Your guide to fall beers and the festivals that celebrate them.
As department stores do for Christmas, breweries tend to jump the gun on Oktoberfest. Before we’re ready to let our lake beers go, bars and liquor stores are besieged by the beloved fall lagers. Despite their place in beer fans’ hearts, cracking an Oktoberfest before Labor Day is like sitting on Santa’s lap in board shorts.
However, with the 16-day Oktoberfest celebration officially starting Saturday, that prime window between blonde ales and imperial stouts is officially open. Minnesota might not be able to compete with Munich’s State-Fair-on-steroids bash, which draws upward of 6 million revelers annually. But there’s much to do — and more important, to drink — in the Twin Cities while toasting this centuries-old German tradition.
We parsed the parties and 20-some stein-fillers to compile an Oktoberfest itinerary.
WHAT TO DRINK
It wouldn’t be a ’Sota-style Oktoberfest without this German-heritage brewery. The New Ulm beermaker’s lederhosen-friendly flavor is a two-time silver medalist at the Great American Beer Festival and offers serious bang for your Okto-buck. Bold but not brazen, its rich, almost rye-ish profile makes this Marzen worth milking while you can.
Great Lakes Oktoberfest
This Cleveland craft brewery makes a full-bodied fall-in-a-glass — one of the Midwest’s best — with a delicately earthy spiciness that opens up as it warms and proudly adheres to the German purity law (or “Reinheitsgebot”). Its no-nonsense robustness is exactly what you would expect from a venerated Rust Belt brewery.
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen
As much as American beer-heads like to think we out-brew the Germans, it’s a little audacious to proclaim that we’ve got the Oktoberfest drop on the Hasselhoff hailers. Brewed in Munich’s outskirts, this full-bodied fall lager is fit for the burliest of stein-clashing cheers. It has a persuasive nose, hearty mouthfeel and semisweet hint of caramel that’s not to miss.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen
Paulaner is one of just six breweries legally poured at the Munich festival. Partial Heineken ownership steals a little charm from the 379-year-old, friar-founded brewery, but its year-round Oktoberfest Marzen (not to be confused with the sweeter Oktoberfest Wiesn) is a clean, crisp beer that could cleanse even a sausage-saturated palate.
Two Brothers Atom Smasher
For a nontraditional twist, try Two Brothers’ quasi-Oktoberfest. Never mind that Atom Smasher is a touch hoppier and higher in alcohol content (7.7 ABV) than its contemporaries. This complex beer’s real kick comes from being aged in foudres — large casks more commonly associated with wine. The family-owned Illinois brewery’s Bavarian homage is aswirl with an oaky fruitiness, making for one sweet sipper.
The Surly boys brew up one of the more memorable Oktoberfest offerings each year. SurlyFest, which fuels an annual party of the same name (more on that later), colors outside the box using three types of rye that Schuhplattler across the tongue with a trail of toastiness. Wet may be stealing the Surly spotlight, but don’t sleep on this dry-hopped, harvest-season brew.
WHERE TO DRINK