Sonnenberg: Beer Gardens and Healthy Drinking


By Kristiane Sonnenberg

Utah has a unique alcohol culture. Zion curtains and moats, anti-public drinking laws, and the (now defunct) private club system create a mystique around alcohol. In Utah, alcohol is something that we need to be protected from, something that needs to be kept out of the sight of children. We could learn a lot from the southern German state of Bavaria, which has a much more relaxed and more open alcohol culture.

Bavaria is a paradise for beer lovers. It is home to the Oktoberfest, the annual folk festival that, according to the official website, serves over 6 million liters of beer every year over a 16-18 day span. The festival that has spawned imitations around the world, including here in Utah at the Snowbird resort. Though Oktoberfest is the most well-known part of German beer culture, a much larger component is beer gardens.

A traditional Bavarian beer garden is more than just drinking beer outside. Each garden has stalls that sell beer and food. Customers have the option of buying food or bringing their own, but all drinks, including beer, have to be bought directly from the garden. These gardens are open to all members of the public, including families. Many gardens have playgrounds for children so that parents can bring their kids when they go to get a drink with friends.

Many Bavarians are partially raised in beer gardens. Parents bring them as children, and they come by themselves when they are in school to hang out with friends. They can begin drinking beer when they turn 16 (according to USA Today), but the requirement to buy from the garden and the communal atmosphere means that they are deterred from drinking hard liquor or over consuming. Teens go on dates at the beer garden under the watchful eye of their community. The cycle begins again when they grow up and have children of their own.

The beer gardens are truly communal. They are a place to picnic with family, enjoy traditional German food, and grab a drink with friends after work. Unlike many bars, they are not a place to drink to the point of drunkenness. In fact, rowdy behavior is strongly discouraged. Many gardens ban bachelor and bachelorette parties which are often obnoxious and disruptive. Noise and fun are fine, but only within limits.

Of course, German beer culture is not perfect. There will be problems with alcoholism anywhere that alcohol consumption is a major part of the culture. However, I believe that Bavarian drinking culture does more good than harm because the practice of introducing children to moderate drinking from a young age helps to demystify drinking and make it less of a taboo. If Utah wants to deglamorize alcohol consumption, we should teach kids that alcohol is fine so long as it is consumed in moderation and with a purpose of socializing. Hiding alcohol makes it mysterious and interesting, but seeing it consumed responsibly on a consistent basis makes it a normal part of a healthy adult life. We should take a cue from Bavaria and enjoy a beer garden with our families every once in a while.

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