Toasting a wedding with Champagne is so … American. When the Bavarian crown prince Ludwig I took the hand of Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in October 1810, it was beer that filled the glasses of Munich celebrants — and the enduring festival Oktoberfest was born.
It’s hard to fathom the amount of beer produced for the millions who swill it, elbow to elbow under tents, for three weeks each fall (this year, Munich's festival runs from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6), but they do. Closer to home, Long Island Oktoberfest parties are smaller in scale but arguably no less passionate. ‘Burgs such as Northport and Lindenhurst hold their own festivities, and the beer-and-brat wonderland Plattduetsche Park Beer Hall and Garden in Franklin Square mounts a weekslong fete that begins with its Sept. 22 Ompahfest and rollicks on through mid-October.
“Once we get finished with one, we immediately begin planning the next,” says Matthew Buck, Plattduetsche’s general manager, of a festival that attracts thousands of people to Long Island’s largest beer garden, and is as much as cultural celebration, with music and dancing, as it is a beer-splashed one.
Oompah bands aside, a bedrock of Oktoberfest is the celebration's beer, traditionally a malty, amber lager (a style called marzen) brewed specifically for the season. Amid the current proliferation of hoppy IPAs, marzens and their full-bodied cousins can taste less in your face. “I love German styles, and it comes down to tradition and respect for the process. There's subtlety, nuance and overall drinkability,” says Patrick Alfred, head brewer at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. in Peconic. "In craft beer, there can be three million ingredients in one beer. German beer can get an entire spectrum out of four ingredients. To me, that's very difficult and very commendable."
For this year’s Oktoberfest beer at Greenport, Alfred dispatched with marzen and brewed a festbier, “a paler beer, a little easier drinking, and very food-friendly,” and one that draws in part on yeast, hops and some malted grain from Germany.
When it comes to swilling the beers of Oktoberfest, a lawn or patio with shared picnic tables, aka a biergarten, is the penultimate place. Some might say the only place. Here are six around Long Island where you can clang steins with your neighbor.
Plattduetsche Park Restaurant
Plattduetsche Park Restaurant (1132 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square): The original, the biggest, the Germanest of them all (at least on Long Island), Plattduetsche is a soaring, multilevel beer hall that has its roots in the 19th-century German-American social club Plattduetsche Volksfest Vereen. The beer garden, a concrete expanse of picnic tables shaded by linden and oak trees, springs to life every Friday through Sunday; during Oktoberfest (which kicks off with the Ompahfest on Sept. 22) live German and Austrian bands kick the vibes up a notch. German-style beers, some imported and others brewed by Long Island brewers, come in weighty glass beer steins, and the hearty Oktoberfest beer is a marzen from Munich's Paulaner Brauerei, in business since 1634. Arrive with an empty stomach: Wursts, schnitzel, pretzels, spaetzle and the like are all on hand to pad your waistline for the winter months ahead. Admission for Ompahfest is $10 for adults, and free for kids 12 and under. More info: 516-354-3131, parkrestaurant.com
Mini pretzel slider rolls filled with sliced brats, Swiss cheese and bacon at the Plattduetsche Park Restaurant's biergarten in Franklin Square.
Garden Social Beer Garden & Kitchen
Garden Social Beer Garden & Kitchen (1964 Hempstead Tpke., East Meadow): You walk through a strip mall and past a dollar store to reach this oasis, a walled, a lush beer garden of picnic tables beneath a 40-foot pergola. Long Island and New York State beers command the 24 taps almost exclusively; by early September, at least five were already pouring pumpkin beers and ales. Garden Social's gastropub-esque fare can take a German turn or two -- for instance, pots of mussels served come with a giant pretzel stick -- but generally trot around the globe, from peanut-showered kung pao calamari to a pork belly and cheddar-topped burger. After the Oktoberfest vibes subside, football Sundays endure, with ample flat screens both inside and out. More info: 516-750-5338, gardensocialli.com
The Garden Social Ale and a pretzel with mustard and cheese sauce from Garden Social Beer Garden & Kitchen in East Meadow.
Jamesport Harbor Brewing
Jamesport Harbor Brewing (5873 Sound Ave., Riverhead): This 10-barrel microbrewery, housed in a renovated former potato barn, has an indoor-outdoor feel from massive doors that open to a kid- and dog-friendly beer garden. The picnic tables are topped by umbrellas, vittles come from an on-site food truck, and the farm feel is pervasive and authentic, as owners Melissa Daniels and Anthony Caggiano are longtime horticulturists who grow their own grain and hops on the 43-acre farm. Every fall (this year, on Sept. 21), the brewery holds a Fresh Hop Festival timed to coincide with the release of fall beers such as Sugar Skull, a pumpkin ale that can come with (or without) a sugar rim. (There's also a version aged in whiskey barrels). More info: 844-532-2337, jfbrewery.com
Beer being poured at the Jamesport Harbor Brewing in Riverhead.
Croxley's Ale House & Biergarten
Croxley's Ale House & Biergarten (155 W. Main St., Smithtown): Remember those road maps that seemed to unfold into infinity? The beer menu at Croxley's feels sort of like that, a dense, double-sided document of more than 80 draft lagers and ales (plus a parallel menu of bottles) that touch on every category, from lambics to local IPAs to German pilsners. The tables in the beer garden have solid DNA: They were sent over directly from one of Munich's epic Oktoberfests, and they fill a stone patio walled in by shrubbery. Food runs along tavern lines, with a crisp fish and chips (using cod), and the requisite giant pretzel, served with beer cheese and mustard. More info: 631-656-8787, croxley.com
Octoberfest brew and fish and chips at Croxley's Ale House & Biergarten in Smithtown.
Black Forest Brew Haus
Black Forest Brew Haus (2015 New Hwy., Farmingdale): Austrian and German bands will animate the weekend Oktoberfest celebrations at this German-themed standby; the party kicks off on Sept. 27 and runs until Oct. 19. A special Oktoberfest menu covers wursts, schnitzels and leberkase (aka liverwurst), and while pumpkin ale and German beers such as Wilhelmsbader Hofbräu are already on tap, they'll be joined in late September by an imported Oktoberfest beer. More info: 631-391-9500, blackforestbrewhaus.com
Black Forest Pilsner, Black Forest Amber, Hefe-weizen, Black Forest Oktoberfest, and Black Forest Schwarzbier are offered at Black Forest Brew Haus in Farmingdale.
Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.
Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. (42155 Main Rd., Peconic): Greenport Harbor's original location is in, well, Greenport, but the Peconic brewery has a bucolic beer garden of tables and Adirondack chairs scattered across a sprawling patio and lawn. Brewer Patrick Alfred's pumpkin-based Leaf Pile Ale is released to much ballyhoo each fall (you can find it across Long Island, including at 7-Elevens) but his Oktoberfest beer, made with German malt and hops, is a more restrained affair. This year's single batch will be tapped in late September, and it's an excellent partner to the imaginative eats from chef Greg Ling. More info: 631-477-1100, greenportharborbrewing.com