Vermont’s brewing prowess goes on display this fall with brewing festivals and Oktoberfests around the region.
You’re driving through your favorite Vermont town when suddenly it appears you’ve taken a wrong turn. Set against the backdrop of brilliant orange, red and yellow hillsides, the sounds of polka music and the deep poom pom of a sousaphone merrily bounce from white tents set on a field. Men in lederhosen and felt hats and women in dirndls clutch glasses of amber or brown lagers and ales.
A series of questions fly through your mind: Where am I? What’s that music? And finally: Where can I get some of that beer?
Welcome to Oktoberfest, one of the most important fall traditions in Vermont. Or, to use the traditional German expression, herzlich willkommen.
Oktoberfest is a German tradition that started in the southern region of Bavaria in the early 19th century as a celebration of the harvest. But here in the state with the most breweries per capita, Vermont’s 54 breweries put their own unique spin on the party. Many of Vermont’s favorites, including Zero Gravity, Switchback, Queen City, von Trapp Brewing and more all brewing up specialty beers that’ll be ready when the leaves change and the temperature drops.
“Oktoberfests are really Vermont at its finest,” says Eric Lussier, beer enthusiast and founder of Measured Methods, a Burlington-based digital marketing agency that specializes in Vermont breweries and beer events. “They’re a time when all the things that I love about living here come together – live music, the beautiful fall setting, food and of course the beer.”
Supplementing the fun this year are the number of expansions Vermont’s breweries have seen in recent years. In August 2016, Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury celebrated its 25th anniversary with the opening of a new, 120-barrel capacity brew house that allowed them to triple their production and claim the title of the largest in the state (they also introduced a 25th anniversary Double India Pale Lager to mark the occasion).
The von Trapp Brewery, named for one of Vermont’s most storied families, completed expansion of a new brew house in 2015, increasing capacity from 2,000 to nearly 60,000 barrels annually. Disc golfers, trail runners, mountain bikers and soon cross country skiers, fat bikers and snowshoers will also be able to enjoy their Vienna Lager, Helles or Weissbier in the new 150-seat beerhouse that opened at their Oktoberfest. They’ll be hosting their Oktoberfest celebration on Sept. 22.
If you’re looking for beer festivals in Vermont, you won’t have to venture far, but you may have to act fast to get tickets. If you weren’t able to get one of the 800 tickets to SIPtemberfest, a gathering of 24 breweries at Mad River Glen, or to Oktoberfest Vermont in Burlington’s Waterfront Park, you’ll still be able to celebrate the height of foliage at some of the best fall festivals around. Here’s our list of the top five. Bring an ID, snacks and a designated driver and we’ll see you in line.
21st Annual Mount Snow Oktoberfest, Oct. 6-7
In Southern Vermont, Mount Snow’s held an Oktoberfest since 1997 and the event has grown to include a craft fair and for the “adventurous,” a 5K that incorporates beer drinking and running (drink a beer after each of four laps). While the kids get an Oktoberfest of their own with pumpkin painting, apple slingshot and a schnitzel toss, those 21 and older can sample beers from over 25 foreign and domestic breweries and compete in the keg toss, stein holding and horseshoes. For food, the Cuzzins deck serves up all the schnitzel and wurst you could desire.
Sugarbush Oktoberfest, Oct. 7
Sugarbush’s Community Weekend is always a major attraction for Sugarbush skiers and riders who love the foliage as much as the snow that follows. On the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend, beer lovers flock to the Lincoln Peak Village, where a von Trapp Brewing beer garden and live polka from the Mad Bavarian Band awaits them.
“When people walk into the village and hear the band and smell the food, there’s no where else they want to be,” says Sugarbush’s Tony Chiuchiolo, who has organized the event in years past. “At that point, they’ll definitely want a beer.”
When you’re tired of corn-hole, stein-hoisting and keg-tossing, grab some German-inspired cuisine from the Castlerock Pub or take a ride through the foliage up the Super Bravo Express Quad.
Harpoon Octoberfest, Oct. 7-8
Harpoon’s Octoberfest takes place at it’s Windsor brewery and features nonstop live oompah music, chicken dancing, cake eating, bratwurst, and of course, barrels upon barrels of freshly brewed Harpoon beer. With Vermont’s beautiful upper valley in the peak of foliage season as a backdrop, this is one festival not to be missed.
If you want to earn your brews, sign up for the annual Harpoon Octoberfest Road Race, a 3.6-mile footrace that starts and ends at the brewery and benefits the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center on Sunday. You can literally run to your beer. Harpoonbrewery.com
Killington Oktoberfest, Oct. 8
Imagine 125 different beers to choose from at the base of one of Vermont’s biggest ski areas and you’ve got an idea of what awaits you at Killington’s Brewfest on Oct. 8. After a brunch in the late morning, sip your way through over 40 breweries from both near and far.
Jay Peak’s 9th Annual Bean and Brew Festival, Oct. 13
Jay Peak’s seventh annual Bean & Brew Festival on Oct. 1 combines two of mankind’s best beverage ideas: beer and coffee, in one massive tasting event in the Stateside Base Lodge. You’ll be able to pick between samples from coffee brewers including New England Coffee, Backcountry, Cold Brewtus and others as well as beer from Long Trail, Harpoon, 14th Star and a whole lot more.
photos courtesy Sugarbush resort.