Drinking beers outside never goes out of style. Beer gardens, or biergartens, are outdoor areas where beer and food are served in a communal setting. Often attached to a brewery or tavern, these neighborly spaces have been popular in Germany since the the 1800s (some argue the 1500s).
Beer garden parties are a staple of society itself, and today, they’re a wonderful way to gather friends, family, and neighbors for a much-needed get-together. Plus, with Oktoberfest in Munich cancelled once again, and its home country tightening travel restrictions on American tourists, it’s time to find our own festive way to eat, drink, and be very merry.
Those of us who yearn for such world-class beer gardens as Hofbrauhaus in Munich, or even a stateside replica like Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Queens, N.Y., can take matters into their own hands. All it takes is some picnic tables, pretzels, beer-braised brats, and a few other bier-friendly accessories.
With summer hanging on for another few weeks and fall fast approaching, we’ve created this handy guide to getting your Frühschoppen on, beer garden style.
Set the Communal Table
Picnic tables are key to the beer garden aesthetic. Ideally, you’ll have long, communal centerfold (ahem, beer pong) tables of some kind. The communal nature is essential to the beer garden vibe: In Germany as well as here in the U.S., beer gardens were established as family-friendly community gathering places.
To complete the look, use tablecloths made to look like wood, or go with a white-and-blue diamond (or checkered) pattern, as a nod to the Bavarian flag.
Choose Cups and Mugs Weiss-ly
Mugs or steins are the quintessential German beer-drinking vessel. However, most people don’t have (or want) a stash of mugs on hand. For classy glassware you’ll actually use in the future, you might consider Spiegelau glasses, which come in several varieties for pilsners, lagers, and hefeweizens.
Although we don’t often agree with demoting drinks to disposable cups, paper cups keep cleanup simple, and there are some pretty cute Oktoberfest-friendly options out there.
Bring the DIY Vibes
Upcycling beer paraphernalia (i.e., garbage most people throw away) is an excellent way to amplify homegrown biergarten vibes. Specifics will depend on your access to a local brewery, homebrew shop, homebrewer friend, or run-of-the-mill hoarder. Repurpose bottle caps into wind chimes, make coaster collages, or decorate tables with beer labels. Hanging up empty malt sacks on a fence or clothesline looks cool and crafty; and chances are, you’ll be able to find German malt brands. Another kitschy, cute idea is propping up a chalkboard menu so your guests know what they’re getting.
To take your beer garden refrigeration game to the next level, get creative with cooler options. One trend we love is using a wagon or wheelbarrow — otherwise known as a beer barrow! — to stash brews in an outdoorsy way. Metal buckets also work.
Add Beer Bottle Vases
One of our favorite things to do with unused growlers is use them as flower vases. A DIY beer garden is the perfect place to put this practice into action. Note: You can also do this with regular beer bottles, or use beer cans as succulent holders.
And if you can find and style vessels with cornflower, the national flower of Germany, good on you.
Bring the Brats (Don’t Be the Wurst)
Food is a very important component to sustaining any day-drinking party. Snacks are especially essential at beer gardens, because the gardens historically are places for spending time with family and friends, where fresh beer complements local food.
Beer and brats is one of the most classic pairings on planet Earth, mainly because they are delicious together. Wurst, or sausage, comes in several varieties — bratwurst, weisswurst, knockwurst, and even vegan options. Be sure to have plenty of sauerkraut, red cabbage, and grainy mustard on hand. German potato salad, which is a lot like American potato salad, but with vinegar instead of mayo, also makes a great side dish.
If you’re averse to cooking, snacking can be as simple as soft pretzels and mustard. You can even go full Pinterest by making pretzel garlands and hanging them throughout your yard.
Another great pretzel pairing is beer cheese. Technically, beer cheese is more American than German; it originated in Kentucky, home of the annual Beer Cheese Festival. But we’re inclusive in our beer garden and will put cheese on anything. There’s also a traditional Bavarian cheese spread called obatzda that’s made for beer drinking.
Consider Classic Confections
Overachievers can try their hands at classic German confections like bratapfel (baked apples), gebrannte mandeln (almonds cooked in sugar), goetterspeise (basically Jell-O with sweet woodruff), or a German-inspired Black Forest cake.
Finally: Das Bier
If you’re serious about creating an authentic beer garden, you must stock your party with German beer. Traditional biergartens are all about lager, from Munich Helles to Märzen (Märzens are also marketed in the U.S. as Oktoberfest beers, although they are a different style than the modern Oktoberfets festbiers served in Germany). Look for classic German brands like Spaten, Paulaner, or Augustiner. For some extra heft, hefeweizens, Bavarian-style wheat beers, are another popular choice; our favorite is Weihenstephaner. Another option for refreshing and flavorful all-day drinking is Gaffel Kölsch, traditionally served in a circular tray of narrow stange glasses.
If you’re set on supporting local, plenty of American craft brewers are releasing tasty interpretations of German-style or German-inspired beers. Some of our favorite craft lagers and pilsners come from German-inspired brewers like Victory, Troegs, and Slyfox. You might even spread your horizons with tart and light Berliner-style weisse or salty, sour gose.
You might have some patrons who don’t drink beer. For wine drinkers, go for German whites like Riesling or Gewürztraminer. (Although the latter originates in the Alsace region of France, the wine capital once belonged to Germany.) Spirits fans might appreciate Jägermeister shots, or the lesser-known Rumple Minze, a peppermint schnapps.
For those abstaining from alcohol altogether, offer safte, or juice — orangensaft (orange juice), apfelsaft (apple juice), and traubensaft (grape juice) are German favorites. Or you can make a schorle, a mixture of fruit juice and mineral water that is popular in summertime.
Five Beers to Try
Perhaps best known for its Hefeweizen, Weihenstephan Pils is another stellar style from the ancient Bavarian brewery. It’s been brewed for centuries, so you know it’s the best of the best and has staying power (that is, until it gets to your cooler).
Bamburg, Germany’s famous Schlenkerla is synonymous with the Bavarian speciality of smoked beer, also known as rauchbier. This Helles lager is not a smoked beer, but picks up a peated smoky flavor from its proximity to smoked beer production. It’s a delicious introduction to subtle smoky lager that pairs very well with pork appetizers.
Crafting a combination of the traditional Oktoberfest festbier and Marzen lager styles, Victory Brewing Company has delectable bready aromas, notes of brown sugar, and a smooth texture. It’s not too malty-sweet, nor too bitter, and is sure to pair with soft preztels, sausage, and slaw.
Hailing from Framingham, Mass., Jack’s Abby’s Copper Legend has earned its Oktoberfest checkers many times over. This festbier is copper-colored and as bright on the palate with a refreshing, raw dough note on the nose. It’s lightly carbonated for a silky smooth-drinking feel, plus has a bit of malt sweetness on the finish. A festbier that keeps us coming back year after year, Jack’s Abby Copper Legend is always a must for the season.
No beer garden is complete without a Hefeweizen or similar take from a craft brewer in the States. Sixpoint Brewery reformulated and re-released this light-bodied lager for summer 2021, this time with a distinctly German-style Hefeweizen character. Banana and clove aromas are the tell-tale sign of a healthy Hefe-loving yeast, and a zesty finish is crisp and refreshing.