Forget pumpkin — fall is for Oktoberfest brews.
Breweries around Baltimore are welcoming the change of seasons with a variety of beer that’s meant to be sipped among the changing leaves.
Take, for example, the Zicke Zacke Oktoberfest at Checkerspot Brewing Co. in South Baltimore. The malty, amber-colored lager is made in the traditional Märzen style, a staple of Oktoberfest celebrations in the fall festival’s city of origin, Munich, Germany.
As soon as Oktoberfest brews start to hit the taps, “it’s like the dawning of fall,” says Checkerspot head brewer Judy Neff. “The weather is finally letting up, and people are ready to go outside and drink beer that has a little more color to it.”
The seasonal ritual got its start in the 19th century as part of a royal wedding celebration. To mark their nuptials, the crown prince Ludwig of Bavaria and princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen held a public festival featuring horse races, food and drink in October 1810. Over the years, the celebration grew into a two-week event with a particular focus on beer. Though it’s called Oktoberfest, the festival now kicks off in mid-September and ends in early October.
Neff, who used to live in Switzerland, has traveled to Munich to experience the festivities for herself. Checkerspot’s Zicke Zacke brew is named for the toast — “Zicke Zacke hoi, hoi, hoi!” — that revelers chant at Oktoberfest celebrations there.
For those of us who don’t have a trip to Germany in the cards this year, there are plenty of other local spots to sample Oktoberfest brews.
In Greenmount West, Guilford Hall Brewery takes inspiration from Bavarian brewing traditions. The brewpub hosted its Oktoberfest celebration — complete with stein-holding competitions, beer chugging contests and an accordionist playing polka tunes — on Sept. 24. But Guilford Hall’s Oktoberfest-inspired brew will be on draft through the fall, says head brewer Greg Jacoby.
The brewery eschews naming its beers, so this Oktoberfest brew is simply called Märzen. Guilford Hall’s version has a toasty bread flavor, a clean, crisp finish and an alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content of 5.5%, says Jacoby.
In Hampden, Pariah Brewing Co. just brewed its first Oktoberfest beer in two years. The brewery, which got its start in San Diego and opened a taproom in Baltimore in January, put the special fall brew on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, but decided to bring it back in 2022.
Pariah’s Oktoberfest beer is a “really rich lager with notes of baked bread crust, biscuits and coffee,” says chief operating officer, Christa Mitchell. Though the brewery stuck with a “very straightforward Märzen” this year, it’s thinking about rolling out a barrel-aged version next year, too.
Mitchell said the brewery’s customers are a “seasonal drinking crowd” who enjoy sours in the summer and heavier beers as the weather grows cold. That’s a change from her days in San Diego: There, “it’s nice to have a stout, but it’s warm all year, so it doesn’t move as much.”
Pouring it on for fall
Check out the Oktoberfest offerings at these Baltimore-area breweries:
Black Flag Brewing Co.: The Columbia brewery’s Oktoberfest offering is one of its most popular beers each year. The classic Bavarian lager has a “layered crisp body that adds complexity the farther into the glass you get,” according to Black Flag.
Crooked Crab Brewing Co.: Crooked Crab in Odenton invites guests to “grab your lederhosen and get ready to party like it’s 1810,” with Crabtoberfest, a 6.9% ABV Märzen lager that was brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, a set of rules governing the ingredients in German beer.
Inverness Brewing Co.: Grab a beer with a view at this northern Baltimore County brewery, which introduced its Oktoberfest German-style Festbier earlier this month. Beer drinkers who buy a special Inverness mug get pint-priced pours through the month of October.
Union Craft Brewing: This Hampden brewery has two Oktoberfest beers. Fest Beer is a 5.6% ABV pale, German-style lager that’s “light, crisp and uber quaffable, with a sweet, smooth, biscuity flavor,” per Union. Flocktoberfest is a light amber lager brewed to accompany a set of three performances from Baltimore-based psychedelic funk band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, which culminates in an Oct. 1 show at Union Craft Brewing.
Putting the fest in October
Grab a beer at one of these upcoming Oktoberfest celebrations:
Checkerspot Brewing Co.’s Oktoberfest. Oct. 16, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Checkerspot Brewing Co.’s dog-friendly gathering doubles as a fundraiser for the Animal Allies Rescue Foundation as well as the BARCS animal shelter, complete with pours of BARCStoberfest, an Oktoberfest beer brewed for the occasion. Cans of the beer feature Rainey, a pit bull adopted from BARCS. Other activities planned for the event include bands playing all day and dog competitions, such as “best dog-human combo costume.” 1399 S. Sharp St., Baltimore
OktoBEARfest at the Maryland Zoo. Oct. 22-23, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.: The 10th anniversary of this annual fundraiser will feature unlimited sampling of more than 50 fall-themed brews, as well as live music, food and wares from local artisans. 1 Safari Place, Baltimore