If you’re an Australian beer drinker seeking a slice of Bavaria this spring, it’s safe to say you’ve got options. While Australian Oktoberfest celebrations have been a regular fixture for some breweries – not to mention the focus of far larger events – for years, 2022 looks a little different.
You may have noticed it already, but simply put: there are a lot of celebrations taking place and plenty of variety on offer too.
To name but three, you've got Oktoberfest Brisbane returning for six days after two years on hiatus, Rocks Brewing hosting their brewing neighbours for the inaugural South Sydney Brewers Oktoberfest, while the brewers of Brunswick are doing their best to turn their pocket of Melbourne into Bavaria for a month, kicking off this weekend.
That’s not to mention the venues and breweries dedicating their taps to liquids in keeping with the German beer purity law – and presumably fighting over the limited number of oompah bands that call Australia home.
We’ve looked at the history of Oktoberfest celebrations before as well as the love many local brewers share for making classic German styles, but why are so many events taking place this year? After all, it’s the first time in years Australians have been able to visit the actual Munich Volksfest, which started in mid-September and finishes this weekend.
“It's really expensive to get to if you haven't saved up for it or if it's not massively on your bucket list,” is the view of Burnley Brewing's Chloe Hoiberg.
Since September 15, her team has turned their Melbourne brewpub into a Bavarian-themed bierhall featuring a dozen specially-brewed beers and a German-inspired menu. Following the success of their Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl packs last year – mixed 16 cases featuring eight beers – they’ve followed it up with Freundschaftsbezeugung, which translates to “demonstration of friendship”.
They’re also involved in three separate Melbourne events this weekend alone; Chloe says Oktoberfest is an important time for them as a brewery, with the celebration of German beer an extension of their own brand identity. It’s a chance to talk about her and head brewer Michael Stanzel’s years in Germany and his time training as a brewer there.
“I'm always excited,” she says. “I get more excited at this time of year than any of the other time because I feel like it's a really good testament to skill over hype.”
And while their Weizen has been comfortably one of the best-selling beers at the brewpub, she thinks the chance to celebrate lager is increasingly something both brewers and craft beer drinkers are eager to do.
“Lots of people who wouldn't normally even entertain the idea of lager get way more engaged with it over Oktoberfest too,” she says. “So, it feels like the only time that Untappd gets lager.”
As for why we’re seeing myriad Oktoberfest events this year, Chloe points to potential positive and negative causes. On the one hand, breweries and venues have been increasingly successful at running their own events, including niche festivals focused around single styles or ideas such as Hop Nation's Blobfish or Mountain Culture's focus on rauchbier. And with venues coming off the back of a tough winter that itself follows two difficult years, events are a good way to remain front of mind as people get back into the swing of socialising once more.
“I think anything to kind of pump up the socials or get bums back on seat matters so much,” she says, adding that small breweries tend to approach this time of year with a fine balance between being “kitschy” and celebrating Germany brewing traditions and culture.
“It comes down to the intent behind it,” she says. “Sometimes, you walk in and you can just feel that it's a bit of a thing to have on a calendar as opposed to something that they're excited about.
"But I love seeing younger brands do it because they tend to do it right – which definitely means not having Shannon Knoll play.”
Given just how many Oztoberfestivities are taking place over the next month, we've asked some of those behind events in different parts of the country what they love about Oktoberfest and what they think is essential for any celebration.
The Bavarian brewers
- Travis Nott: co-founder of Bonehead Brewing, who are holding an Oktoberfest celebration at their Kensington brewpub on October 1.
- Corinna Steeb: Prancing Pony's co-owner who, along with husband Frank Samson, grew up in Germany. They've long held celebrations during this time of year and, for 2022, they've brewed three festbiers ahead of their festival on October 1 and 2.
- Adreac Fitter: Head brewer at Rocks Brewing, who are hosting their neighbouring Sydney breweries on October 15 for the first South Sydney Brewers Oktoberfest.
Why are you throwing an Oktoberfest celebration?
Corinna Steeb: Oktoberfest has a deeper meaning for Frank and I. We grew up near Stuttgart and, as such, the Stuttgarter Oktoberfest, which is the second largest fest, has a greater meaning to us than just being a beer fest.
The Stuttgarter fest is an "end of harvest" fest and as kids, we always looked forward to receiving the sweets, going for the rides and having a great time. The beer tents offer amazing foods and local beers are plentiful, so as adults, it was all part of our life, and we continued this in Australia.
We celebrate Oktoberfest and have taken all the good things that the festival has to offer and incorporate them into our Oktoberfest offerings.
Adreac Fitter: To enjoy all things beer. To showcase the amazing ability and quality of the local breweries and bring the community together to celebrate this.
Travis Nott: Bonehead’s history is tied to them: back in the late 90s and early 00s, there wasn’t the craft beer scene there is today, so if you were a beer explorer the only real taste of something different was the Melbourne Oktoberfest at the Showgrounds.
When Anth [Bonehead's co-founder Anonthy Dinoto] and I started homebrewing in 2007 it wasn’t a thing anymore, so we started a homebrew festival for family and friends that would rotate between our western suburban backyards each year called Oktober-West.
Basically, it was an all-you-could-eat-and-drink for a “donation” thrown into a fermenter; the only rules were it was BYO if you didn’t drink beer and if you BYO beer you had to have made it yourself. It started with about 30 people one year and ended a decade later having grown to about 150.
Everyone got a bottle top when they arrived which they used to vote for their favourite beer of the day, which we always made sure wasn’t one of us so they'd get bragging rights for a year. Anth and I always started with the same volume of each of our beers so we knew whichever beer blew first was the crowd’s choice.
Those beers got perfected over the ten years we ran it for and pretty much became our Classic Bonehead Range.
How do you try to capture the feeling of being in Munich for your Oktoberfest?
CS: We put up a big marquee and we decorate the marquee in traditional colours. We play original Oktoberfest music, have accordion players, and we offer authentic beer and food. We are lucky that we have a German brass instrument band that plays music at our fests and a German dancing group, bell ringing and Schuplatteln (slapdancing) are all part of our yearly Oktoberfest.
And, of course, we encourage everybody to dress in authentic Dirndls and Lederhosen, and you may spot Frank and I in our traditional outfits drinking a beer.
AF: We will bring the feeling with a list of German historical beers, German food and a classic Oktoberfest layout that will make people feel they are in a beer hall in Munich. There will also be music to set the scene.
TN: Again, we’re going back to what we’ve done in the past. We used to cook all the pretzels, Kartoffelpuffer – potato pancakes that I've since found out were really a Melbourne Oktoberfest thing, bratwurst and pulled pork ourselves, but this year we’ve got Houston’s Barbecue smoking up some traditional Bavarian dishes.
We’ve always loved a lager so we’re bringing back our Rauchbier and Marzen as well as using the event to launch our Hefeweizen and a lovely Austrian lager. I imagine we’ll be pouring a few steins of Mum’s Pilsner and Sweetpea, our dark lager, too.
We’re not doing Oompah music, but typically there’s a good mix of lederhosen in the place, and this year everyone’s getting a lovely, branded stein with their ticket.
What's the perfect beer to enjoy to mark Oktoberfest?
CS: This year we have made three beers: a Helles, a Dunkel and a Hefeweizen. In the past, we have also served a Marzen. All four beers are perfect and mark the occasion pretty well, but they must be served in steins or Hefeweizen glasses for the perfect enjoyment.
AF: Anything that is traditionally German, but we also have an Oktoberfest Lager which is based on the beer style traditionally made for Oktoberfest.
TN: It has to be a nice amber Marzen for me: all the malty goodness cold out of a stein. A dark lager and pilsner would be battling for really close second.
Is there a type of food you think can't be missing?
CS: Bretzeln and pork knuckles.
AF: German sausages and sauerkraut.
TN: Again for me, it was the Kartoffelpuffer – they were such a memory from the Melbourne Oktoberfest I reached out to an old mate whose mum made them for the German Club back in the day, got the recipe, then did my best to replicate them for our Oktoberwest. It was as much of a focus for me as the beer was.
I think Anth would say the pretzels; he would hand make and par-bake each one then finish baking them fresh on the day with mustard. I’m pretty sure he'll be doing that again this year, but the Kartoffelpuffer are a thing of the past, unfortunately.
Do you put an Aussie twist on any aspect of your Oktoberfest beers/food/celebrations? Is it hard to balance being traditional and a little corny?
CS: Oktoberfest is an institution and is never corny if done properly. It becomes corny when everybody thinks it's just a beer fest. There is so much more to it.
We try to stay quite authentic but this year we have a new band called Feierabend. These youngsters have taken Oompah music to the next level. Dressed in traditional outfits and playing massive brass instruments, they blast out traditional music and then turn it into a rock and pop singalong and next thing you know the whole brewshed is singing and dancing, and this is what it is all about.
Ein Prosit der Gemuetlichkeit.
AF: The music and overall feel will have the Australian twist but it will still feel like a proper Oktoberfest, which should have a little corniness to it.
TN: We tend to let the crowd decide; it’s the best part of a small, 80-person-capacity venue – you can get a feel pretty quickly what the place wants. Music is pretty much non-Oompah, and it’s not a fancy dress party, but those that do are always celebrated, and many always do.
We focus mainly on the beer and food aspect and lean in and out with the crowd’s whim. Like any good Oktoberfest it isn’t prescribed, it’s celebrated.
Oompah music: yes or no?
CS: Definitely YES!
AF: Personally not, but we have the Oompah Loompah Band playing live for three hours so come and check them out.
TN: I’d love an Oompah band, but again, for us, it’s a celebration, not a tribute. We’ll probably throw on Theme From A NOFX Album on and see if the crowd lean in; if so, the Oktoberfest Oompah Band’s 75 Drinking Songs is only a stein or two away.
You'll find the aforementioned events and heaps more Oktoberfest celebrations in the Crafty Events Diary.
If you're reading this in time, Crafty Cabal beer club members can save on tickets for Bonehead's Oktoberfest and enter a giveaway to win cases of Burnley's 2022 mixed packs.