2020 is the first year without an Oktoberfest in Munich since World War II, and similar celebrations have been postponed or cancelled across the U.S. This means that if you want the experience of sitting in a tent and ingesting litre after litre of German-style lager, you’re on your own. (And good luck finding a 30-piece band to play a tuba version of “Country Roads Take Me Home” every hour.)
We have good news, though — there are plenty of locally produced festbiers around Chicagoland to help fill the void. (Take that, now-nearly-non-existent pumpkin beer.)
There are actually two kinds of fest-based beer that emerge around this time of year. You’re probably most familiar with the traditional Marzen amber lager, the toasty, sweet, caramel-bread-pudding-y, slightly spicy version that was served for over a century at the fest.
Those are wonderful, but don’t let tradition get in the way of the golden Festbier, which is now the official style of the fest (as of 1990) that’s a bit brighter, easier to drink, and a bit lighter on ABV — so you can drink more of it for longer.
Strap on your lederhosen, grab a manhole-cover-sized pretzel and get to work — it’s gonna be tough to drink the 7-million litres of beer (or more) that Munich goes through each year, but I think we should at least give it a shot:
Owner Mark Hedrick describes Oktoberfest beers as “the hoodie/short combo of the beer world,” slightly warming but still up for some warm autumn days outside.
6-packs available at both locations (St. Charles and Downers Grove), $10.99
This new all-lager brewery wanted to do their Oktoberfest the true traditional way, so they made it their third beer ever brewed back in April and lagered all summer.
Draft only at their new taproom (513 Rogers St., Downers Grove)
One of Chicago’s oldest breweries has one of the most under-the-radar Oktoberfests. Look for some honey sweetness on top of a spicy rye-bread kick.
4-packs of 16oz. cans available for pickup at 2050 W. Balmoral, Chicago,$9.99
Another true traditional take on the classic German style, Haymarket’s Fest Bier is perfect for some socially-distanced drinking (and Prost-ing) on Randolph Street’s now-closed-to-traffic pedestrian spaces.
$9.99 per 6-pack of 12oz cans available at the brewpub (737 W. Randolph)
Pipeworks is known to throw just about everything you can imagine into a beer (and some you can’t), so the most surprising part about this festbier is just how traditional and respectful it is one of brewing’s oldest traditions.
Releasing early September in 4-packs of 16oz cans; $12.99 at the Dojo (3912 McLean Ave., Chicago)
Only one brewery from Illinois in the past decade has taken home a medal from the Great American Beer Fest for their traditional German-style marzen. This one.
Available for pickup at all three Pollyanna locations (Lemon, Roselle, St. Charles) in 4-packs of 16oz cans, $12.00
This is the second year for Only Child’s festbier, and the first year it’ll hit taproom shelves in cans. Get there quick — they said this was the fastest beer release they’d ever seen when it came out originally.
4-packs of 16oz cans are $13 at the taproom (1350 Tri State Pkwy #124, Gurnee)
As the house brewery inside Chicago’s famed Berghoff restaurant, it makes sense that they’d have their own special Oktoberfest … but it may be the hardest one to get this year. Why? With the restaurant temporarily closed, the only place to get it is their location at O’Hare Airport.
Draft only, Terminal 1, Concourse C. Plus a plane ticket.
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Karl Klockars is a Chicago-based author and writer, focusing on food, drink, travel, and culture. Karl’s work has appeared in publications including Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, PCMag, Time Out Chicago, AskMen, Chicagoist and the AV Club. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, tells the story of the Chicagoland craft beer landscape, from breweries and brewpubs to beer bars and craft-centric restaurants. He’s also the co-founder and main writer for GuysDrinkingBeer.com, regularly recognized as one of the nation’s best craft beer websites. He’s appeared as a guest on numerous radio shows, TV news programs, and podcasts; consulted on programs for the BBC and American syndication and spent a few years hosting morning radio shows and podcasts.