Munich’s Oktoberfest is one of the world’s biggest parties, attracting 6.5 million visitors each year, but it’s by no means the only celebration of brewing Germany has to offer. Alternative beer festivals range from smaller versions of the (in)famous Bavarian classic, right down to tiny local celebrations. Unlike most beer festivals in the UK however, Germans prefer to stick to one kind of beer per festival, usually brewed locally and quaffed in great quantity. You have been warned.
When: 19 September – 12 October 2013
Where: Frankfurt (8 kilometres from Frankfurt Airport)
The low-down: Frankfurt’s version of the Oktoberfest takes place inside a giant marquee located by the Commerzbank Arena (Mörfelder Landstrasse 362, 069 2380 80121). It’s just south of the city, and easily reachable from the centre via tram 21 (‘Stadion’ stop). It may be on a far smaller scale than its more illustrious Bavarian cousin, but it’s still one of the biggest autumn events in the city, attracting several hundred thousand visitors each year. Many get into the mood by dressing in lederhosen and dirndls, even though they are hundreds of kilometres from Bavaria. Loud music fills the air to keep the party moving, there are pretzels aplenty, and a seemingly endless flow of beer gets dished out in huge litre glasses (called Mass). The star turn is a special festival beer made by Binding, Frankfurt’s largest brewery. Like most German beer, it’s brewed strictly according to the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ Purity Law, using nothing more than barley, hops, yeast and water.
Events kick off at 5.30pm each day, and things get very lively at weekends and late in the evening. Get there early on a weekday if you’re looking for a more peaceful experience. If you want a table you’ll have to book well in advance (via http://frankfurter-oktoberfest.de
Brauhaus am Waldschlösschen Oktoberfest
When: 21 September – 6 October 2013
Where: Dresden (8 kilometres from Dresden Airport)
The low-down: Dresden’s attempt to recreate Bavarian jollity takes place on a more manageable scale. This festival happens over 17 days (the traditional length of any Oktoberfest) in the city’s largest brewpub, Brauhaus am Waldschlösschen (Am Brauhaus 8b, 0351 652 3900). It’s in the city’s New Town, a two-kilometre walk or a short ride by tram 6 (‘Waldschlösschen’ stop) east of the Old Town. Entry is free, but advance booking is advisable if you want a table. There’s live music from different festival bands every day, and needless to say, the Waldschlösschen Festbier – brewed in house for the occasion – flows freely into the early hours. If the weather cooperates, the pub has a pretty beer garden, although during festival time you’re unlikely to get much chance to relax with the birdsong.
Insider tip: Festivities kick off at 7pm Monday to Saturday, but at noon on Sundays. On Sundays, you can get a foaming one-litre Mass for only €3.99.
Rauchbier Urbock Tapping
When: 10 October 2013
Where: Bamberg (60 kilometres north of Nuremberg Airport)
The low-down: Nuremberg is the capital of Franconia, a region of Bavaria famed throughout Germany for its high concentration of top quality breweries. But Bamberg, an hour to the north, is Franconia’s capital of beer, with no fewer than 10 breweries within the city limits. One of its most famous products is Rauchbier (smoked beer), a rich, darkly black, smoky lager that many find unusual at first, but most quickly grow to love. It tastes a little like smoky bacon crisps in liquid form! It’s available year-round at the Schlenkerla brewpub (Dominikanerstrasse 6, 0951 56060), but a special stronger version – the 6.5% Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock – becomes available in the autumn. Left to age for three months in oak barrels in the city’s 700-year-old cellars, it’s warming and moreish and the perfect antidote to cold weather. The opening day of the Urbock season has become a pilgrimage for beer enthusiasts and kicks off with a ritual tapping of the first cask around noon. The beer then flows from barrels on the bar, and from stalls in the courtyard outside, for the remainder of the day. Reserve early to get a seat in the restaurant.
Insider tip: UNESCO-listed Bamberg is arguably the most beautiful city in Germany, having escaped major damage in WWII. It’s worth wandering around the Old Town, not least of all because there are another half dozen brewpubs in the area waiting to be discovered.
When: 15 September 2013
Where: Baiersdorf (25 kilometres north of Nuremberg Airport)
The low-down: You may not realise it, but the area to the north of Nuremberg is also the home of German horseradish farming (Kren in local Bavarian dialect), and Baiersdorf is its hub. The focus of its annual Horseradish Market is naturally the fiery root itself, but there’s enough beer on sale to keep the fun nicely lubricated. Around 70 stalls in the village centre open from 11.30am to sell their wares. Besides a wide selection of food and drinks from regional suppliers, there are medieval artisans who craft various trinkets before customers’ eyes, and a display of vintage tractors. Food of course revolves around the star: Franconian sausages with freshly grated horseradish, horseradish soup, flatbreads with horseradish, salmon and rocket, and even horseradish pizza! Among the local beers to wash these down, look out for Greif and Hebendanz, both brewed in the nearby town of Forchheim. There’s also music, plus some bizarre games, including ‘Guess the weight of the cheese’ (get it right and you can take it home).
Insider tip: Baiersdorf is on the S1 commuter train line and easily reachable from central Nuremberg in half an hour. To follow the beer, try horseradish schnapps as a digestif chaser. And if you haven’t had enough Kren, there’s an exhibition devoted entirely to it in the village, billed as the ‘spiciest museum in the world’.