Let's Celebrate Oktoberfest at Home!
Autumn has finally arrived, and you know what that means: Oktoberfest! You’ve probably been dreaming of hearing the oompah of German bands, tasting the malty hoppiness of a Bavarian-style festbier, smelling bratwursts roasting on the grill, and wearing dirndl or lederhosen.
I had plans to be in Munich for Oktoberfest with my daughters this year but sadly Oktoberfest has been canceled—for the first time since World War II. But I will be there in 2021 and we need not put off making our dreams a reality! Below, I offer some tips on how to get into the Oktoberfest spirit from home. Let’s celebrate remotely while planning our future pilgrimage to the real deal.
Did you know that Oktoberfest is over two centuries old? That’s right, Oktoberfest originated in 1810 and, in the beginning, had nothing to do with beer! In fact, Oktoberfest began as a horse race celebrating royal newlyweds. The following year, Munich locals added an agricultural show to the sporting event. In 1881, the first grill serving the famous wiesnhendl, or roast chicken, opened among an increasing number of beer stands. When the event was wired for electricity at the turn of the century, beer stands evolved into beer tents, growing larger and larger each year.
The event has run continuously for more than two centuries except for a decade in the 1940s during World War II and its aftermath. Gradually, Oktoberfest transitioned from a horse race to a folk cultural festival celebrating Bavarian heritage. In 1950, the Munich mayor inaugurated the festival by tapping the first beer barrel with the now-famous cry “O’zapft is,” meaning “It’s tapped!” Oktoberfest now includes live music and dancing, parades of floats, fairground rides, and theatrical plays, in addition to the beer drinking it has become so well known for.
Oktoberfest now attracts more than six million visitors annually who consume more than seven million liters of beer! While you might think that Oktoberfest happens in the month of October, as indicated by its name, since 1904, it has actually taken place in mid-to-late September in order to take advantage of the warmer and drier weather in Munich. The festivities occur over a period of two weeks, ending on the first Sunday in October.
The Oktoberfest fairgrounds, known as the wiesn, feature gigantic, ornately-decorated festival tents, called festzelte, housing communal tables that seat thousands. National breweries like Paulaner, Hofbräu, and Lowenbräu sponsor their own festzelte, serving up their special and highly-regulated Oktoberfest brews, often called festbier, a strong golden helles-style pale lager. All festbier contains 13.5 to 13.99% wort extract, which produces greater alcohol content, body, and bitterness. Festbier is served, of course, in signature liter-sized steins, which Oktoberfest servers are famous for effortlessly carrying many of by hand.
Planning Your Oktoberfest at Home
While you can’t celebrate Oktoberfest at the wiesn in Munich this year, you can celebrate from home in preparation for our visit to the festzelte someday! You’re sure to get into the Oktoberfest spirit with a party featuring Bavarian-inspired drinks, food, music and décor, and dress.
When it comes to drinks, I suggest beginning with pear schnapps, as they often do in the Black Forest region of Germany. Then, you might try some traditional German festbier or märzen, a Bavarian lager with a balanced malty hoppiness named after the month of March in which it was traditionally brewed. If USA craft beers are more your style, there are plenty of breweries getting in on the Oktoberfest action, including Sierra Nevada, Lone Star, and Brooklyn Brewing, among smaller producers like Switchback and von Trapp Brewing. Enjoy your beers in style in authentic liter-sized steins!
With all that beer drinking, you’re bound to be hungry. Why not serve up some authentic Oktoberfest eats baked in your own kitchen? Nothing pairs better with Oktoberfest beer than Bavarian pretzels. I like these recipes from King Arthur Baking and Alton Brown. Don’t forget the obatzda cheese spread to accompany them! You might also fire up the grill and cook a variety of wursts, or if you’re indoors, try this recipe for wursts with sauerkraut from Food and Wine. Speaking of sauerkraut, I love this recipe for apple cider-braised cabbage from Top Chef host Tom Colicchio if you’re not yet ready for fully-fermented sides.
With the drinks and food planned, get the party started with the true German tunes on this Spotify Oktoberfest playlist and decorate with blue and white checkered tablecloths reminiscent of the Bavarian flag.
If you want to attempt wearing a dirndl, consisting of a dress, apron, and white shirt, know that where you tie the bow on your apron has different meanings. A bow on the left indicates that you’re single, on the right that you’re taken, and in the back that you’re waitstaff! You may prefer instead lederhosen, consisting of knee-length leather shorts and special suspenders.
If all of this Oktoberfest celebrating puts you in the mood to plan your trip to the real thing, I’m here to help! Planning ahead for event-themed trips is key, and my connections in Munich can get you into the top tents.
Let’s get started booking your Oktoberfest journey today- we can toast when I see you there next year. As the Germans would say, prost (or cheers) to your future travels!