Missing Oktoberfest? 5 ways to safely celebrate your love of beer in the US this fall
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Oktoberfest is a beloved European tradition embraced around the world, including the United States and Canada. When beer aficionados say they’re planning to celebrate Oktoberfest, clarification is required: Are these fermented froth devotees headed to Munich, Germany, for the world’s largest two-week homage to beer? Or are they simply participating in another event in honor of the German original?
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Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in Oktoberfest cancellations across most of the world.
But beer-lovers aren’t fair-weather fans, and breweries and enthusiasts alike have vowed to keep the festival spirit alive this year. “There are so many local craft breweries around these days,” TPG reader Albert Ellenich said on Facebook. “Most near me regularly brew seasonal specials, so I plan to continue exploring their Oktoberfest offerings. I like supporting [local] businesses.”
There are dozens of contenders for great beer destinations in the U.S., but these are a handful of our absolute favorites. Best of all, fall foliage is currently peaking across the nation, and many of the best destinations for autumn leaves overlap with the most popular beer cities. So, if you’re looking for road trip inspiration or happen to live nearby, these are five amazing places to get your brew fix this fall.
Asheville, North Carolina
If you’re looking for a health-conscious, outdoor-friendly Oktoberfest experience, this so-called “Napa Valley of beer,” according to NPR, has stunning scenery alongside its celebrated small-batch craft brews. While Asheville’s official Oktoberfest event has been canceled for 2020, there are plenty of other ways to get your drink on in a safe, socially distanced manner.
This southern mountain town’s original brewery, Highland Brewing Company, is open for tours and tastings with COVID-19 safety measures in place, as are Asheville Brewing Company (which also offers pizza) and Green Man Brewery. Fans of sour beers will want to try the seasonal Pompoen Pumpkin Sour at the Wicked Weed Brewery, which is offering reservations for tastings and tours via Resy.
TPG reader Dianne Jobson Cargile told the TPG Lounge she “absolutely loves” Asheville’s beer scene. “They’ve got so many great small breweries up there,” she said on Facebook. If you’re not comfortable dining or drinking out just yet, Cargile added that she orders Asheville’s local Oktoberfest brews ahead of time for pick-up, so she can enjoy them from the safety and comfort of her home.
As evidenced by the constant stream of bachelor and bachelorette parties that invade the city during non-pandemic times, Austin has become one of the most popular cities for festivities in the nation. The Texas capital’s beer scene is no exception. With nearly 40 craft breweries in the city limits and dozens of others doable as a day trip, there are new varieties to try on a near-daily basis and no end of venues at which to sample them.
If you aren’t sure where to start, try Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden on popular Rainey Street to sample more than 200 craft beers on tap, many of which are local, small-batch or both. Or, stop in at East Austin’s Central Machine Works, a former factory-turned-beer hall, for a socially distanced sip or two in the expansive open-air back yard. And if you’re looking for a novel way to get from pub to pub, you can always book one of Austin’s infamous PubCrawlers (although locals will roll their eyes at you).
Denver’s pride in beer is legendary. The greater Denver area boasts more than 70 breweries, with a rich history dating all the way back to the 1850s during the Gold Rush era. The region is home to the ubiquitous Coors brand, which was founded in 1873 in nearby Golden, as well as the nationwide favorite, Blue Moon.
Gold as a mineral may not have been a lasting resource, but the settlers who stayed have struck it rich in other ways. More than a quarter-million beer lovers flock to the region each year for Denver’s six-day Oktoberfest gathering, which has been called the “best Oktoberfest in the United States” by both Maxim Magazine as well as USA Today, although the 2020 event was canceled due to pandemic precautions.
But visitors and locals alike can still raise a glass of gold this fall. RiNo Beer Garden and Lowry Beer Garden both offer “Oktoberfest vibes” and authentic German snacks with a decidedly Colorado twist in a safe, socially distanced outdoor setting, according to Thrillist, while the Denver Beer Co. Brewery is gaining popularity with young locals for its focus on small-batch brews.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
A contender for the title of Beer City, USA, this Michigan town boasts more than 80 breweries within city limits. Founders Brewing Company, the largest brewery in Michigan, calls Grand Rapids home, and the city even offers a Beer City Brewsader app complete with “passport stamps” so fans can track their brewery visits and claim rewards.
If you’re the kind of beer drinker who values the experience as well as the taste, the Grand Rapids Beer Tours company can safely chauffeur you around in style. Under normal circumstances, the tour company offers experiences every weekend — but due to COVID, slots are limited and health-focused. So if you’re interested, reach out to the company ahead of time to book your private tour.
Grand Rapids isn’t the only hotspot for beer in the area. Wisconsin is well-known for its beer culture in addition to its cheese — some of the biggest beer brands, including Miller and Pabst, are based in Milwaukee across Lake Michigan.
Both Portlands made it onto our list of contenders — the one in Oregon as well as this seaside city in Maine. The northeast destination won out, however, because the Maine port is famous for having the most breweries per capita in the U.S.
The metric may a bit of a gimmick, but the city’s brews are anything but. Local family-owned Shipyard Brewery has brought back its seasonal flavor favorites such as the Pumpkinhead, a crisp wheat ale enhanced with cinnamon and nutmeg for that quintessential fall taste. And just in time for Halloween, the Allegash Brewing Company’s Haunted House Dark Hoppy Ale will flit through your dreams like a phantom of happier times, long after you washed down your last pint.
Wondering what it’s like to live like a local in such a hoppy town? Stop by the local dive bar, Maps, for an experience that will delight more than your beer palate. Reviewers say that the grilled cheese sandwiches here are delicious and pair well with the brews on tap, while others are impressed with the “great beer selection and even better homemade cakes.”
If you enjoy a good speakeasy vibe, but with beer instead of cocktails, the Bramhall may suit your tastes. Here, you’ll find comfort food and an extensive list of beers and wines to offset the mixed drink menu.
Don’t live in one of these cities, or don’t plan to hit the road any time soon? Don’t fret: Oktoberfest can still be yours. Many local breweries are still celebrating Oktoberfest in various ways.
“Support your local small businesses!” TPG reader Erica Clay Lukas said on Facebook. “Go explore [safely]! Most [of your local breweries] will even offer to-go cans or bottle sales, or growler fills if their taprooms aren’t open, or if you don’t feel comfortable staying to indulge.”
Featured photo by Nikada/Getty Images.
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