In 1810, Bavaria’s King Maximilian I. Joseph arranged a festival to celebrate his son’s wedding, offering up free beer and food to the delight of his subjects. The celebration, dubbed Oktoberfest, was so popular that it was repeated almost every year since and has grown from its humble two-day beginnings to a 16-day frolic through German tradition.
The 180th Oktoberfest in Munich this year will again be the largest beer festival in the world and has spawned a host of local imitations around the globe. Here in Summit County, the festival started on Labor Day weekend in Frisco and now moves to Keystone and finally Breckenridge, featuring German food and beer, traditional costumes, oompah and polka music and dancing, children’s activities and more.
Old and new traditions
Breckenridge has been hosting its Bavarian shindigs for 19 years and has been proclaimed the largest Oktoberfest in the Rocky Mountains. This year’s event will include more than two dozen food vendors and a sold-out, multi-course brewmaster dinner, which will pair traditional German fare with Paulaner beers.
The festivities kick off on Friday, Sept. 13, with beer, food and music at the Main Street Party. Pre-purchase a commemorative half-liter Oktoberfest beer stein at www.gobreck.com for $30, or get the full-liter stein for $35. The last beer will be sold at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, with the festival concluding at 5 p.m.
Keystone will throw its very first Oktoberfest party on Saturday, Sept. 7, in River Run Village. The soiree will piggyback the A51 Backyard BBQ and Rail Jam at the base of the mountain on the same day. Both Keystone events have a family-friendly focus, said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing for The Keystone Neighbourhood Co.
“We’ve brought in the little River Run train around the village, a free bounce house, free face painting, a free photo booth,” Russer said. “We really wanted to have a family friendly atmosphere.”
Russer said kids would enjoy watching both the Edelweiss Polka Dancers in the village and the skiers and snowboarders doing their tricks at the rail jam.
“I think a lot of kids love to come out and watch the rail jam, and the fact that there’s snow in the village in September is pretty cool,” she said. “The kids love coming out to watch the skiers and snowboarders, and then they can come over and do the activities and listen to Those Austrian Guys.”
Rather than going with traditional Munich beers for Keystone’s Oktoberfest, the Keystone Neighbourhood Co. opted to support local breweries by serving all Colorado brews.
“We wanted to involve the community breweries that we have partnerships with in the county,” Russer said. “They help out with infrastructure — staffing, tents — all the way to highlighting some really amazing Summit County beers.”
Beers featured include Peacemaker Pilsner, Hideout Helles and Dead-Eye Dunkel from Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co.; Pilsener, Hefe Weizen and Marzen from Dillon Dam Brewery; and Lucky U IPA, Autumn Ale and Regal Pilsner from Breckenridge Brewery. The New Moon Café, Kickapoo Tavern, Wolf Rock Steakhouse and Luigi’s Pasta House are among the River Run restaurants that will be serving traditional treats at the festival.
“They’ll be offering everything from brats to pretzels to typical kinds of Oktoberfest German fare,” Russer said.
Both the Keystone and Breckenridge Oktoberfest celebrations will feature music from Those Austrian Guys. The band has been bringing traditional German and Austrian folk music to High Country fall festivals for 16 or 17 years, said Peter Krainz, vocalist, accordion player and unofficial band leader.
“We’re mostly Austrian with a few Americans in the group,” Krainz said. “The band has been together one way or another for more than 20 years.”
The band is made up of a bunch of ski instructors and immigrants to the U.S. from Austria, Krainz said. Krainz said Those Austrian Guys play the same music that can be heard at Oktoberfest in Munich.
“People are dancing or people can still talk and it’s not blasting your ears,” he said. “It has good melodies for dancing and singing. … We have a beautiful yodeler, which happens to be Erika, my wife.”
Oktoberfest is a good break from our busy lives, a chance to just relax and be out in the open, drink good beer, eat good food and let things happen as they will, Krainz said.
“There’s no rush to it; it’s relaxed, happy,” he said. “Everybody is included, and the guests are dancing, even if it’s just the ‘Chicken Dance.’ Few people know how to dance these days, but everybody can do the ‘Chicken Dance’; it’s a fun thing for the kids.”
Krainz said beer festivals like Oktoberfest are popular in Europe, and it’s only natural that people brought those traditions with them when they immigrated to the United States.
“It’s the end of the year party, so to speak,” he said. “Summer comes to its end, and things are slowing down a little bit. … The rest of the year, you have rock ’n’ roll and whatnot. We try to stay kind of authentic with the theme and the happiness of the music.”