Inside Milktoberfest: The Mormon Alternative to Oktoberfest

For its second year, the dry campus of Brigham Young University celebrated the annual holiday with a whole lot of chocolate milk.

by Justin Caffier
Oct 6 2017, 8:15pm

Screengrab from YouTube: BYU Library

October 3rd marked the end of the annual two-week hoppy bacchanalia known as Oktoberfest. More than 6 million beerheads from around Germany and across the globe flocked to Munich to sample brews, sing traditional German folk songs, start fights, and vomit on themselves.

Over the years, the festival has gone international, embraced and aped by all manner of organizations looking to justify some extra drinking. So alluring is this holiday that even the soberest among us have decided to get in on the action.

Yesterday, in the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, students and faculty celebrated the school's second annual "Milktoberfest," a non-alcoholic alternative to the debauchery taking place outside the perimeters of the Mormon school's dry campus. Aiming to lure new students into the intimidatingly large library so that they might familiarize themselves with its various amenities before exams begin and "do homework," Milktoberfest offered free chocolate milk from the BYU creamery, as well as cookies, games, and other pre-midterm distractions.

While last year's inaugural event garnered some media buzz for its cute name and concept, the event itself was not without its hiccups.

"Last year, I don't know what we were thinking. We did not buy nearly enough milk," Roger Layton, the communications manager at the Harold B. Lee library, told VICE over the phone on the eve of Milktoberfest 2017. "We had a few hundred bottles of milk, and that was gone immediately, and people were not amused. This year, we've got 1,200 bottles, which is probably more chocolate milk than anyone could stand to pass out."

A "local boy" himself, Layton considers the BYU Creamery's chocolate milk the best in the world and imagines the majority of the student body would share this sentiment. Sadly, I was unable to attend the event in person and confirm these claims.

After the success of 2016's event, the school went beyond merely increasing their milk supplies and aimed to make all aspects of their second go of it bigger, better, and frothier.

Whereas Milktoberfest 2016 offered performances by German folk dancers to entertain those waiting in chocolate milk lines, this year's participants were invited to let their hair down and play games like "study table ping pong."

Also on offer was a "funniest meme competition," the still-to-be-determined winner of which will win a notoriously hard-to-come-by Nintendo Switch.

"I learned about [the contest] just this morning and got to work immediately," said freshman Applied Mathematics major Chase Westhoff, who, with the help of his sister-in-law, submitted about 20 memes over the course of the day. "It was my first time really getting into meme making, so I had a lot of fun learning how to work Photoshop. Hopefully they turned out as sweet as that oh-so-good BYU chocolate milk."

The inception and continuation of Milktoberfest comes at a unique cultural moment where young people seem to be embracing earnest wholesomeness in lieu of detached irony and negativity. Layton insists, however, that this overlap is a mere "happy coincidence."

"We're Provo, [Utah] so we've always embraced wholesomeness. You've got to go all the way back to the 1800s to get to when things were a bit crazy here."

Unfortunately, not everyone was fully able to participate in the sober revelry. When asked if any options would be available to vegan or lactose intolerant students, Layton sheepishly told me "we've got water," before citing budget constraints.

I reached out to one such lactose intolerant student, junior and Information Systems major Eric Clinger, for his feelings on the lack of alternative milk options.

"In one word: discrimination," joked Clinger, before going on to say how much he actually loves Milktoberfest. "BYU isn't slow to poke fun at itself, which is something it certainly does for this event. We know that we're a unique university—winning the stone cold sober award countless years in a row—and we're more than happy about it."

Though the primarily Mormon student body may fully embrace their sober status, their fiendish cravings for sucrose are another matter entirely. Sometimes referred to as "Mormon alcohol," due to it being one of the few indulgences permitted by the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sugar is used within the community for all manner of social events. But, with unhealthy eating habits contributing to far more deaths each year than the other vices prohibited by the Mormon faith and BYU, I felt compelled to ask Layton if he had any misgivings about pushing deadly chocolate milk on impressionable young students.

"We're not pretending this is healthy. We will admit that," he acknowledged. "But Carrot-toberfest is just not going to pull in the same sort of crowd."

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