Let’s face it—you can have all the traditional Oktoberfest outfits, a bangin’ Oktoberfest playlist, some killer Oktoberfest decorations, and all the delicious Oktoberfest foods you can muster, but if you get the Oktoberfest party beer wrong, oh Erklärungsnot!
Erklärungsnot – when no excuse will get you out of the trouble you’ve gotten yourself into. Tsk, tsk.
An at-home Oktoberfest party is not even worthy of the name if the Oktoberfest party beer choice is bogus. Go ahead and bag the Budweiser, kick the Coors to the curb, and just say no to Natty Light! A day may come when your domestic imposters will do “just fine;” but it is not this day!
Like automobiles, nude sunbathing, and rocking leather breeches well into their golden years, some things are just better left to the Germans. Without the right beer selection, your at-home Oktoberfest is really just a get-together with some interesting fashion choices.
What beer is served at Oktoberfest in Munich?
When explaining what beer is served at Oktoberfest in Munich, there’s one overarching rule: Only beer from Munich’s six main breweries is allowed to be served at Oktoberfest. This means, only beer from the following breweries can be sold at Oktoberfest:
There are no exceptions to this rule, nor have there ever been or will be. Another thing Germans excel at? Unwavering adherence to the rules, buddy. Now that you know which brands of beer they serve at Oktoberfest, you should know the beer styles.
All of Oktoberfest’s beers are produced according to the Reinheitsgebot—Germany’s beer purity law. (a completely real thing) The Reinheitsgebot (in existence since 1516) mandates that beer in Germany must only be brewed using four ingredients: water, hops, yeast, malt.
Do they serve Oktoberfest beer at Oktoberfest?
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, right? So, do they serve Oktoberfest-style beer at Oktoberfest? Well, yes and no.
Each year, Munich’s six breweries brew a special beer just for Oktoberfest. This beer is simply called Festbier. It’s brewed especially for the Oktoberfest beer tents and is only available at Oktoberfest in Munich.
Oktoberfest vs. Festbier
What we know here in the United States as an “Oktoberfest beer” is a marzen-style lager. The “festbier” you’ll drink at Oktoberfest is a slight variation of this, in the same classification as, say, a Munich Helles. Paulaner brewers developed the festbier style in the 1970s as a less-filling version that’s more suited for all-day drinking festivals.
It’s lighter in color and body than a marzen but with no less of a kick. The festbiers of Oktoberfest run between 5.8% ABV (Hacker-Pschorr) and 6.3% (Augustiner and Hofbräu). They’re sweet and smooth and my personal favorite beer style to date.
When referring to beer styles, the terms “Oktoberfest” and “marzen” are now effectively interchangeable. According to official brewing guidelines, only beers produced in Munich for the purpose of the festival can be called “Oktoberfest.” However, these rules apply only to German and EU brewers, so that’s why so many craft breweries in the U.S. are able to use “Oktoberfest” for their marzens.
Therefore, the only beers you’ll find at Oktoberfest are the specially brewed:
- Augustiner festbier
- Hacker-Pschorr festbier
- Hofbräu festbier
- Löwenbräu festbier
- Paulaner festbier
- Spaten festbier
There is, however, an exception to this rule: In certain Oktoberfest beer tents you’ll also be able to find Hefe-weizen (Hefeweißbier), or wheat beer.
These include Kuffler’s Weinzelt and the Wießbierkarussell. Kuffler’s Weinzelt is Oktoberfest’s wine tent and Paulaner Hefeweißbier is actually the only beer sold there. Yes, there’s a wine tent at Oktoberfest!
And the Wießbierkarussell is the rotating carousel bar that sells Hofbräu weißbier. And yes, there’s a rotating bar that resembles a carousel where you can drink! I keep telling you Oktoberfest is the best!
What beer to serve at an Oktoberfest party?
Now that you know what beers they serve at Oktoberfest in Munich, let’s get into what you’ll need to serve at your Oktoberfest.
When planning your own at-home Oktoberfest, your main objective is to stick to the six Munich breweries: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten.
You won’t be able to find their true ‘festbier’ since they only produce those for the Oktoberfest beer tents, but you’re not out of luck.
Most of these breweries market an “Oktoberfest” beer here in the U.S. and a couple of them even produce a “festbier” (sometimes also called a Wiesn) for exporting too. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s a great alternative.
Wiesn is short for Theresienwiese, the name of the enormous park where Oktoberfest in Munich takes place. Theresienwiese is German for “Therese’s Meadow” and was the location of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese’s wedding in 1810. Their wedding celebration was the first ever Oktoberfest.
Popular Oktoberfest beers
For your backyard bierfest, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding:
- Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier
- Spaten Oktoberfest
- Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen
- Augustiner Oktoberfest
- Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest
Additionally, even though they aren’t exactly what’s brewed for the beer tents, you can still find a few “festbiers” here in the U.S. such as Paulaner Oktoberfest Wiesn. This is also sometimes called Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier and is indeed different from Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen comes in a beige-colored box with beer maids (for lack of a better term) and a stamp that reads “Original Oktoberfest recipe.” (pictured above) Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier or Wiesn is more of a festbier style and comes in a blue box with a picture of full beer mugs on it.
Also, you can easily find Paulaner Hefeweizen year-round.
What if I can’t find those?
It shouldn’t be too hard to find some Munich Oktoberfest party beer if you know where to look (more on that in the next section), but if that’s the case, here are some tips.
If you can’t find any of these breweries’ Oktoberfests, consider sticking with the same breweries but trying their other styles. For instance, these are typically easy to find and available year-round:
- Spaten lager
- Spaten Franziskaner Hefe-Weiss
- Hofbräu Original
- Paulaner Original Munich Lager
- Augustiner Brau Edelstoff
- Note: I’ve never been able to find any Löwenbräu beers in the U.S.
To me, celebrating Oktoberfest is more about celebrating Bavarian culture than it is about what’s on the beer label. That’s why I prefer to stick with Bavarian beers instead of just the “Oktoberfest” distinction. Anyone can pick up a Sam Adams Octoberfest from August onward; but cracking open a true Bavarian brew is something incredibly special.
That being said, if you want to stick with some good German/Bavarian beers but can’t seem to locate the Munich Big 6, some other options would be:
Weihenstephaner is said to be the world’s oldest brewery and is located in Freising, Bavaria. They offer an OktoberFestbier but their Original, Dunkel, Hefe Weißbier, and Hefeweißbier Dunkel (dark wheat beer) are all popular and easy-to-find options. (Though my favorite is the Weihenstephaner Kristall.)
Another popular German export is Ayinger, found about 17 miles south of Munich. Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen, Ayinger Brau-Weisse, and Ayinger Bavarian Pils are some options.
Erdinger is a brewery just north of Munich and claims to be the world’s largest wheat beer brewery. They have an interesting Oktoberfest offering: Erdinger Oktoberfest Weissbier
Another popular and readily available German beer is Warsteiner out of north-central Germany. Warsteiner Oktoberfest and Warsteiner Premium Pilsener are two imported options.
Also check out this post on popular Oktoberfest games for which these Oktoberfest party beers often play a major part. (But play them at your own risk!)
Oktoberfest beers in the U.S.
If nooooone of those float your bierfest boat or you just really want the word Oktoberfest on your beer label, there’s always a plethora of Oktoberfest beer options from breweries here in the United States. Some popular American Oktoberfest beer options are:
- Sam Adams Octoberfest (I live in Boston—this is huge.)
- Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
- Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest (at least it has a German name?)
- Yuengling Oktoberfest
- Von Trapp Oktoberfest, from the Von Trapp family. True story—after they fled Nazi Europe the Von Trapps settled in Vermont and opened a brewery and mountain lodge. (Read all about it in the post on my weekend in Vermont!) Their beers are some of my favorite American beers.
Depending on what part of the country you live in will determine the options available to you as many local craft breweries produce their own version of “Oktoberfest” as well.
Yet another option
A popular beer option at Munich’s Oktoberfest is a radler—½ festbier and ½ lemon soda (not lemonade). This is not a cop-out! But is actually quite popular with the locals and I always start my long Oktoberfest days with one.
Where to find Oktoberfest party beer?
Five of the six Munich breweries are easily found in the U.S. (Löwenbräu, not so easy.) And the bigger your beer store, the better your chance of finding what you need.
Here in Massachusetts (and when I lived in Florida) I shop at a beer/liquor/wine mega-store called Total Wine. (They have 210 stores in 25 states.) There hasn’t been a single time I’ve gone in there and not found all my favorite German beers. They sell all the beers mentioned in this post. At least, at my location they do. You can even shop online to see what they have available where you live.
Though smaller, hole-in-the-wall type beer stores won’t have such a varied selection, you should still be able to find Spaten Lager at the very least. They might also have the ability to specially order what you’re looking for. (Do not be afraid to ask! This is a totally accepted practice.)
Another way to find Oktoberfest party beers near you is through beermenus.com. On this site you can input the beer you’re looking for along with your zip code to find which stores sell what. From my experience it’s pretty accurate. Just pay attention under the name of each establishment to whether it says “Beer Store” or “Restaurant.”
What about kegs?
If you’re hosting an at-home Oktoberfest party on a larger scale, you can absolutely pick up your Oktoberfest party beer in keg form! Actually, I encourage this. The more (beer) the merrier! Plus, the quality is so much better. (keg > green imported bottles that have been stored too long)
Not only am I a spokesperson for having a keg at your Oktoberfest party, I’m also a client.
The year I had to skip Oktoberfest I was still able to pick up a keg of Paulaner Festbier from my local liquor store. (I have a kegerator at my house plus I was throwing a party for 40 people—it only made sense!)
For me, there’s a medium-sized beer/liquor/wine store near my house that takes special orders for kegs. They actually have a whole keg menu to order from and the kegs typically come in about a week later. If you’re throwing an Oktoberfest-themed party, call around to a few of the stores near you to see if they take keg orders on imported beers.
Alternatively, Total Wine also sells kegs! If you’re lucky enough to live near one of their locations, you can get kegs of your preferred Oktoberfest beer. For instance, a quick search through Total Wine shows they sell kegs of:
- Paulaner Oktoberfest
- Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier
- Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest
- Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen
- Hofbräu Oktoberfest
- Erdinger Oktoberfest Weissbier
- As well as Sam Adams, Yuengling, Sierra Nevada, and Warsteiner Oktoberfests
Selection varies by location but do know it’s entirely possible to get a keg of Oktoberfest party beer for your very own home.
What size keg to get?
What size keg you get for your Oktoberfest party will depend on two things:
- how many people you’re serving
- what’s available
You can typically find kegs of Oktoberfest party beers in the following sizes:
A half barrel (or ½ keg) is actually the standard size you think of when you picture a keg. It’s what you find stacked up in alleys behind bars and floating in trash cans at frat houses.
A half barrel holds 15.5 gallons of beer and serves 165 12oz pours. It also weighs a ton so be sure you have help lifting it into whatever vessel it’s going in.
A quarter barrel (or ¼ keg) is also known as a Pony keg. It has the same footprint as a half barrel, but is half as tall. A quarter keg holds 7.75 gallons of beer and serves 82 12oz pours.
Sometimes called a “mini” keg, sixth barrels are typically used in homebrewing and are totally liftable. Sixth kegs hold just over 5 gallons of beer and serve 55 12oz pours.
When you purchase a keg of beer, it’s yours to keep (if you want). However, most places have you pay an extra “keg deposit” on top of the purchase price. You get that money back when you return the keg to the place you bought it. Just another way for them to encourage you to return it so it can be reused. An eco-friendly Oktoberfest!
Otherwise, the keg is yours to keep to use in, say, future keg bowling matches?
How to set up a keg
If you don’t have a kegerator at your house (I see a fun project in your future!), you can still enjoy a keg at your Oktoberfest party the old-fashioned way. “Old-fashioned” meaning trash can and ice of keg parties of Yore.
If you don’t already own the necessary parts to get a keg up and running, the store that sells you the keg should be able to rent you the pump as well. (But always ask first.)
For how to set up your Oktoberfest party keg, check out this helpful video:
P.S. They’re totally using an empty keg in this video for the purpose of instruction. Few people can lift a full keg that effortlessly. (They weigh 162 pounds.)
German kegs have a different style of coupler from domestic kegs. (The coupler being the lip part of the keg where you attach the pump.) The keg in the video is domestic. Keg pumps attach to German kegs by sliding onto the couple rather than twisting into them like in the video. Make sure to get matching parts otherwise there will be no way to get the beer out of the keg!
What about non-alcoholic options?
It’s true – there’s a chance not everyone at your Oktoberfest party will be into drinking beer. So, what should you serve instead?
The obvious answer would be: whatever they like. But if you still want to stick to the Oktoberfest theme, you can offer:
- Fizzy lemonade or lemon soda
- Sparkling grape juice (don’t forget about the always awesome Oktoberfest wine tent!)
- Non-alcoholic radlers (my personal recommendation)
Radlers are popular drinks at Oktoberfest–I typically start each day at Oktoberfest with one. So, try a non-alcoholic version: half non-alcoholic beer + half fizzy lemon soda.
Clausthaler is a popular non-alcoholic German beer that is widely available throughout the year. Other German brands like Becks and St. Pauli also offer non-alcoholic versions that are widely distributed.
How to drink your Oktoberfest party beer?
Of course there are proper ways to drink the beer at your Oktoberfest party. Beer-drinking etiquette, brought to you by the same folks responsible for beer purity laws. You’re welcome.
For smaller Oktoberfests, glass liter mugs are ideal. These mugs, called maß (or mass, pronounced moss), are the Oktoberfest way. They hold, you read that right, one liter of beer. If you didn’t bring one home from your last trip to Munich, have no fear, you can pick some up here.
Otherwise, anything from half-liter glass mugs to elaborate steins works perfectly.
For larger parties, blue solo cups will do just fine. (Not red, stick with Bavarian blue) After all, didn’t your mother teach you it’s what’s inside that counts?
For everything else you need to know about how to drink Oktoberfest beer, click that link. I wrote a full article on the subject that covers everything from how much beer should be in each glass, how to properly hold an Oktoberfest maß, the one thing you should never, ever do while drinking Oktoberfest beer, and more!
My party trick is that I know a crapload of German beer drinking rules. I’m really fun at parties. Prost!
Which Oktoberfest party beer will you stock up on?
Let me know below!
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