File photo: Women wearing traditional Bavarian Dirndl pose with beer during the opening ceremony for the 176th Oktoberfest in Munich.

Johannesburg - It was that time of year again when oompah bands, Rhine maidens in dirndl skirts and embroidered blouses, flaxen-haired youths in lederhosen, and generally all things German come together for the biggest celebration of all – Oktoberfest.

Germany has had beer gardens for over 200 years, and in those early dark days breweries were allowed to brew only in the winter months in case their beer went vrot in the summer heat. So beer had to be stored in cellars, and the innovative beer masters covered the cellars with fast-growing chestnut trees and gravel – and hey presto! – biergartens.

Untold litres of the stuff are downed each year, not only by the locals but also by 93 percent of foreign visitors. Munich takes the hops laurel with more than 110 beer gardens.

Maybe some enterprising entrepreneur should start our own equivalent.

We could plant fast-growing syringa trees in Soweto and Alex, and create shebeen gardens. (I know syringas count as exotics but they have lots of nice, scented flowers in October). Maidens in traditional dress could pass round platters of home-brew, while gumboot dancers entertained the revellers. Recordings of Yvonne Chaka Chaka singing Umqombothi would be mandatory.

In the platteland, visitors could clink tankards of mampoer to wash down the koeksisters and wors, and sakkie sakkie music could drown the burps. Older folk could stumble around to a boerewals – the equivalent of a Viennnese waltz.

In Sandton there could be an ever so precious garden with sparkly lights (Swarovski, of course) and flags decorated with designer labels fluttering over tiny uncomfortable metal tables and chairs, as kugels and other aspiring classes downed double espresso or latte beer. A big seller would be the brew with no calories, guaranteed to make you lose at least 2kg a pint, that comes with free hair extensions.

The most potent beer I ever drank was in Quito, Ecuador, a couple of years ago. It was called chichi and is made from purple maize boiled with pineapple and spices. Well, that’s what we were told. I later learned that chichi can refer to any homemade fermented drink, and many different grains or fruits are used. I never discovered the origin of what I drank that fateful night, but poppies and hollyhocks were in bloom.

All I can tell you is that since my unhappy chichi experience (not that I remember much of it) I have avoided beer of any kind. Especially the home-brewed ones.

And that’s a sad confession from someone who spent seven years in Ireland brewing poteen in her airing cupboard. - Sunday Independent