Celebrated in Munich from the middle of September through the first week of October, Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest, or people’s festival, a German-specific event that combines beer-drinking, traveling attractions, live music, and local food.
Oktoberfest, which originated as a wedding celebration for Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, began in 1810 and has become an international tradition. Though you may not find dirndls and lederhosen here on the North Shore, you will find a culture of beer-drinking that has kept up with Germany’s centuries-old tradition.
The Double Bull, Peabody
At Peabody’s The Double Bull, 50 beers are always on draft, and Oktoberfest is just one opportunity to highlight an emerging category of interest. Coinciding with Oktoberfest, says Jerry Ullman, the restaurant’s general manager, The Double Bull adds to its selection malty, Märzen-style beers and crisp Festbiers.
“These are definitely styles that are classically designed to be enjoyed all day long,” he says. “And the ultimate goal is not to pack the highest amount of alcohol in a cup.” The original Märzen, he notes, is a beer that has been brewed in March, lagered in cool cellars over the course of the summer, and tapped in the early fall, a lower-alcohol brew that drinkers can consume throughout a festive day without fear of overindulgence.
These types of beer—clean, crisp, restrained—are naturally suited for the menu served at a place like The Double Bull, elevated pub food that spans the globe. “We fit into that gastropub-style restaurant,” Ullman says: warm pretzels served with beer pub cheese and smoked sea salt, for instance, or a bacon and fig flatbread with caramelized onions and aged balsamic vinegar. “There are some classic dishes that everyone wants to see during Oktoberfest,” he says. “We make sure our fall seasonal menu goes really well with this celebration.”
210 Andover St., Peabody, 978-817-3670, thedoublebull.com
Elm Square Oyster Co., Andover
At his Andover restaurant, Elm Square Oyster Co., executive chef Michael Sherman leans into the Oktoberfest celebration with weekly specials, foods that express a German sensibility and pair well with the restaurant’s six draft beers. “I’ll be doing a sausage one week, and I’ll be doing a schnitzel sandwich,” he says. “We definitely like to do a little something for the people who come in and drink the beers that we have.”
The restaurant’s upscale dining concept changes seasonally, and one of Sherman’s popular autumn additions is an ideal match, he says, for beer and beer lovers. “We offer a pastrami sandwich: a prime beef pastrami,” he says. “We get the briskets in, we brine them ourselves, we smoke them ourselves. We serve them with red wine–braised red cabbage on sourdough.” This rich sandwich, complemented by pickled flavors, is an obvious choice for any diner in search of those traditional German flavors: salt, fat, acid.
2 Elm Square, Andover, 978-470-2228, elmsquareoysterco.com
Ellis Sq. Social, Beverly
With 14 draft lines, a few of which carry local and seasonal beers, Ellis Square Social, in Beverly, takes a moderate approach to the October beer-drinking season. “We’ll do a rotating cider line and a rotating IPA or something season-oriented, a sour, or a hazy IPA, something Oktoberfest-related,” says Brandon Phillips, the restaurant’s bar manager.
“People’s tastes change as the weather changes,” Phillips says. “We do have a pretty heavy crossroads, where we’re surrounded by so many kinds of local breweries. People will ask if we carry the products from the breweries around us—we do.” The menu, Phillips adds, has changed since he began working at the restaurant.
Now leaning even further into the gastropub category, the restaurant features locally changing menu items, elevated food in a casual atmosphere (no tablecloths or pretentious service). A chophouse-style à la carte section offers guests cuts of meat from Brandt Farms, a Southern California ranch that has been operating since 1945. This fall, guests can expect menu additions that play into traditional Oktoberfest themes, like a possible sausage dish that expands upon fall flavors.
252 Cabot St., Beverly, 978-998-4450, ellissquaresocial.com
Pass the pumpkin spice
And, of course, there is still plenty of pumpkin to go around, says Jerry Ullman, for guests looking to celebrate the October beer-drinking season with a touch of spice that says fall. “I think what’s important to recognize is that just because it’s not super classic, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” Ullman says of pumpkin-flavored beers.
Although you may not find a pumpkin-spiced beer at Munich’s Oktoberfest, that doesn’t mean you have to give it up entirely. “Ultimately, pumpkin beers aren’t really about the pumpkin; it’s about the pumpkin pie spice,” he says. Rich, sweet, pumpkin pie spices—nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, most notably—are a good match for the unctuous, savory, and satisfying foods served not only at Oktoberfest celebrations, but also at some of the North Shore’s time-honored gastropubs.
Does anything sound better than a pumpkin beer from Elm Square Oyster Co., paired with one of Michael Sherman’s seasonally available pastrami sandwiches? It may not be a tradition time-honored in Munich, but it’s one worth honoring on the North Shore this year.