It’s autumn in Denver, the “Munich of the West,” meaning Oktoberfest celebrations are beginning to dot the calendar. The food, the beer, the music, the camaraderie, the crisp fall air; it’s a great time to be alive! But attendees beware: not all Oktoberfests are created equal. Sometimes, event organizers eschew the traditions of Oktoberfest, they strip the party down until what’s left isn’t Oktoberfest at all; it’s just a bunch of people drinking outdoors. It’s no longer special. It’s an imposter, a charade of an Oktoberfest. It’s a Mocktoberfest.
How can you tell you’ve been duped into attending Mocktoberfest and what can be done to prevent such travesties from happening in the future? There are a few key points that separate the authentic from the pretender, points that make or break an Oktoberfest. To expose the shortcomings that plague these seasonal events, I’ve compiled a list of Mocktoberfest deficiencies, how it’s done correctly at a genuine Oktoberfest, and suggestions on how to remedy the situation.
Mocktoberfest: You’re drinking Bud Light or similar domestic swill.
Why it’s an issue: For me, German beers are like candy canes and pumpkin pies—I’m usually not into them but, once a year, I gobble them up; the seasonal spirit takes hold of me. The flavor of German beer is one I associate with late September/early October; it signifies the changing of the seasons, when it’s time to put away the summertime brews and slip into something a little maltier. It’s hard to get in the Oktoberfest mood with American macrobrews, it feels like St. Patrick’s Day with French wine or Independence Day with the Union Jack waving overhead. It doesn’t fit. It feels wrong. That’s not how the holiday is celebrated!
The Fix: Order kegs of German beer. German-style beer is fine, too. It doesn’t have to be physically brewed in Deutschland; it can be American-made so long as it’s still a Märzen, Bock, Dunkel, or something of that nature. It’s a reasonable compromise especially when the Oktoberfest host is a craft brewery. I’ll gladly drink your wares, local brewer, but make sure your recipe’s Reinheitsgebot–inspired.
Mocktoberfest: You’re drinking out of shaker pints or, worse yet, plastic cups.
Oktoberfest: You’re drinking from a thick-walled stein with a handle.
Why it’s an issue: I’m a proponent for proper glassware, a shill for the Spiegelau company. Drinking beer from the wrong glass is akin to watching big-budget, special-effect action movies on a fuzzy black-and-white screen—you’re just not getting the same experience. Admittedly, the traditional German Maß is probably the absolute worst drinking vessel 99% of the time. It doesn’t hold carbonation, it doesn’t hold temperature, and its thick, wide brim means you don’t so much as drink beer but rather clumsily slosh it into your gaping maw. However, for 1% of the year, only a hefty, dimpled mug will suffice. Oktoberfest party-goers toast every 10-15 minutes and, when they do, it isn’t a dainty clinking of the glasses, it’s a satisfying clunk! as mugs impact with the force of freight trains. Attempt a customary German prost with pint glasses and people will go home with broken fingers. Try it with a Solo cup and all you’ll get is a mess.
The Fix: Forgo the pints, save the environment by not purchasing single-use plastic cups, and invest in sturdy, impact-resistant, handled mugs.
The Volume of Beer
Mocktoberfest: You’re drinking 12 ounces of beer at a time.
Octoberfest: You’re drinking your beer by the liter.
Why it’s an issue: For this off-shoot of the glassware argument, I again make an exception to my own rule. Beer really should be about quality, not quantity. Except at Oktoberfest. There’s nothing quite like swinging 5.5 pounds of beer to the music, getting a bicep workout at the same time. How do you expect to tone those arms with a teensy-weensy 12 ouncer? Besides, Oktoberfest is known to be raucous with lots of jostling and mug-smashing; only a portion of your beer will actually make it to your mouth. Losing six ounces from a pint glass is a waste of money, losing six ounces from an enormous mug is barely noticed.
The Fix: Order an extra-large beer because most of it will end up on the floor anyway. Drink smart, though; a liter of beer should still be imbibed at a responsible rate, chugging remains a bad idea. Also, a large mug isn’t an excuse to overindulge; it just prevents you from having to stand in the beer line all day. Buy one liter instead of three-ish pints so you can spend most of your Oktoberfest partying, not waiting.
Mocktoberfest: You’re listening to an 80’s cover band.
Oktoberfest: You’re listening to a polka band.
Why it’s an issue: Nothing screams “19th Century German harvest festival” quite like an off-key rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer [insert exaggerated eye roll].
The Fix: I understand the conundrum. It’s not as if polka musicians are a surplus in Colorado (although there are more than you think; check the German American Chamber of Commerce – Colorado Chapter’s list of “German Style Musicians”). Plus, that genre of music may be deemed old-fashioned by today’s hip young beer drinker and event organizers run the risk of repelling a large portion of their target demographic. There are two solutions to these problems. One is to marry the old with the new—make the polka band the 80’s cover band. That’s actually how they do it at the big Oktoberfest in Munich; they play Michael Jackson’s greatest hits but interpreted by tubas and accordions. Conceivably, this would keep both traditionalists and modernists happy. If a German-style band can’t be found, though, book regular, everyday musicians with the caveat that, after every other song, they must lead the audience in a round of Ein Prosit. It’s a quick little ditty, it only takes five minutes to learn the pronunciation, and it’s popular because a) it requires crowd participation and b) it culminates in a sloppy, enthusiastic collision of steins. If no other German songs are played all day, so long as Ein Prosit is sung, like, 50 times, then that’s acceptable.
Mocktoberfest: The crowd is divided in cliques, is dressed nicely, and is dry.
Oktoberfest: People prost total strangers (who soon become friends), everybody not in lederhosen or a dirndl is at least donned in casual, festive wear, and all forearms are wet and sticky from spilled beer.
Why it’s an issue: The 1810 marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, the inaugural Oktoberfest, was a tearing-down of societal barriers; royals and commoners alike gathered on what would later be dubbed Theresienwiese or “Theresa’s Fields.” The duke rubbed elbows with the merchant, the baroness danced with the bricklayer, and the count got stinking drunk with the guy who pulls the apple cart. Nobody cared about their reputation; it was a party, man! That communal merriment ought to be present nowadays, too. As to wearing a fancy suit or dress, that isn’t necessarily verboten but it does send the wrong message: “I don’t want to get messy.” Too bad! Because you’re not Oktoberfesting right if you’re not prosting everyone within arm’s length and you’re not prosting right if a column of beer doesn’t explode upward, splashing everything in a three foot radius.
The Fix: Drink a couple liters of Doppelbock and let your reservations fall away. Once that happens, you can’t help but make new friends. If the Munich nobility could put their highfalutin ways on hold and mingle with the peasants, you can certainly open your social circle to a few new drinking buddies. As to your garb, dress for the inevitable beer geyser by wearing something comfortable and water-wicking. Alternatively, if you must dress to impress, demonstrate your lackadaisical feeling towards suds-soaked suits by initiating the first mighty prost of the evening, dousing your sleeves and laughing it off. If you’re cool with getting your formals a touch damp, more power to you. The only no-no is avoiding the moisture all together.
Oktoberfest hosts, heed my cry; put some effort into it. Don’t just throw your event together, look at what makes these celebrations unique and plan the festivities accordingly. Oktoberfest attendees, be vigilant; if you see something half-assed, let the organizers know about it. Slip a note into the suggestion box. If the organizers happen to get everything correct, make sure you’re upholding your end of the bargain by enjoying Oktoberfest with inclusiveness and vivacity. If we all try then, together, we can stamp out Mocktoberfest.