Though you can enjoy German sausages and beer year-round in Columbia thanks to a bevy of restaurants, food vendors, breweries and bars, there’s still something special about snapping into a brat and downing a liter during a proper Oktoberfest celebration. Stemming from the Midlands’ deep German roots in the Dutch Fork and Newberry areas and spurred on by the Cinco de Mayo-like commodification of the traditional party, there’s no shortage of worthy fest tents popping up across greater Columbia and beyond in late September and early October.
Which event should you choose to attend? That all depends on how hungry, thirsty or ready to do the Chicken Dance you are.
Party in the Neighborhood
Oktoberfest Columbia at Incarnation Lutheran Church — Oct. 11-13
Go if … You want to get your polka dance on.
Columbia’s largest annual Oktoberfest does everything big, offering 20-plus traditional German and American craft beers in commemorative liter steins, massive plates of jagerschnitzel and an auditorium-sized, family-friendly dancing tent that gives kids and adults alike a chance to do the Chicken Dance led by live polka acts multiple times a day in a judgement-free zone. Plan to come early or stay late, as lines for beer and food can get long during peak hours.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 7 p.m.
3005 Devine St., free; 803-256-2381, oktoberfestcolumbia.com
Mt. Tabor Lutheran Church — Saturday, Sept. 21
Go if… You prefer a laid back neighborhood affair.
Nestled discreetly within The Avenues of West Columbia, Mt. Tabor Lutheran is a true neighborhood church. In the spirit of Oktoberfest, they invite their neighbors from near and far to join them for a day of celebration, complete with food from local sausage heroes The Wurst Wagen and German beers available for purchase. Make note that the festival isn’t located on the church grounds, but nearby at 728 Meeting St. On-site parking will be limited, but extra parking will be available a short walk away at 626 Meeting St.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
728 Meeting St., free; 803-796-5948,
Drink a Lager at the Source
Columbia Craft - Saturday, Oct. 5
Go if… Your ideal beer is served by the liter.
Columbia Craft came out of the gate serving a rock solid eponymous lager in traditional liter steins upon opening in 2017, foreshadowing the brewery’s affinity for German-style beers. With its second Oktoberfest, it rolls out a seasonal Festbier alongside an array of other lager styles to pair with The Wurst Wagen’s german food offerings and polka music from Route 161 Happy Wanderers. Come prepared to embrace the elements, as the brewery’s limited taproom space means this event will spill out across the outdoor patio and parking lot.
Noon to 10 p.m.
520 Greene St., free; 803-799-6027, columbiacraft.com
River Rat Brewery — Saturday, Sept. 21
Go if … You need a lager while the kids run around.
Though they were Columbia’s second full-production brewery, River Rat was the first to bring German-style beers to the area with their flagship American Kolsch Story. The brewery just released its seasonal Marzen in time for Oktoberfest, which will be pouring alongside other highly quenchable lager offerings like the Bohemian Pilsner and Luminescent Lager. Recent chef hire Jon Cooper will go all out with a German food menu that includes multiple types of wurst, schnitzel on a stick and leberkase sliders.
Noon to 8 p.m.
1231 Shop Rd., free; 803-724-5712, riverratbrewery.com
Bierkeller Columbia — Date TBA
Go if … Tradition and taste are paramount.
Though it’s hosted Oktoberfest events in the past, Bierkeller Columbia has opted not to participate in this year’s festivities. Instead, owner Scott Burgess has set his sights on hosting a Bockbieranstich — a ceremonial tapping of the brand’s upcoming Bockbier — under his newly acquired Festzelt tents at Swamp Cabbage Brewery, where the nomadic brewing concern makes its beer. While a date has yet to be announced, the Franconian traditional party plans to pair the 6.5-percent ABV pale Bockbier with the proper accoutrements, including live music, roasted chickens on the grill and even a goat (“bock” in German) petting zoo. But if you’re thirsty for Bierkeller brews and hungry for Wurst Wagen sausage now, Bierkeller will restart its popular Riverfront Park (312 Laurel St.) biergartens on Tuesday, Sept. 24, setting up shop every Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m. through Nov. 19, as well as select Saturdays in November and December.
921 Brookwood Dr.; 803-338-1599, bierkellercolumbia.com
Take a Day Trip
Newberry Oktoberfest — Saturday, Oct. 5
Go if … The whole family needs a day out.
With a rich history of German settlement in the area, the City of Newberry pulls out all the stops for their annual Oktoberfest, lining multiple blocks at the heart of downtown with biergarten tables, food and craft tents and polka bands. The Kindertown children’s zone offers carousel rides, a rock climbing wall and inflatable slides, so the little ones should have no problem keeping occupied while you enjoy a beer. Come dressed in your lederhosen, if that’s your persuasion, as there’s a best dressed competition that’s sure to be hotly contested.
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Downtown Newberry, S.C., free; newberryoktoberfest.com
Helen, Georgia — Sept. 26-Oct. 27
Go if … You can’t fly to Bavaria, but want the next best thing.
The slogan for the City of Helen is, “It’s the charm of Bavaria, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” and for good reason. A former logging town, it reinvented itself as a replica Bavarian Alpine village in the late-’60s, completely remodeling downtown buildings in the white-exterior, exposed-wooden-beam chalet style. As the town celebrates its 49th annual Oktoberfest, expect a fully immersive experience, with locals dressed in traditional German garb and a limitless supply of beer, wurst and schnitzel.
$10 (free on Sundays; kids under six free); 706-878-1619, helenchamber.com