The Beer Drinking American’s Guide to Oktoberfest: Part 1

At Bottle Makes Three, we like to think we know a bit about beer. If you want a beer recommendation, need a great beer & food pairing, or if you want to know the best up-and-coming Colorado breweries, we’ve got you covered. Unfortunately when it comes to beer beyond our U.S. borders, we have a lot to learn. So if you come to us about Oktoberfest, we can certainly point you to several great local festivals. Unfortunately we can’t give you tips on the authentic German fest. 

Fortunately, in areas where we don’t have experience, we have great friends to help. Take our pal Rob. He and his lively wife Stacy are no stranger to Oktoberfest, having attended the festival in Munich several times. That’s why, when Rob offered to write a guest post about Oktoberfest, we couldn’t say yes fast enough. Rob went above and beyond the call of duty, delivering us The Beer Drinking American’s Comprehensive Guide To Oktoberfest. This guide everything an Oktoberfest rookie needs to plan a fun and festive trip to Oktoberfest in Munich. It’s so comprehensive, that we’ll be featuring it in a series of 3 posts, beginning today.

Oktoberfest in April? Yeah, buddy! Because while springtime has just arrived in the U.S., now is the time to make your plans for Munich this fall. As you’ll learn below, those Oktoberfest tents fill up fast. If you dream of attending the big fest, now is the time to turn those dreams into reality. 

We hope you enjoy this series and that it inspires you to begin planning your own Bavarian Beer Adventure. Prost! 

The Beer Drinking American’s
Comprehensive Guide To Oktoberfest: Part 1

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |

If planning a trip to Oktoberfest is on your bucket list, you certainly have a lot of questions. This guide covers everything from how to make sure you can get a seat in your choice of Oktoberfest tents, to what to expect when you get there, and so much more! In Part 1 of our 3-part series, we bring you everything you need to know about The Festival, the Beer, and The Oktoberfest Tents. 

The Festival

Oktoberfest has occurred each fall in the Bavarian City of Munich since 1810. For perspective, here are some events that transpired that year: The Republic of West Florida Declared Independence from Spain, Beethoven composed his famous piano piece Für Eliseand Napoleon annexed the Kingdom of Holland.

Most Importantly in 1810, the Bavarian royalty invited the citizens of Munich to join the celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.

This Marriage, and the resulting party, was such a great time that they decided throw the party again the next year….and continued to do so for 200+ years (outside of a couple Wars, Cholera outbreaks and the like) and counting. If you want to know the history you can read the Wiki. Here we will just cover the important parts of the modern day fest.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |

The modern day Oktoberfest runs for about 16 days annually, typically beginning the third Saturday of September and ending the first Sunday of October. The fest is built annually in an open space called the Theresienwiesen, named after the aforementioned Princess Therese. For the purposes of drinking beer all you need to know is it is called the Wiesen (Pronounced veez’ en). The Wiesen is just outside of the City Center. It’s close enough to walk, but for those of us on a mission to drink beer who can’t be bothered to walk there are several close subway (U-Bahn) stops with the Theresienwiese Stop right at the festival entrance.

The festival itself consists of approximately 50% beer tents and 50% carnival rides/games, and is run with the expected German efficiency. There is no fee to enter the fest grounds, but the festival is CASH ONLY. There are ATM’s on site, but to avoid lines and get to the beer drinking, bring cash with you.

The Beer

The beer selection at Oktoberfest is quite different from most American beer festivals. Only 6 Breweries from Munich are allowed to serve beer at the fest. Each tent only serves one type of beer, Marzen Style Oktoberfest Beer, from a single brewery. It is likely that you will only have one size to choose from as well, a 1 Liter Maß (Pronounced ‘Mas). Some of the more civilized tents will serve a ½ Maß, but the typical service size is the traditional Bavarian liter mug. Each beer is going to run you around 10-12 Euros and will have an ABV of about 6%.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |

If you want to show off while waiting for the band to start up, stand on the table and lift your full stein in the air. This signals that you are about to slam an entire liter. Immediately hundreds of people will start yelling and chanting at you, so don’t get on the table unless you are going to follow through! Once completed hold the glass over your head and turn it upside down to a chorus of cheers, or a chorus of boos if you fail.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |

The Tents

Ahhhh, which tent should you go to..? This is simultaneously the most important and least important decision you will have to make on your trip. If you are like me you will agonize over the pros and cons of each tent. You’ll weigh all the metrics of band quality, likelihood of getting a table, food, and general atmosphere. You’ll consider everything all the way down to the color scheme of your preferred tent. In the end they are all great. No matter which you choose, when you leave at the end of the night the last thing you will be thinking is “man we should have gone to a different tent.”

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |

There are 14 “Big Tents” with a total capacity of 108,426 people:

TentIndoor CapacityOutdoor CapacityBrewery
Winzerer Fähndl8,4502,450Paulaner
Hofbräu Festzelt6,8983,022Hofbräu München
Augustiner-Festhalle6,0002,500Augustiner Bräu
Fischer Vroni2,695700Augustiner Bräu
Weinzelt1,920580Wine, Champagne, Paulaner
Käfer’s Wies’n-Schänke1,0001,900Paulaner

My Top 6 Oktoberfest Tents

Each Oktoberfest tent has their own theme and atmosphere. Here is a quick breakdown of my favorites, and what makes them stand out.

#1 Hofbräu Festzelt If there is a Oktoberfest Tent that screams rock ‘n’ roll it would be the Hofbrau. All of the spilled beer, high fives and off key singalongs you would expect at a 1970’s Rolling Stones show are here, along with the sweat, blood, bad nudity and vomit. Known as the “International Tent” this is the gathering place for the British, American, Australian and New Zealand crowd. It is also the wildest of the tents, as many attendees will sacrifice (sometimes against their will) their bras, underwear, etc., to Aloisius – the giant rotating angel of beer suspended from the ceiling. The tent itself is decorated with an entire field of fresh hops, It’s semi transparent ceiling gives the entire room a fresh, airy feel. This is the only tent where you can get a beer while standing. There is a large standing-room-only area in front of the band that is all first come first served.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Celebrating my arrival at Hofbräu Festzelt
The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Aloisius, inside Hofbräu Festzelt

#2 Hacker-Festhalle Bavarian Heaven is the theme of this tent and it is perhaps the best looking of the lot. Murals on the walls and a ceiling consist of a blue sky with puffy white clouds. The ceiling can even be opened on hot days. Although not as rowdy as the Hofbrau, the band and the party at the Hacker tent are just as good, just a little more civilized. Not like that is a bad thing.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Outside Hacker-Festhalle
The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Inside Hacker-Festhalle

#3 Winzerer Fähndl Although I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing a full day at this tent, I have walked through and spent time admiring the atmosphere. The band is great, the crowd is loud, and they love to sing. The fact that this is the largest of the tents may have something to do with the fun atmosphere.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Outside Winzerer Fähndl
The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Inside Winzerer Fähndl

#4 Armbrustschützen-Festhalle This Paulaner tent features dueling bands. They announce their arrival with a ceremonial march around the tent before taking their place on each end. The bands then spend the afternoon trying to one-up each other, trading off songs until the rock band occupies the main stage in the middle of the tent. This crowd is very festive, with an average age higher than some of the other big tents.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Cheers from Armbrustschützen-Festhalle

#5 Löwenbräu-Festhalle If for no other reason, this tent gets a spot on the list for the animatronic roaring (burping), beer-drinking lion. The music is more on the traditional side, but the crowd is large and brings a great atmosphere.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
The Lowenbrau Lion
The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Inside Löwenbräu-Festhalle

#6 Pschorr-Bräurosl This tent puts an emphasis on entertainment, making it a favorite of the locals. With its own yodeler and multiple bands, it brings a traditional feel with a bit of variety, setting itself apart from the rest.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Outside Pschorr-Bräurosl
The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Inside Pschorr-Bräurosl

Getting a Seat

The decision of which tent to go to is actually easy. The answer is wherever you can get a seat, or at least a standing-room-only spot. After all, you didn’t come all the way to Munich to stand in line while someone else drinks your beer. It’s best to arrive with a plan.

Plan A: Make a reservation. Reservations run in two slots, Lunch and Dinner. Lunch reservations are from about 11:30 p.m. to 3- or 4- p.m, depending on the tent. Dinner slots go from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Unless you had a reservation last year and the year before, you’re not likely to get one this year, at least for the evening sessions. Reservations are booked through the individual tents and public bookings start in January and run through about April, depending on the tent. has a good, comprehensive online guide to help you make a reservation.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |

Plan B: Arrive Early. So you don’t have a reservation. That’s okay! With a little planning you can still get a spot in any of the tents. Munich law requires that a portion of each tent is left available for first come, first served seating. On weekdays 25% of seats are required to be left open. On the weekends 50% must be left open until 3 p.m., when it lowers to 35% for the rest of the day. So even without a reservation there are seats to be had, you just have to find them.

Even though there are less first-come, first-served seats held on the weekday, you’ll find this is still the easiest time to find a seat without a reservation. On weekends you’ll need to be there no later than 10 a.m. (8 a.m. is better) or just hope you get lucky. On weekdays you should have no problem getting a table if you get arrive by 3 p.m., although the earlier the better – especially if you’re with a big group. Personally, I’d suggest you arrive closer to 1 p.m. and just relax for a while.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
Yes, that’s the line to get inside.

So if you took my advice and showed up early, you should get in and have a choice of where to sit. The most important thing now is to find the open seating area so you don’t get kicked out when the evening group arrives. This is usually near the bandstand. There are maps posted around the tent showing which sections are reserved and which are open seating, or you can find a worker and ask them. Any table that is reserved should have a sticker on the table saying Reservierung or Reserviert, along with details (time and number of people) for the reservation. Keep in mind that any table not occupied 30 minutes after the reservation time is fair game. The Germans do not tolerate tardiness (as I learned the hard way, after showing up 90 minutes late for a car rental.)

Plan C: Rely on the kindness of strangers. Say it’s a busy day at the fest and you got into a tent, but you can’t find a seat. Don’t leave, because if your tent is full and they’ve closed the doors the odds of you getting in somewhere else are dismal. Instead, walk around and ask people if they have room for you at their table. You can likely find room for 2 after some mild begging. Offering to buy them a round helps.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest |
These people look nice. See if they will take pity on you.

Plan D: You got shut out… now what? If despite your best effort you’re left on the outside looking in, you have a couple choices. You could wait in queue outside a tent, since they let one person in for each person who leaves. Still, that could take hours. Instead, try to find a spot at one of the Beer Gardens outside the tents. You will need to be seated to get served. Your next best bet is to leave the fest and head to The Wiesnzelt at Stiglmaierplatz. This isn’t considered an actual Oktoberfest Tent, but they strive to match the atmosphere as closely as possible.

Want more Oktoberfest tips?

Continue reading The Beer Drinking American’s Comprehensive Guide To Oktoberfest tomorrow, and learn about the Music, the Gear and the Food of Oktoberfest. We’ll wrap up the series on Thursday by looking at the city of Munich and travel to the surrounding areas.

The Beer Drinking American's Comprehensive Guide to Oktoberfest | BottleMakesThree.comAbout the writer

Rob, a full-time resident of Denver, is attending his 4th Oktoberfest this fall. He lives by the Oktoberfest credo of “Fleisch, Bier und Brüste.”

More articles in the The Beer Drinking American’s Comprehensive Guide To Oktoberfest series are: 

Part 2: The Music, The Gear, and The Food
Part 3: The City and The Travel