Oktoberfest conjures images of revelers with beer steins, lederhosen, and giant pretzels. But the tradition started as a multiday wedding celebration: The first Oktoberfest took place in Munich in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. It became an annual event, and in 1818 organizers added stalls for vendors to sell food and drinks. These stalls became plywood beer halls by the late 20th century.
German settlers began arriving in Virginia in 1608, long before the first Oktoberfest. So it’s no surprise that many of the Oktoberfests across the state have a Virginia twist. These 5 festivals, open to all ages, will have you saying “Prost!” in no time. (Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.)
1. Wheatland Spring Farm & Brewery, Waterford
September 16–17, 2023
This family-owned estate brewery in the Piedmont region is set on 30 acres of farmland, where owners Bonnie and John Branding—who lived in Munich for 5 years—grow or cultivate the herbs, grains, native yeast, and honey for their beer. During Oktoberfest, around 400 people show up each day to enjoy German games, food, and drinks.
Try the Ursprung Festbier, which is brewed only once a year for Oktoberfest (ursprung translates to “origin” in German). “The single-origin Bavarian barley in the 2022 Festbier was grown on a farm near Munich that we used to visit often,” says Bonnie, adding that the remainder of the grist came from grains grown in the Piedmont area. See their website for admission prices.
2. Blue Mountain Brewery, Afton
September 29–October 9, 2023
This year marks the 15th annual Oktoberfest at Blue Mountain Brewery. The several-day event typically attracts 11,000 visitors to this scenic and relaxed farm/brewery in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Blue Mountain opened in 2007 as the first brewery in Nelson County, with the goal of creating craft beers outside of the typical urban environment. Their Oktoberfest features a German menu, weekend oompah music, specialty stein glasses, and unusual games like keg bowling and keg tossing.
“Our best-selling beer throughout the year is our Kolsch 151,” says event manager Martha Hayman. “During the celebration, we recommend our Oktoberfest Lagerbier, which is available both on draft and in 6-packs to go.” Free admission.
3. Oktoberfest at the Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton
October 7, 2023
In addition to the usual festive music, beer, food, and entertainment, the Frontier Culture Museum’s annual Oktoberfest allows you to learn more about Virginia’s early German settlers and the state’s German ties. Learn how 18th-century Germans brewed beer and cooked for special occasions and how those traditions carried on in the U.S. Then, go experience it all at the festival, now in its 20th year.
“The Shenandoah Valley was shaped by people who came here from West Africa, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. These distinct groups helped create the American culture we know today,” says Paige Hildebrand, director of events at the open-air museum.
The Frontier Culture Museum has held Oktoberfest celebrations since 2003. Beer at the Lee S. Cochran Pavilion comes from Blue Ridge Beverage. Rick’s BBQ and Catering will serve brats and other German food while visitors enjoy tunes from the Stonewall Brigade Band, the Edelweiss Band, and SGTEV Hirschjäger. Adult museum admission, $19.
4. The Brothers Craft Brewing Company, Harrisonburg
October 7, 2023
Family-owned The Brothers Craft Brewing Company started their Oktoberfest celebration in 2018 after Lil’ Hellion, their traditional German-style Helles lager, won best beer in the state from the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild and their Märzen Fest Bier became part of the regular fall rotation.
Each October, the taproom transforms into a Bavarian hall with German music and 5 or 6 German beers on tap alongside their usual seasonal and flagship brews. Local food trucks serve dishes inspired by traditional Oktoberfest food, and a local brass quintet plays traditional German tunes. Games start in the afternoon with “the bier puppet” (a game where players use a device that operates like a puppet to drink a beer without spilling), followed by a barrel roll, a stein race, and a stein hoist.
The brewery sells limited-edition branded steins for Oktoberfest, and buyers get discounted pours during the event. Each year’s stein is different, and they rotate between half-liter and full-liter steins every year (this year’s will be full liters). “It’s pretty cool to see all the different steins that start coming into the taproom at the beginning of September, which hypes up the event,” says taproom manager Josh Harold. Free admission.
5. Lovettsville Oktoberfest
September 22–23, 2023
For a town-wide celebration, visit Lovettsville, whose Oktoberfest was recently voted Loudoun County’s Best Community Event/Festival. More than 10,000 people join the festivities each year for “a bit of Germany and a lot of Virginia.”
Lovettsville’s German roots date to the 1700s, prior to the original Oktoberfest in Munich. Locals celebrated Erntedank (“harvest thanks”), a German, Austrian, and Swiss fall harvest festival. This seasonal thanksgiving traditionally included church services, music, dancing, food, drinks, and parades.
Lovettsville held its first modern-day Oktoberfest in 1994. On Friday, there will be a ceremonial keg tapping and German food on the town green. On Saturday, enjoy live music, games, dozens of food and craft vendors, and a variety of local beer and wine. Don’t miss the wiener dog races on your way to the biergarten, and bring the kids to the Kinderfest area. Free admission.
Hillary Richard is a New Jersey-based writer and an ardent fan of all things wild and wonderful, including Oktoberfest.