The A.V. Club’s Oktoberfest guide
No need to travel all the way to Munich for beer and rollbraten
The history of Oktoberfest stretches back to 1810, when it was held to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to one Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The Oktoberfest tradition continues in Munich today, where it attracts some six million people and lasts 16 days, ending the first Sunday in October. Because Wisconsin, and especially Milwaukee, has a strong German heritage, it’s no surprise that we have some kick-ass Bavarian bashes right here at home. Sadly, the partying doesn’t last 16 days, but you can still eat yourself silly on some real-deal rollbraten, fruit strudel, and German potato salad, then wash it down with a seasonal brew. The A.V. Club rounded up the best local and state fests to go get your yodel and polka on.
Milwaukee, St. Augustine Parish, Sept. 27
Instead of hosting its usual three-day festival in August, south side church St. Augustine has opted to do a one-day Oktoberfest this year. It even convinced Sprecher Brewery to produce a special ale for the occasion. Yes, this event will be more churchy than the usual Oktoberfest—it starts with a 10 a.m. mass—but it will otherwise be a traditional German-style party, with concertina music and whole pigs roasted on sticks.
Glendale, Heidelberg Park, September 11-13, 18-20, and 25-27
This is the state’s oldest Oktoberfest, thrown by United German Societies and dating back some 70 years in the Milwaukee area. It also comes closest to the real deal: It doesn’t last 16 days, but it does stretch across three weekends over the course of 16 days. And while most other U.S. Oktoberfest celebrations use local polka bands, this one brings the talent here straight from Germany. There’s authentic, Munich-style food, traditional “schuhplatter” dancers, and liters of beer at beautiful Heidelberg Park. Wunderbar!
La Crosse, Oktoberfest Grounds, September 26-October 3
Somehow Milwaukee—with all its German brewing history, heavy bratwurst consumption, and festival-throwing ways—can’t hold a candle in the Oktoberfest department to La Crosse, where the annual bash has attracted national attention, including a listing in USA Today as one of the top ten Oktoberfest celebrations in the world. Started in part by the now-defunct G. Heileman Brewing Company, it’s been running since 1961. The fun kicks off with a parade and continues on with nine days of beer, music, carnival rides, and food. Did we mention this party is big? It’s so big that it takes two festival grounds along the Mississippi River to accommodate it.
Chippewa Falls, Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, September 18-20
Another Wisconsin brewing company with German heritage has ties to this Oktoberfest: The fun starts at Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company with the Golden Keg Procession. Fest-goers can follow the keg from Leinenkugel’s to the festival site, where it is ceremoniously tapped and the beer starts flowing. This Oktoberfest isn’t terribly old, either, but it features multiple beirgartens for enjoying all that Leinie’s plus a line-up of traditional German foods that includes beer radishes and sauerkraut balls.