A frat boy may call it just another Friday night, but Oktoberfest isn’t only about drinking beer. It’s just as much about the food and warming up with friends on a cool, fall evening. The original festival started in Munich, Germany and has since been celebrated (and occasionally bastardized) by other cities and cultures (think Beerfest, the 2006 comedy).
A few years ago, I visited a friend in Koln, Germany. Like any good hostess, she took me to a beer hall. It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday, nowhere near October, and the liveliness of the place was unparalleled. Long wooden tables lined creaky floorboards, and the sun shone through a stained glass window on the ceiling. The beer was served in thin .25 L glasses, that were at least a quarter foam. The minute you’d take your last gulp, a waiter would whisk the glass away and replace it with another. I loved that he would mark a tally on the coasters for each beer drunk, so there was no question of ‘how many drinks did I actually have last night?’
For: Friends who appreciate good beer.
When: Originally, the festival took place the 16 days up to and including the first Sunday in October, but any cool, fall evening in September or October would work.
What to Eat: Anything German. Start by setting out cutting boards and other rustic-looking trays piled with slices of sausage, bologna and hard and semi-hard cheeses with spicy mustard. Don’t forget the hard sourdough pretzels! Serve the main food family style: for a twist on bratwurst with sauerkraut try the Spicy Sausage and Fennel Pizza pre-cut and arranged on a cutting board, or the Man’s Best Friend hot dog, and Caramel Apple Cake or Caramel Apples for dessert.
What to Drink: Beer. Obviously. But none of that blembe (Bavarian for “bad beer”) like Natty, Miller or Bud Light. I’m talking about the heavier stuff that will put hair back on a frat boy’s chest. BeerAdvocate.com suggests mildly hoppy beers that are dark/copper in color like Sam Adams Oktoberfest or Harpoon Oktoberfest beer. Make it a BYOB and have guests bring their favorite 6-pack to share.
How to Set the Scene: If you have the space, set up a long table and serve the food family style. Download some serious beer drinking tunes, and by the end of the night you’ll all be singing. Coasters make great, cheap decorations. Steal them when you’re out, then scatter them along the table or create a checkerboard pattern on the wall. Ditch the Solo cups for some mugs; even if they’re coffee mugs, you’ll still get the cozy feel of drinking in a beer hall mid-autumn.
Attire: Lederhosen. Just kidding. Instead, embrace the fall season with plaid or flannel.
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Alexia Detweiler is a freelance food writer based in Lancaster, PA. She became a beer snob while studying abroad in Brussels, Belgium 2 years ago. Her favorite seasonal brew is pumpkin ale.