If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the brass bands warming up. Outside of Bavaria, it’s not the kind of music you’re likely to encounter at other times of year, but for the next two weeks, there’s a good chance the autumn air will be filled with the sounds of accordions, tubas, and clarinets. That’s because at noon on September 22nd, the Mayor of Munich will tap the first keg of Oktoberfest beer, ceremonially initiating a 16-day party on the Theresienwiese. Since October 1810, when the first Oktoberfest celebrated the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen with free food and drink, Germany’s third-largest city has marked the occasion with bratwurst, brezeln (Bavarian pretzels), and lots and lots of beer.
Given the immense popularity of this annual festival, this isn’t exactly the kind of event you can easily drop in on or participate in casually. Millions of people make plans months in advance to spend late September in Munich. So if your bucket list includes drinking at the Hofbräuhaus, arguably the world’s most famous bar, you might want to start thinking about next year. Or the one after. In the meantime, if you want to sample some of the Oktoberfest spirit while hanging on to more of your beer money, there are a number of other places around the globe to do just that.
Cincinnati, Ohio and Blumenau, Brazil get the most attention as alternatives to Munich’s main event, but Germanophiles can find Oktoberfests across the country and on nearly every continent. To experience a bit of Bavaria in the United States, look no further than Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city that was once able to accurately describe itself as the brewing capital of the world. Today, the neighborhood of Glendale claims to host the oldest Oktoberfest in the Midwest complete with music, folk dancing, and yes, yodeling. Count on finding plenty of grilled and spit-roasted pork on the menu, along with the requisite sauerkraut, and of course, golden-hued, malty lager. Three of the six large German breweries (Paulaner, Hofbräu, and Hacker-Pschorr) are all represented, but as long as you’re in the U.S., why not try an award-winning Oktoberfest from Milwaukee’s own Lakefront Brewery.
Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, Argentina, a county typically associated with wine drinking, puts a South American spin on a European tradition with its own National Beer Festival. The setting for this Oktoberfest is a mountain town some 400 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, where residents with German heritage have celebrated the food and culture of their founding fathers each spring since 1964. Here in Villa General Belgrano, a spitting image of a village from the Bavarian Alps, shouts of Spanish salud mingle with prost, the German equivalent, and, for 11 days, black, red, and yellow banners outnumber the country’s own blue and white flag. As expected, revelers toast with enormous mugs of crisp, clear Warsteiner pilsener, but attendees can also fill their steins with beer from local breweries like Cervecería Antares, Cervecería Cassaro, or la Fábrica de Cerveza Brunnen.
And remember, whether you end up in middle America or the mountains of Argentina, there's one important thing to do at any Oktoberfest: drink lots of water. It's the cheapest and easiest way to make sure you have a good time.