A few months back I went to Munich for the world’s oldest and greatest beer festival. I loved it – Oktoberfest wildly exceeded my expectations.
I had been to Munich at least once before, but not during this time of year. I expected a New Orleans Mardi Gras-like crush of drunken screaming twenty-year-olds to ruin the vibe. But no – though things were occasionally rowdy, the entire feel was one of, well, gemütchlichkeit! Just lots of happy folks celebrating beer and food in a Germanically-organized way.
You can find tons of Oktoberfest travel/tourist information all over the web. The official website is excellent and a great place to start. But here are a few tips from my experience:
- You can enjoy yourself mightily without ever getting a tent reservation – the outside Biergartens always have space, and they serve the same food and beer as inside. And the regular Munich beer gardens, like Augustiner and Hofbräu, are going full tilt, so you don’t even have to be at the Wiesn to have fun.
- However, you should definitely get at least one reservation for at least one tent, just to have the full experience. You haven’t been to Oktoberfest until you’ve sung “Take Me Home, Country Roads” alongside an oom-pah band and 4,000 of your newest friends.
- Eat the chicken. It’s amazing. We called it “crack chicken”. No idea what they do it back in the big rotisserie areas, but it tastes like no other food. Downright sensational.
- The BMW Museum has been around for more than thirty years, but has recently expanded with some new buildings (essentially comprising a fancy dealership). Worth a visit – most efficient way to get a feel for the Bavarian fetish for engineering.
There are six breweries allowed to brew and serve Oktoberfest-style beer for the festival. I tried five of them in situ at Oktoberfest tents. Generally I found them much lighter in color and dryer in both flavor and texture than American renditions (Sam Adams does a great Oktoberfest in the richer style I’m used to).
Here’s my force-ranked list of Munich Oktoberfest-style lagers, in order of preference (loved one, liked three, disliked one). German beers tend to be more alike than different (largely due to the preference for lagers, and the ongoing oppression of the Reinheitsgebot), so we’re looking at a relatively narrow spectrum here:
- Augustiner: head and shoulders above the rest. Had it at one of their beer gardens, at one of their tents, sought it out again several times. Scrumptious.
- Hofbräu: tasted at the one tent in the Wiesn that pours it. Very well made. No sense that they’re phoning it in given the popularity of their eponymous Hofbräuhaus.
- Spaten-Franziskaner: better-known internationally for their Weissbier (wheat beer), which our hotel served at breakfast. But Spaten-Franziskaner also does a nice job with the Oktoberfest style. A touch too dry for my taste, but still excellent.
- Paulaner: one I had liked a lot in bottle in the USA, but a bit disappointing compared to the others. Quite drinkable, just not the “a-ha” I got from Augustiner.
- Löwenbräu: probably the neatest-looking tent (see photos below), but by far my least favorite beer. Tried it twice at two different places. Just harsh and unpleasant to my palate.
Now to the photos. As always, I think they look much better in full-screen slideshow format on Flickr here, but I’ve inserted a gallery below if you would rather poke through that (note that there are two pages of the following gallery).