Oktoberfest kicks off in Munich on Sept. 22. But Munich is across an ocean --- and ocean-crossing plane tickets are expensive, as are hotels and transportation and schnitzel. Fortunately, there are beer festivals across the United States running parallel to the fest's official Sept. 22-Oct. 7 schedule.
Look out for the smaller festivals if you want a more intimate experience, advises Derek Buono, publisher of Beer Magazine. If you're after new flavors, keep an eye out for fests that stock rare brews.
If you prefer a party, the biggest festivals emphasize atmosphere, scheduling bands and food vendors, in addition to breweries.
Your biggest problems, suggests Buono, will be picking one beer festival, because there are so many.
Here are five festivals to choose from so Oktoberfest need not go uncelebrated. They are big and small, stretching from the Northeast onward. They include tastings, trainings and at least one bratwurst eating contest, in Louisville, Kentucky. No doubt there's a festival near you, so mark your calendars and raise your glasses.
World Beer Festival (Sept. 22, St. Petersburg, Fla., $40-$85; Oct. 6, Durham, N.C., $40-$45)
Founded 17 years ago, the World Beer Festival is a multi-city, multi-date affair, presented by All About Beer Magazine. Its flagship is still Durham, where festival organizers expect to have as many as 250 beers this year, up from 170 last year. But the St. Pete fest is new, and it's the first time the event has been held outside the Carolinas. It's a reflection of the "massively growing craft beer market" in the Tampa Bay area, said All About Beer beer and brewery manager Leigh Hambleton.
With its slate of events and materials, including tastings and an online "Beer 101" guide, the festival and magazine are committed to "spreading the word about craft beer," Hambleton said. That means showing off the best beverages and helping people learn how to drink them.
Louisville Craft Beer Week (Sept. 21-29, Louisville, Ky., tickets range by day and event; prices range from free to $75)
Louisville's Craft Beer Week, backed by LouisvilleBeer.com, isn't a celebration of Oktoberfest exactly, but it's full of celebratory Oktoberfest events, including eating contests and the release of a slate of fall beers. Casktoberfest, hosted by the St. Matthews location of the Bluegrass Brewing Co., is the week's kick-off and there are dozens more events that follow. The festival hopes to keep widening: This year, it's partnering with the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO, for short), the city's alternative weekly, to publish an event guide.
The expectation is "people that didn't even know (it) existed will find out about it," said John Wurth, the founder of LouisvilleBeer.com.
Beer festivals around town used to draw 100 people. Now they draw thousands, said Wurth. BBC brewery used to reach out to crowds. Now it has to turn them away.
Texas Craft Brewers Festival (Oct. 6, Austin, Texas, $20-$77)
The self-described "largest annual celebration of Texas craft beer," the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, which benefits Austin Sunshine Camps that serve at-risk kids, has been around since 2003.
Held in historic Fiesta Gardens in East Austin, the festival will feature nearly 30 Texas breweries --- from No Label to Thirsty Planet --- and more than 100 beers. Beer and chocolate and beer and cheese pairing sessions are scheduled.
New Orleans on Tap (Sept. 29, New Orleans, $1-$100)
Last year, New Orleans on Tap exploded.
Supporting the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, New Orleans on Tap is a co-production with the Bulldog, a local bar. It was the Bulldog's founder who first brought up the idea of doing a fundraiser-festival, said Marisa Collins, events coordinator for the Louisiana SPCA.
That was three years ago. Last year, 7,000 people attended New Orleans on Tap and it raised $100,000. Organizers expect more this year, Collins said.
It's "huge for such a young event to explode like that," she said, "but I think we hit the right chord with young New Orleanians that like drinking and that like being outside."