In Munich, Germany, Oktoberfest is a 16-to-18 day long festival where six million people gather in the middle of September to celebrate and drink more than 66,000 barrels of beer.
While Tempe Town Lake’s Four Peaks Oktoberfest spans only a weekend, from October 14 to Sunday, October 16, the free festival — in its 46th year— is basically the next best thing.
Having grown from a small Tempe Sister Cities fundraiser into one of Tempe’s biggest events of the year, the event attracted 70,000 people throughout the weekend last year. It’s time to break out the lederhosen!
It’s the attention to detail and the team’s dedication to creating an authentic Oktoberfest experience that has kept people coming back year after year.
“There’s not many things that exist in our modern era of time where everyone from a community gets together and does something really fun,” says Mike O’Hara, an event co-producer. “It just has that natural appeal.”
O’Hara, who’s worked with the festival in some capacity for ten years, is just one of the multi-generational volunteers who come together each year to keep the free event running.
New to the festival this year are activities like a kickball tournament and a Cardinals viewing party, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free food options.
Of course, classic Oktoberfest delicacies will still be in heavy supply alongside the usual fried carnival fare.
Festivalgoers will be able to choose from options like chicken apple sausage, Kilt Lifter brats, Tempe Oktoberfest sauerkraut and what O’Hara considers the crown jewel — German potato salad.
“Nobody else does (it) in the Valley and everybody loves (it) every year,” he laughs.
While the spread is important, an Oktoberfest is truly only as good as its brews. Thankfully, this year marks the debut of the most ambitious collaboration since bratwurst met bun: Freundschaft, a collaborative brew between Four Peaks and Weltenburger Kloster.
Dating back to 1050 AD, Weltenburger Kloster is the world’s oldest monastic brewery and located in Regensburg, Germany — which happens to be one of Tempe’s sister cities.
Freundschaft, a pale weissbeir, roughly translates to “friendship,” and marks the first in what O’Hara says will be a new annual series with a different style and name each year.
Fittingly, it will take a very special ride to Tempe Town Lake: a horse-drawn carriage parade down University to Mill Avenue — a nod to the German tradition of starting off any sort of festival with a horse-drawn carriage beer delivery.
That’s not to say other Four Peaks beers are neglected; favorites like Kilt Lifter, Pumpkin Porter and Hop Knot will be for sale ($5-$7), as well as German varietal beers — can you say Hefeweizen? — and Barefoot Wine.
When visitors are not eating, drinking or being merry, they can take part in a number of traditions such as the Frank Kush 5K and 10K honoring the former ASU football coach, four-versus-four soccer, Dachshund races, beer and wine tasting and carnival rides of increasingly epic proportions.
“Every year we try and bring in some new, bigger carnival ride that just pushes the envelope,” O’Hara laughs.
The festival has also tapped a wide variety of performers, ranging from straight-from-Germany polka acts like Das Aubachtal Sexteett and The GinTonics, to local favorites like Instant Classics, ska group 2 Tone Lizard Kings, rock band The Black Moods and ska-punk group Fayuca.
With three stages throughout the festival, there’s something happening on all three stages from open to close and a little something for everyone.
“That’s what Oktoberfest is all about,” O’Hara says. “It’s a local carnival music festival that’s a great time.”
General admission to the festival is free and VIP options, including lakeside stage cabanas, lakeside experiences and all day carnival passes will be available for sale.
With ASU’s football team on a bye week, it’s the perfect excuse to make the trek down Mill Avenue for a breath of German festivities — and some cheap beer.
Four Peaks Oktoberfest, Tempe Town Lake, 80 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, fourpeaksoktoberfest.com, 5 p.m. to midnight, Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, Friday, October 12, to Sunday, October 14, free.