While Richmond isn't exactly an Oktoberfest town, three local breweries honor the German tradition with their own versions of the celebrated fall brew.
Every year, in late September, the citizens of Munich, Germany open their doors to more than 7 million guests, pour 5 million liters of specially brewed Oktoberfest beer, and party for 16 days straight. Though many U.S. cities have emulated this festival, don't expect to find much company if you head to Shockoe Bottom with a keg, a sleeping bag, and a few weeks of "vacation" time.
Richmond does not spill over with the same communal enthusiasm for this celebration, so if you are looking for fellow Oktoberfest revelers, the best places to find company are Richmond's local breweries.
The Legend Brewing Company, the Main Street Beer Company, and the Richbrau Brewery have all created individual recipes and held small gatherings to celebrate this fall brewing tradition. Though all three breweries report strong sales for their Oktoberfest brews, none anticipates any citywide party in future years. Main Street Beer Company Brewmaster Mike Rowsey suggests that Richmond does not have a major Oktoberfest celebration because "for the most part people in Virginia have tried microbrews, but they tend to go back to Budweiser." And while Budweiser and Oktoberfest brews are both lager beers with recipes that originated in Germany, the similarities end there.
The Institute for Brewing Studies' "Beer Sellers Guide" describes traditional Oktoberfest beers as being "amber to reddish in color with a toasty malt character and low to medium hop character." Richbrau Brewmaster Favio Garcia allowed his brew to age over the summer months, and he produced a traditional German style Oktoberfest brew. Garcia explains that "allowing the beer to age for the full season gives the Oktoberfest a very malty flavor, a sweeter, more well-rounded body and also a higher alcohol content."
Legend and Main Street both aged their brews for a shorter time, producing lighter versions of the Oktoberfest. Rowsey says Main Street took "a little shortcut," by aging their beer for four weeks, looking for a lighter brew that has "good maltiness, it's not too sweet, and has a good balance of hop flavor."
Legend Brewmaster Brad Mortenson says he was aiming for "an American interpretation of the German style," resulting in a brew that has a "somewhat spicy aroma and flavor ... and is a very smooth and drinkable amber lager."
The Oktoberfest brew is special because it was the last batch brewed before higher temperatures marked the end of the brewing season in March. The beer was stored in lagering caves through the summer months until late September when the fall harvest season was celebrated by tapping the Oktoberfest kegs and brewing new batches of beer. The harvest celebration turned into an annual festival after the Bavarian King invited all the citizens of Munich to his wedding reception in 1810, and the event was repeated in subsequent years, eventually becoming the Oktoberfest. The citizens of Richmond should not expect a raucous Oktoberfest celebration in upcoming years, but the local breweries will satisfy those looking for some enthusiasm for the fall drinking season and for an alternative to the domestic beer.
Legend, Main Street and Richbrau say their Oktoberfest taps will be flowing until about