Cracking open an Oktoberfest fall lager before Labor Day is like sitting on Santa’s lap in board shorts. However, with the 16-day Oktoberfest celebration starting Saturday, that prime window between blonde ales and imperial stouts is officially open. There’s much to do — and to drink — in the Twin Cities while toasting this centuries-old German tradition.
What to drink
Schell’s Oktoberfest: It wouldn’t be a ’Sota-style Oktoberfest without this German-heritage brewery. Bold but not brazen, its rich, almost rye-ish profile makes this Marzen worth milking while you can.
Great Lakes Oktoberfest: This Cleveland craft brewery makes a full-bodied fall-in-a-glass with a delicately earthy spiciness that opens up as it warms and proudly adheres to the German purity law (or “Reinheitsgebot”).
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen: Brewed in Munich’s outskirts, this full-bodied fall lager is fit for the burliest of stein-clashing cheers. It has a persuasive nose, hearty mouthfeel and semisweet hint of caramel that’s not to miss.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen: Partial Heineken ownership steals a little charm from the 379-year-old, friar-founded Paulaner, but its year-round Oktoberfest Marzen is a clean, crisp beer that could cleanse even a sausage-saturated palate.
Two Brothers Atom Smasher: For a non-traditional twist, this complex beer’s kick comes from being aged in foudres — large casks more commonly associated with wine. The Illinois brewery’s Bavarian homage is aswirl with an oaky fruitiness, making for one sweet sipper.
Surly SurlyFest: The Surly boys brew up one of the more memorable Oktoberfest offerings each year. SurlyFest colors outside the lines using three types of rye that Schuhplattler across the tongue with a trail of toastiness.
Where to drink
Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit: The rowdiest Okto-fetes go down at Gasthof’s, with its tented polka parties. Six bucks is good for a mug to keep, but you may bring your own. Do the bartenders a favor and just order a Paulaner original lager. (Fri.-Sat., Sept. 20-Oct. 12, 2300 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-781-3860.)
New Bohemia Minneapolis Munich Beer Festival: The Northeast suds and sausage shack is entering the fray with a mini parking-lot beer fest featuring 11 breweries, keg bowling, live music and more. (6-11 p.m. Fri., noon-11 p.m. Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun., $40-$75, 233 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-331-4929.)
Uptown Tavern: These days this post-Drink party bar caters to the craft-beer crowd, and it kicks off a Germanic shindig with an Oktoberfest tap takeover. (Fri.-Oct. 6, 1400 Lagoon Av., Mpls., 612-824-3333.)
SurlyFest: The sixth annual bash at the brewery features food trucks and music from local beer-hoisting punks Dillinger Four, DJ Shannon Blowtorch, Crankshaft and the Gear Daddies. (2-6:17 p.m., Sat., sold out, 4811 Dusharme Dr., Mpls., 763-535-3330.)
Black Forest Inn: This Eat Street institution celebrates Oktoberfest with 10 days of music, German grub, beer and special events. (Sept. 27-Oct. 6, 1 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-872-0812.)
Harriet Brewing Rauchfest: This Belgian-style brewery’s third annual Oktoberfest party coincides with the release of Rauchfest — a single-batch smoked lager. Food trucks will be on hand, as the Boys ‘n the Barrel, Useful Jenkins, Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers and more perform. (1-10 p.m., Sept. 28, $10-$15, 3036 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-315-4633.)
Twin Cities Oktoberfest: The State Fair’s Eco Experience has been das-booted from the Progress Center and replaced (at least for a weekend) with this beer-and-brat bonanza. Tickets include a 24-ounce stein and its first fill-up, and organizers promise traditional German fare, music and dancers. (Oct. 4-5, $25, State Fairgrounds, 1265 N. Snelling Av., Falcon Heights, www.twincitiesoktoberfest.com.)