If fall is in the air, Oktoberfest can’t be far behind.
The original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, began with a wedding and a surplus of beer. In October 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria declared a 16-day celebration in Munich to commemorate his marriage. And in the German spirit, there was plenty to celebrate with. In old Germany, fall was the time to drink up last season’s beer before the new brewing season started. This tough job spawned the popular Oktoberfest tradition celebrated in epic fashion each year in Munich, the largest beer festival in the world where some 7 million people convene and consume about 7 million liters of beer.
But this side of the Pond isn’t left high and dry. Oktoberfest has blossomed throughout the United States, including these 10 exceptional American incarnations offering a lot more than beer, sauerkraut and oompah.
Yeah, Beantown takes its beers seriously. So seriously that the odes to Oktoberfest actually begin in September (Septemberfest?). Enterprising suds quaffers who’ve not yet seen their fill at the earlier Samuel Adams Oktoberfest and Boylston Schul-Verein Oktoberfest can belly up at the Harpoon Brewery Oktoberfest (Oct. 3, 4), hosted by the largest craft brewery in the region. Besides great beer, three stages of live German oompa bands and the infamous chicken dance await revelers. And finally there’s the Harvard Square Oktoberfest (Oct. 12), a single-day event playing homage to the best of German culture with international foods highlighting the ethnic diversity in this area of Boston. Bavarian brews, music, parades and crafts round out this year’s 29th annual event.
Held at Memorial Stadium, the Charlotte Oktoberfest (Sept. 27) is a specialty beer lover’s paradise, with at least 82 breweries and locally made homebrews offering "unlimited" samples of over 300 craft beers (translation: admission price covers all sampling). For its 10th season, organizers have scheduled a killer entertainment line-up that includes bands Southern Culture on the Skids, Sons of Ralph and U-Phonik.
North America’s largest Oktoberfest takes over downtown Cincinnati during the Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, (Sept. 20, 21 ). Held since ’76, the outdoor festival attracts a half-million revelers annually, including many repeats who’ve participated in past events like the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, a Guinness Book record at 48,000 dancers. Beaucoup beers, German music and celebratory frivolities? Natch. But what draws huge praises is the massive culinary staging for grazing Germanophile gourmets. Past examples of gluttony tally 64,000 sauerkraut balls, 56,250 sausages and 1,875 pounds of German potato salad.
The Snowbird Oktoberfest
(weekends through Oct. 5) is the most scenic celebration going, with a
beautiful ski resort location in gorgeous Little Cottonwood Canyon that
can’t be beat. All the Oktoberfest frivolities are here –- beer, brats,
strudel, music, entertainment, local vendors peddling crafts and wares.
But what’s truly unique is the ski area’s Tram Rides, Alpine Slide,
Bungee Trampoline, and ZipRider that carries adventurers 1,000 feet
down a suspended cable.
With the nickname "Michigan’s Little Bavaria," it’s a given that the sights, sounds, taste and traditions of the original Munich Oktoberfest rule in Frankenmuth. They do. Experience the best of Bavarian heritage at the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest (Sept. 18-21), the first Oktoberfest outside of Munich to be sanctioned by the Parliament and the City of Munich. Look for German polka, contemporary local music and entertainment, rib-sticking German cooking and … ahh, wiener dog races. Sure, there’s beer — scores of German styles along with standard go-to brews that’ll appease any and all tastes.
Yeah, you betcha. This Dairyland festival’s a classic. Traditional German festivities have put the annual Appleton Oktoberfest (Sept. 25-27) on the map for 27 years, what with Bavarian beers, German foods, oompah bands and portly guys with waxed mustaches and accordions leading chicken dances. But you can also swoon to live music held on five stages, where some of the region’s top acts will perform their hearts out. If that’s too much for little Johnny and Suzy, head to the family fun area featuring kiddie games, entertainers and rides.
Impressive food offerings, just-for-kids entertainment, high-energy competition and a thirst quenching menu of beers. Yes, there’s a lot going on at Tulsa Oktoberfest (Oct. 16-19), a Midwest festival that USA Today named as one of the 10 great Oktoberfests worldwide, and Bon Appetit magazine cited as having "Best German Food." Big crowd pleasers? How about the Bier Barrel Race, a spectacle of unwieldy proportions. Or live musical acts imported straight from Germany –- or the Arts & Crafts market that offer Tulsa-oriented works of art. Beat the crowds in getting to this downtown event by taking the Tulsa Trolley.
Oktoberfest Denver (Sept. 19-21, 26-28) is the nation’s second-largest festival and the undisputed finest in the Rockies (disclosure: I’m a Denverite). The block party in the newish Ballpark Neighborhood by Coors Field satiates beer lovers with a heady assortment of malted beverages such as Paulaner, Coors and even Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Soak it all up with fav German foods and get your kix with goofy events such as the Bier Stein Relay, Polka-thon and Sea of Accordions Concert. Now, if beer really, really is your thing and you could give a squat about technicalities, hit the Great American Beer Festival (Oct. 9-11) at the Colorado Convention Center downtown. The GABF is the big one where awards in the form of gold, silver and bronze medals are bestowed. This mass gathering of beer makers and attendant aficionados isn’t an Oktoberfest, but you won’t find more suds under one roof anywhere: 400 breweries and 1,800 beers falling into 75 beer-style categories.
Do the math: over a month of festivities make for one long, continuous Oktoberfest at Alpine Village (Sept. 12–Oct. 19), billed as the largest and oldest (40 years) of California Oktoberfests. Naturally, this Southern California faux village knows how to put on a show. Contests include scores of teams who compete with wood cutting, stein holding, cow milking – you get the picture. Throw in a Bavarian oompah band, German dancers, authentic German food and beer brewed at the Alpine Village, and there’s plenty to get giddy about.
Crazy as it might sound, a highlight at the Fremont Oktoberfest (Sept. 19-21) is the official Brew HA-HA 5K Run and Walk. But what better excuse to imbibe after having pounded the pavement? Another of USA Today’s Top 10 Oktoberfest locations, this Seattle-ite festival invokes a regional Pacific Northwest spin on German beers by having 70 distinct craft beers poured by 35 breweries in the expansive Stranger Microbrew Garden. Returning this year by popular demand is the Buxom Beer Garden (let your imagination run on that one). And of course there’s the ever-popular Texas Chainsaw Pumpkin Carving Contest. All this while being serenaded by a rockin’ musical line-up on the Adobe Main stage.
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By ski, bike, kayak, safari vehicle and on foot, Ted
Alan Stedman has journeyed in six continents and hopes to soon close in on
number seven: Antarctica. The Dever-based writer is a formerski journalist for the Rocky Mountain News, and these days
is a regular contributor to Sport
Sunset, Outside and Outdoor Photographer