick and choose at their leisure what they would snack on, before returning to the dancefloor or venturing to the nearest bar.
On paper, the event sounds almost too simple. Beer, food, and music can be found nearly anywhere in St Andrews, and likely for much cheaper. Oktoberfest, however, contains a spirit that is only captured in Kinkell Byre every March. In the small hall, it was difficult to tell a St Andrews student from an Austrian visitor, so alike did everyone look in their Bavarian dress. Partygoer Finn Nelson claimed that “of all the second semester events, Oktoberfest is easily in the top three,” and he would be right. Truly unlike any other day or night in St Andrews, this event completely unified every guest, as we all raised our pitchers and attempted to sing along to German tunes. Whether one had chosen to don lederhosen or a dirndl, today we all came together in the Bavarian spirit.
Oktoberfest is frequently described as (or accused of being, depending on how you look at it) the most exclusive event in St Andrews, with hundreds entering the oversubscribed table raffle or paying outrageous markups for a secondhand ticket. Considering that the committee itself is invitation-only and the table system is notoriously enigmatic, the event certainly provides fodder to the rumour mill. Whatever may happen behind closed doors, it cannot be contested that Oktoberfest is an absolutely stunning experience.
The high level of demand does not damper an event that, as any attendee would attest to, completely lives up to the international hype that it has generated. From first year to fourth year to having long-since-graduated, Kinkell housed nothing but satisfied students and visitors from beginning to end.
Until next year: Prost!