Like many of the events we love, Oktoberfest celebrations have been cancelled this year. While you can’t rock your lederhosen or dirndl and drunkenly sing Bavarian songs with the crowd, with the following tips, you can bring the biergarten vibe to your home for an intimate yet joyous experience.
What Is Oktoberfest, Anyway?
The German festival’s roots actually date back to 1810, when the crown prince of Bavaria got married with a multi-day celebration. The party, held in Munich, concluded with a horse race. The following year the race was held again, with the addition of an agricultural fair. Like a fine wine, this party just kept getting better with age. In 1818, food and drink vendors joined the fun, and over the next two centuries, large beer halls were constructed for patrons, attracting revelers from all over the globe. Smaller local celebrations launched in several cities outside of Germany. It’s now a huge affair in Munich, including amusement rides, games, live music and dancing. In 2019, a cool 6.3 million people attended Oktoberfest festivities and drank two million gallons of beer! The festival starts in mid-September and lasts 16 to 18 days, ending on the first Sunday in October.
Due to COVID-19, it was announced in April that the festival was canceled in 2020—the first cancellation since World War II. So this year, it’s up to you to keep the tradition alive and celebrate on your own.
While there are beers labeled “Oktoberfest” as far as the eye can see, if you want an authentic experience, there are six German lagers to seek out, as these are the only breweries allowed to serve at the tents in Munich:
Alternatively, if you don’t care about being that authentic, there’s a world of craft brewers creating Oktoberfest beers that are malty, toasty, and typically around 6 percent ABV. Buy a variety and set up tasting flights for a fun experience. It’s a matter of personal preference, but some top-rated Oktoberfest beers include ones from Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Left Hand Brewing, and AleSmith. Before you drink, say “prost,” which is German for “cheers.”
A great snack spread is a must, for the very simple reason that you need carbs to absorb all that alcohol. Serve up German-style pretzels, also known as brezen, which are traditionally paired with butter. Make your own (it does take a bit of elbow grease), or buy some from a local bakery. If you’re willing to splurge, Goldbelly ships a 16-pack of truly craveworthy, freshly baked soft pretzels from Sigmund’s Pretzels in New York for $69.
Now, on to all the meats! You have several options here, including pork roasted with dark beer and onions (schweinebraten), roasted ham hock (schweinshaxe), and crispy roast chicken. You can make one or have a couple options, just plan for about 1/2 pound of meat per person. Note that the pork needs to roast for about 2 to 3 hours, so if you’re making multiple dishes, consider getting this one out of the way the night before your Oktoberfest meal.
It’s not Oktoberfest without German sausages, or würstl, of which there are a variety including bratwurst (typically all pork, can be fresh or smoked), knockwurst (pork, veal and garlic), blutwurst (pork blood sausage) and bockwurst (ground pork and onions). Whichever you choose, throw them on the grill or pan-fry them just before serving. To grill, cook them on low and spray them with water or beer to prevent them from burning on the outside before they have cooked all the way through on the inside. Alternatively, you can par-cook them in hot water for 10 minutes before putting them on the grill. Serve them up with accompaniments like hot dog buns or rye-based German bread like pumpernickel and dinkelbrot, as well as sauerkraut and mustard.
A few accessories will help you bring the Oktoberfest ambiance home with you. Pick up a blue-and-white checkered tablecloth or party pack that includes themed disposable dishware, and break out the beer steins or beer mugs—something with a handle so the heat from your hand doesn’t warm up the beer. Throw on an oompah playlist for the German brass band music that’s typically played at the festival. A few beers in and you’ll be ready to get up and dance like no one’s watching.
Oktoberfest is all about revelry, a chance to eat, drink, dance, and sing with others. It’s a (really) great excuse to drink beer and enjoy life -- and who couldn’t use that right now?