Early fall may only be the second most popular time of the year for nuptials, but it was a wedding that kickstarted one of the world’s favorite autumnal traditions: Oktoberfest.
On Oct. 12, 1810, Bavarian Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese, and the people of Munich, Germany celebrated this joyous union with days of drinking, feasting and merriment. The party was such a hit that Bavarians decided to restage it year after year. For over two centuries — save for times of war, plague and economic distress — Oktoberfest has taken over the fairgrounds and streets of Munich in the 16 to 18 days leading up to the first Sunday in October (this year, Sept. 21-Oct. 6).
Inevitably, communities around the globe have created their own versions of Oktoberfest, Iowans included. The Amana Colonies, founded by German settlers in the mid-19th century, are celebrating the 54th anniversary of their Oktoberfest this fall. (The alcohol-centric festival was likely not emphasized by Amana’s early Pietist Christian residents.)
More than 7.5 million liters of beer were reportedly drunk at the 2018 Munich Oktoberfest, all provided by six traditional Munich breweries, the oldest established in 1328. These breweries stick to Bavaria’s strict, 500-year-old “purity” law limiting ingredients in beer to water, barley and hops. The type of beer served is a Bavarian lager called Märzen, boasting a medium-to-full body, a touch of malt and a bit more hops and alcohol (5.8 to 6.5 percent ABV) than the average lager. Often, Märzen-style beers are called Oktoberfestbier or simply Oktoberfest.
Several local breweries have developed their own take on the Oktoberfest, including Millstream Brewing Co. in Amana; Big Grove Brewery and ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City; Lion Bridge Brewing Company and Iowa Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids; and Backpocket Brewing in Coralville. Between early August and mid-September, these breweries have launched their Märzens on tap and in cans and bottles, just in time for the area’s own Oktoberfest celebrations.
But Märzen isn’t the only Oktoberfest-ive beer style. Hefeweizen, or Weissbier, is another Bavarian specialty, suited for fans of wheaty, refreshing beer. This style is fairly common; Confluence Brewing Company in Des Moines recently released a tasty one called Weiss Grip in pint-sized cans.
Helles is an even lighter, crisper brew, devised by Munich’s Spaten Brewery in the 1890s. Cedar Falls’ SingleSpeed Brewing Co. makes a crisp golden Helles called Gable, in honor of wrestler Dan Gable’s gold medal victory at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Hop fans will enjoy pils or pilsner beers (we’re talking craft pilsners, not Budweiser and Beck’s), which were invented by a Bavarian brewer and popularized across the border in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Darker Munich-style brews include the Dunkelweizen, Doppelbock and Raunchbier.
Kellerbier is an obscure, unfiltered ancestor to the lager, likely originating in southern Germany in the Middle Ages. Though rarely seen in the U.S., Iowa Brewing Company recently whipped up a Kellerbier with award-winning Linn County homebrewer Chuck Packard, currently available on tap at the brewery.
You’ll find more than Munich-style beers at the area’s Oktoberfest celebrations. Local, national and international brews of all types can be sampled at Cedar Rapids’ BrewNost and Iowa City’s Northside Oktoberfest. And all area fests encourage guests to wear traditional Bavarian garb and partake in activities ranging from keg bowling to an eating contest involving brats and scotch eggs.
So don your dirndl or lederhosen, pop on a Tyrolean hat, string some pretzels onto a necklace and grab a stein of beer. Toast it with a hearty “prost!” and sip it with friends as your Haferlschuhe-clad feet wander the leaf-strewn sidewalk (staying within designated open-container areas, of course).
And if you’re planning to get married this fall, consider serving Märzen and inviting the whole town to partake. You never know — you could start the next great global tradition.
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids
Friday, Sept. 20, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Features: A wide range of international beers for the sampling, curated by Doug Alberhasky of John’s Grocery, in addition to local brews, wines, cider and spirits; drink and food pairings created by area chefs; a live auction led by Nicholas D. Lowry, president of Swann Auction Galleries in New York City and frequent Antiques Roadshow appraiser
NewBo Oktoberfest (presented by Iowa Brewing Company)
NewBo City Market, Cedar Rapids
Saturday, Sept. 21, 12-8 p.m.
Free to attend, $30 for hog roast ticket
Features: Polka music, outdoor games (pong, keg bowling, cornhole), special treats from Market stores, Iowa Brewing Company beer for sale
Des Moines’ 16th Annual Oktoberfest Celebration
Downtown Des Moines, south of Court Avenue on 4th Street
Friday, Sept. 27 and Saturday, Sept. 28, 3 p.m.-1 a.m.
$10 per day ($7 in advance; 21+ only)
Features: Tapping of the Golden Keg (3 p.m. on Friday, with free beer while it lasts), polka bands and dancing lessons, German food, tented beer villages, silent disco, Bier Maiden contest, stein holding competitions
Backpocket’s Hawktoberfest Party
Backpocket Brewery, Coralville
Saturday, Sept. 28, 3 p.m.-close
Free to attend
Features: Yard games, live music, stein-holding competition
Oktoberfest in the Amana Colonies
Friday, Oct. 4, 11 a.m.-evening; Saturday, Oct. 5, 10 a.m.; Sunday, Oct. 6, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
$10 one-day pass, $15 two-day pass
Features: The Ceremonial Tapping of the Keg (Friday in the Festhalle, 4704 220th Trail), traditional German food and live music, games (beer stein-holding contest, pretzel tossing, brat-eating contest, keg toss)
Northside Neighborhood, Iowa City
Saturday, Oct. 5, 12-3 p.m. (starts at 11 for BrewMaster ticketholders)
Free to attend, $45-55 for wristband
Features: Iowa City Brewfest, with more than 65 booths sampling beer, cider and wine to those with wristbands; adult games (Hammerschlagen, beer slide, keg bowling, giant Jenga); brat- and scotch egg-eating contest; Lederhosen costume contest; food vendors; SodaFest (beginning at 10 a.m.) with activities for families