Can you believe it’s been 202 years since the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen? While you weren’t invited to the wedding, the anniversary is better known today as Oktoberfest. About 6 million people will fill the tents and bierhalles of Munich between Sept. 22 and Oct. 7. And to wash down all that Schweinshaxe, they’ll consume about 7 million liters of beer. But good luck finding a plane ticket for under a grand. Fortunately, there are many festive Oktoberfests across the United States.
The way to celebrate Oktoberfest is with German or German-style Festbiers—Märzen-style lagers marked by toasty maltiness with lingering Noble hops—but anywhere you celebrate will have some local beers. So don your lederhosen or your dirndl and don’t leave your kinder at home because Oktoberfest is a family affair. After enjoying a few liters in the sun, you’ll be doing the chicken dance with gusto or very possibly with Gustav.
Cincy is almost as much northern Kentucky as it is southern Ohio, but it’s all very German, which explains why it’s home to the single largest Oktoberfest celebration in America, attracting more than 500,000 people. Then again, that’s only one of a dozen celebrations in the area, including many church-sponsored events, according to Chris Nascimento, president of the Cincinnati Malt Infusers, one of two such large area beer clubs. The other is the Bloatarian Brewing League, one of the country’s oldest homebrew clubs, founded in 1986 by Ray Spangler, whose college roommate and brewing buddy is Randy Mosher, author of Tasting Beer. Bloatarianism is said to have started as a religion, which is fitting since beer is practically its own religion in Cincy. As is Cincinnati chili, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Locals almost dogmatically stick to German-style beers, though some heretics have seen the light (or rather pale, amber, and dark) of American craft beer. The first name in brewing is Christian Moerlein, dating back to 1853. Though it didn’t survive Prohibition, the brand was revived by Hudepohl Brewing and its successors until a revitalized Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. was formed in 2004 in the original brewery district, Over-the-Rhine (OTR). The company also makes heritage brands such as Hudy Delight and Little Kings Cream Ale as well as craft brands such as OTR Pale Ale and, of course, a Märzen called Fifth and Vine.
One of the buildings used to brew Hudepohl later was used to brew Samuel Adams Boston Lager under contract. It is now owned by the Boston Beer Co. Owner Jim Koch is a native son, but apparently Samuel Adams Cincinnati Lager didn’t have the same verve. No public tours or a tasting room is offered.
The newly opened Moerlein Lager House (115 Joe Nuxhall Way) is no mere brewpub. It is a complex of about 25,000 square feet on the banks of the Ohio River that owner Greg Hardman says will become the largest-grossing brewpub in the United States. It features a biergarten rivaled by few and a beer menu that delves far deeper than its own house brands.