This will probably be one of the weirdest years in Oktoberfest history. The fest in Munich has been canceled due to COVID-19, but the spirit of Oktoberfest lives on.
There have been several times in the festival’s history — that dates back to 1810 — when world events came between the beer and the people.
During World War I and II, Oktoberfest was canceled several times.
Earlier in the late 1800s, the fest was canceled due to cholera outbreaks in the area.
There have been reasons in the past when the fest has been put on hold, and this year is just another entry in that long history.
The celebration of beer does not have to stop because of the pandemic, and there are lots and lots of opportunities for beer lovers in our area to choose for their celebrations.
Historically, Oktoberfest celebrations in Manteno have had a communitywide draw. This year, as of the writing of this column, The Hoppy Pig has 4 Oktoberfest beers on tap.
BrickStone Brewery will be releasing an Oktoberfest beer again this year, and we will continue to celebrate the fest in our own socially-distanced ways.
This year, seeing that there were no obvious Oktoberfest special occasions to celebrate, I decided to do my own Oktoberfest celebration, which may turn into an annual trip.
As I have mentioned over and over again in this column, Chicagoland is home to the most breweries per capita than anywhere in the country. At last count, and it feels like this number is very uncertain these days, I have on my unofficial spreadsheet 201 craft breweries in Chicagoland. At last count, I had visited 121 of these breweries. It has been a goal of mine for sometime, starting last year in earnest, and this year, there was hope to see the whole list completed before COVID-19 shut everything down.
If you want to take part in Oktoberfest celebrations, but want to do it from a safe distance, you have options.
The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild is using the hashtag #Illinoisbier with different contests running throughout the traditional timeframe of Oktoberfest this year starting with a pair of #Illinoisbier emblazoned glass mugs.
Take a photo of your favorite Illinois brewed beer, tag the brewery in the post, as well as use the hashtag, and be entered to win a different set of prizes.
I have been working on a list of all the breweries that have made an Oktoberfest beer in the past.
There are 201 to search back through their Untappd check-ins history or their websites to see if they list one.
I found that a large percentage of them had made one at one time or another. I personally want to get to Level 100 on Untappd for Oktoberfest beer check-ins if possible, and after I have sampled every possible version available of nationally and internationally. I have had 87 different Marzen/Oktoberfest/Festbiers at the moment.
The only way for me to get that number up is to try and find the freshest Oktoberfest beer I can find. Here’s the problem, a lot of these local breweries will never package this beer, so I asked Derek Yarno, of Kankakee, to hop in the car with me. We set out to find as many beers as we could.
According to my research at the time, there was a possibility of running into 25 Oktoberfest beers this year. We started just before the fest starts (though canceled) on my birthday Saturday, Sept. 19. We didn’t get to 25, but we made it to 11 locations physically and bought an eight pack from Beermiscuous in Lakeview, that had cans of ones we didn’t visit ourselves. Here’s the list.
First stop was Arrowhead Ales with their Oktoberfest beer 1810 (named for the first year of the fest). We started here, had lunch in their patio on a chilly mid-September Saturday. We had to get their delicious pretzel, and a pint a piece to start the trip. I
f we were to try to get to all of the locations, we couldn’t possibly have a drink at each place. That would not be a safe or smart thing to do, but a pint is a reasonable amount to have at noon, and then start our way north.
Second stop was a quick one. Mygrain Brewing in Joliet was doing socially-distanced crowlers to go, so we stopped in and were offered a sip of their marzen, as well as the crowler.
I didn’t get the gentleman’s name in the yellow jacket who poured our beer for us, but he called our journey, asking, “What are you guys doing? Trying to get all of the Oktoberfest beers?” Which is the moment you look over your shoulder and see a black cat because you are in the matrix or something. Cheers to you, soothsayer guy at Mygrain, you thoroughly freaked us out for the rest of the trip.
The following is a list of our stops and our selections:
• Will County Brewing, Oktoberfest beer
• Mad Hatchet Brewing of Shorewood, Lederhosen Explosion
• Metal Monkey Brewing of Romeoville, Oktoberfest beer
• Wolfden Brewing of Bloomingdale, Draufganger beer
• Buffalo Creek Brewing of Long Grove, Big Ludwigski beer
• Tighthead Brewing of Mundelein, Oktoberfest beer
• Ravinia Brewing of Highland Park, Oktoberfest beer
• Temperance Brewing of Evanston, Oktoberfest beer
• Burning Bush Brewing of Chicago, Oktoberfest beer
• Beermiscuous Bottle Shop of Chicago, mixed eight pack of Oktoberfest beers
The last stop on the trip was Midwest Coast Brewing, which is one of the newest additions to the Chicago Brewers District on the near west side.
Midwest Coast had a huge outdoor seating section, where we enjoyed the last of our long road trip pints, and we sat and reflected on our crazy trip at this point.
In total, Derek and I were able to track down and check in 20 total Oktoberfest beers this year for this celebration.
We stopped at 11 different breweries, only had a couple of pints over a total eight-hour trip, spaced plenty far apart to leave room for safety in our driving. We wore masks, washed our hands and kept distance at every location, and were in and out in less than a minute or two when we had to be inside for any part of this trip.
Here’s what I think might be my favorite marzens of this year’s crop:
Festbier from Dovetail Brewing
Where to buy: You can find this one at The Open Bottle in Tinley Park in four-packs of 16-ounce cans for around $15.
Oktoberfest 1872-1989 from Kinslahger Brewing
Where to buy: You can find this one at the taproom in Oak Park, or at Beermiscuous in Lakeview in four-packs of 16-ounce cans for around $11.
Oktoberfest from Sierra Nevada Brewing
Where to Buy: You can find this one plenty of places in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles for $10 like Jewel in Bourbonnais.