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

Schell’s Oktoberfest

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.

Surly SurlyFest

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

Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit

The rowdiest Okto-fetes go down at Gasthof’s, with its tented polka parties (5-11 p.m.). Six bucks is good for a mug to keep, but bacchanalians may bring their own. Dear domestic-light guzzlers: Do the bartenders a favor and just order a Paulaner original lager.

Fri.-Sat., Sept. 20-Oct. 12, 2300 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-781-3860,

www.gasthofzg.com

New Bohemia Minneapolis Munich Beer Festival

The northeast Minneapolis suds and sausage shack is entering the Oktoberfest fray with a mini parking-lot beer fest featuring 11 breweries (including Ayinger and Schell’s), keg bowling, live music and more.

6-11 p.m. Fri., noon-11 p.m. Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun., $40 single day, $75 three-day pass, 21-plus, 233 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-331-4929, www.newbohemiausa.com

Uptown Tavern

These days this post-Drink party bar caters to the craft-beer crowd, and this weekend it kicks off a Germanic shindig with an Oktoberfest tap takeover (we’re told Friday and Saturday should feature upward of 25 different selections on tap).

Fri.-Oct. 6, 1400 Lagoon Av., Mpls., 612-824-3333, www.uptowntavernmpls.com

SurlyFest

The sixth annual bash at the brewery features food trucks and music from local beer-hoisting punks Dillinger Four, DJ Shannon Blowtorch, Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders and Alpensterne aka the Bratwurst Bros. Admission includes four beer tickets.

2-6:17 p.m., Sat., $40 (sold out), 4811 Dusharme Drive, Brooklyn Center,

763-535-3330, www.surlybrewing.com

Black Forest Inn

This Eat Street institution celebrates Oktoberfest with 10 days of music, German grub, beer and special events ranging from kitschy (see Angela Merkel night) to traditional (Day of German Unity). Check website for details.

Sept. 27-Oct. 6, 1 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-872-0812, www.blackforestinnmpls.com

Harriet Brewing Rauchfest

This Belgian-style brewery is throwing its third annual Oktoberfest party coinciding with the release of Rauchfest — a single-batch smoked lager. Various food trucks will be on hand, as the Boys N’ The Barrels, Useful Jenkins, Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers and more perform on two stages.

1-10 p.m., Sept. 28, $10-$15, 3036 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-315-4633,

www.harrietbrewing.com

Twin Cities Oktoberfest

With the State Fair in our rearview, the Eco Experience has been das-booted from the Progress Center and replaced (at least for a weekend) with this beer-and-brat bonanza. Tickets include a 24-ounce stein and its first fill-up, and organizers are promising traditional German fare, music and dancers.

Oct. 4-5, $25 (21-plus), $5 (13-20), children under 12 get in free, State Fairgrounds, 1265 N. Snelling Av., Falcon Heights, www.twincitiesoktoberfest.com

 

Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and night life.