Lederhosen and green felt alpine hats will mingle with Hawaiian-shirt- and hiking-short-clad festival lovers at Whitefish, Montana’s first-ever Great Northwest Oktoberfest, Oct. 14-16.
While the Canadian band The Western Senators cranks out polka music in Whitefish’s Depot Park, beer-and-brat consumers will sample local brews and local handmade sausages.
This inaugural party isn’t just about food and foam. There will be authentic Bavarian folk dancing and alpine horn players and numerous entertaining activities including log-sawing and stein-holding contests, bratwurst-eating contests, Waitress Races, the World Keg-Hurling Championships, and more.
“There are prizes for all our contests, donated by Whitefish merchants, and cash for the World Keg Hurling Champs (men and women), as well as the overall winners in the log-sawing and stein-holding competitions,” says event organizer Kevin Gartland, Whitefish Chamber of Commerce executive director. “And we don’t throw FULL kegs. We wait until the first keg of the weekend is drained, and then beat the heck out of it.”
Gartland has learned that the current world record for keg throwing is 34.4 feet, done ‘discus style’ by a former U.S. Olympian.
Children find plenty to do too. Kids’ Day Oct. 15, features carnival rides and arts and crafts in downtown Whitefish, backdropped by the historic Great Northern Railway station and Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Saturday’s schedule also includes a 5- and 10K “Volksmarch,” a German-style walk/run, popular with youngsters and oldsters, with or without lederhosen. Walkers begin and end their town tour between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Of course, it’s frothy topped beers that draw adults to Great Northwest Oktoberfest, especially locally grown and brewed suds from the Great Northern Brewery, across the street from the festival.
Great Northern Brewery co-owner Marcus Duffey says that his crew is serving a popular Oktoberfest seasonal, “a traditional German-style lager, a darker, smoother, easy drinking beer,” and the Frog Hop Ale, a fresh hop pale ale that’s brewed every fall.
“The name comes from our local organic farm, Purple Frog Gardens,” Duffey said. “We pick the hops and brew the Frog Hop Ale within 24 hours (of harvesting the hops).”
Also available will be German brews, Spaten, Munich’s best-selling beer, as well as Beck’s and Paulaner. Beer will be sold by the 14-ounce glass or 20 ounces in a handcrafted Whitefish Pottery souvenir stein.
While browsing the 50 arts and crafts vendor tents and dozen al fresco microbrewery bars, listen to The Western Senators, whose 2007 album, Dueling Polkas, was nominated for a Grammy in 2008.
Festival fans think it’s apropos that Whitefish hosts its first event this year. The world’s first Oktoberfest occurred Oct. 18, 1810 in Munich, Germany in celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (who became King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.
A highlight of this event was a horse race, but soon, Munich’s Oktoberfest became known for bratwursts and beer. By the late 1800s, festivalgoers danced to Bavarian bands, folk dances like the Zwiefacher, played games of skittles, a European lawn game similar to bowling, and sampled bratwurst, beer and other fall fare.
Whitefish organizers included arts and crafts, but in place of the horse race will be the Waitress Races, open to any current, past or wannabe waitress.
Organizers hope the beer will not be “blembe,” (Oktoberfest speak for bad beer that shouldn’t exist.) along with other tasty treats including huckleberry strudel; Blaukraut, red cabbage; and traditional German bratwurst, as well as elk brats and possibly a smoked bison brat.
“I’ve been meeting with the Prince of Pork at Montana Redneck Sausage Co. in Kalispell,” says Gartland. “Dude has some killer brats, smoked brats and weisswurst. My stomach is growling thinking about it!”
When planning their wardrobe, visitors should remember warm jackets too since Whitefish in October means sunny and mild days but cool evenings.
Other Montana fall/Oktoberfests include:
Glasgow:Other Montana communities celebrate harvest, hops and a few outrageous antics, including the Outhouse Races during Glasgow’s fall brew festival. Northeast Montana’s ranching town hosts an annual Oktoberfest Sept. 11. Festivities include pancake breakfast, vendors, pumpkin carving contest, pie and hot dog eating contest, tug of war, a children’s parade and more. During the outhouse event, teams build pseudo privies on wheels and careen through town in a block-long race, more for laughs than prizes.
There’s also kids’ activities at the Northeast Children’s Museum’s plus the Scotty Fest, which celebrates Scottish heritage and its namesake Glasgow, Scotland roots. Check out a farmers market, vendors, beer garden, pub crawl, jam session and the ever-popular Saskatoon Police Pipe Band. www.glasgowmt.net or 406-228-2222
Gardiner: Under the famous stone Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park is the Gardiner Brewfest in the Arch Park on Sept. 25. The annual Brewfest features German food, picnicking, and family fun, beginning at 3 p.m.
Nearly a dozen micro brewery representatives pour samples of popular micro brews from regional brewmasters at Bozeman Brewing Co., Montana Brewing Co. and Madison River Brewing. Burgers and brats are served in Arch Park, right on the boundary of Yellowstone. www.gardinerchamber.com or 848-7971.
Missoula: Germanfest, Sept. 12, is an annual ethnic heritage celebration that highlights Missoula’s Sister City relationship with Neckargemund, one of Germany’s oldest communities. The downtown celebration is at the Pavilion at Caras Park alongside the Clark Fork River. The day includes free music by The Bavarian Echos, German-style dancing, a plate of ethnic foods for $10 and naturlich, “natural” Bayern Brewing beverages.
Event sponsor Bayern will offer a few different handcrafted beers. For $20, beer tasters receive a ceramic beer stein with the Germanfest logo, a beer of choice and one refill. www.missoulacultural.org, 532-3240.
Anaconda: Oktoberfest Anaconda, October 2, takes place at the City Hall Center at Copper Village Museum and Arts Center. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. with an arts and crafts show at Copper Village. Meanwhile Farmer’s Market in Friendship Park has booths with locally made crafts, locally grown fruit and vegetables and locally crafted fun. Available for purchase will be German sausages, German potato salad, sauerkraut, hot rolls and beer garden brews with entertainment. Admission is free. www.coopervillageartcenter.com/ (406) 563-2422.
Seeley Lake: Seeley Lake hosts its annual Tamarack Festival and Brewfest, October 15-17. The namesake larch, the tamarack, a deciduous needled Larix laricina, undresses from its needles each fall, leaving a carpet of gold on the forest floor. This celebration of naturally golden land includes arts and crafts fair, live music, and food on the lawn of the Lindey’s Landing Restaurant. A $15 entry fee gets Oktoberfesters a commemorative glass and two beer samples from six western Montana breweries. www.seeleylakechamber.com. (406) 677-2880.