Usually, every October sees the world’s largest get-together of beer drinkers in Munich, in all of their stein-swilling, arm-waving, lederhosen-wearing glory. The Oktoberfest is one of these wonderful communal occasions where, three or four steins of strong beer in, the oompah band sounds like the best thing that you have ever heard, and all around you are new friends as yet unmet rather than strangers. But unfortunately, restrictions this year has meant that this year’s main Oktoberfest, and all of the spin-off imitations, have been cancelled.
All is not quite lost, however. There are several places throughout the country that will offer a similarly fun and expansive experience, even if the number of people and the circumstances in which beer can be drunk are necessarily limited.
Here are some of the absolute best and jolliest places to raise a pint or three, although of course we would never condone excessive drinking. But, to quote Jerome K Jerome, ‘Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.’
One of London’s best-kept secrets for German beer aficionados is this excellent South London spot, a stone’s throw away from either Lambeth Palace or the Lambeth Walk, depending on your level of cultural appreciation. It was once frequented by Charlie Chaplin, but now its clientele are a mixture of locals and beer tourists, who come from all over the capital to sample a truly excellent range of weissbiers, lagers and Pilsners, not least the superb Weihenstephaner beer. The prices are very fair, and there’s usually sport playing, too, as well as a fine range of authentic snacks.
49 – 51 Black Prince Road, London SE11 6AB
Oktoberfest Pub, Fulham Road
If you’re especially missing the lively atmosphere of Oktoberfest, then be assured that it’s all but a permanent year-round fixture at Fulham’s cheery beer hall. There is a staggeringly wide range of beers, both on tap and in bottles, and the atmosphere – all wooden benches and bratwurst, sauerkraut and an extraordinary range of mustards, to say nothing of loud music and general conviviality – makes this a perfect place to go with as many friends as you are permitted to visit.
If you feel brave, some of the special beers are extraordinarily strong – and good – but it is probably only worth sampling one as otherwise delirium tremens will kick in far too quickly. The Schneider Aventinus Weizendoppelbock, at 8.2%, means business, and so will you.
678 – 680 Fulham Road, London SW6 5SA
Bavaria Brauhaus, Glasgow
Any visitor to Glasgow knows that the city prides itself on offering the warmest of welcomes to those it considers worthy of admission, and those who arrive at the Bavaria Brauhaus have already shown themselves to be deep aficionados of the bottle and the pint glass alike. Those who arrive at this fine establishment are apt to be overwhelmed initially at the sheer scale of the institution, with flags and paintings and all the , but after the first drink or so, matters become far more manageable. The beer range is exemplary, ranging from those that you’ve probably heard of (Paulaner, Erdinger) to those that are more obscure; try some of the excellent bottled fruit beers and relax.
30 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 6NU
In our current era of socially-distancing drinking, the obvious thing to do – weather permitting – is to head outdoors, and this is where Richmond’s famous Stein’s pub comes into its own. The setting, by the side of the Thames, is absolutely glorious, and allows you to disappear off into an alternate world for a couple of hours, one of calm (or frantic) conviviality and good humour. And the drinks, although less comprehensive a selection than some of the other places on this list, are nevertheless a well-chosen mixture of the familiar and the more obscure; their exclusive dark lager, the Adlerkonig Dunkel, is a particular pleasure, and very warming as the nights grow colder.
Richmond Towpath, Richmond upon Thames, TW10 6UX
Lowlander Grand Cafe, Covent Garden
Should you like your beer to be Belgian and Dutch rather than German, this excellent Covent Garden spot specialises in a range of fiercely strong and decidedly delicious brews, many of which come with the sort of names that can only be fully pronounced after you’ve sampled a couple of them – ‘Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel’ and ‘Kasteel Donker’. It may be that you should mistrust any establishment that boasts a beer called ‘La Guillotine’, with its 8.5% ABV, but there are also lighter options, including the Magic Rock Saucery at a session-friendly 3.9%. And, in an area not famed for interesting places to drink, this remains a marvellously ornate and interesting Grand Café, a world away from the boring chains and identikit Covent Garden pubs nearby.
36 Drury Lane, London, W2B 5RR
Albert’s Schloss, Manchester
When Jay Rayner visited this Manchester institution to review it for the Observer, he was somewhat surprised, writing ‘I really should hate it. I should want to be anywhere but here. But I don’t. Albert’s Schloss is a class act.’ While Rayner praised the food, and the atmosphere – not least the 9 ft 7 drag queens and their cabaret – those coming here to drink will be in seventh heaven in this particular Royal Albert Hall. While the wine list is excellent, the beers on offer in their so-called ‘Bier Palace’ practically justify a visit to Manchester by themselves, whether it’s the ‘Stone Go To IPA’ – a German take on an American IPA – or the wonderfully moreish Manchester pilsner, made with a combination of Munich malt, Weihenstephaner yeast and Mancunian water.
27 Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5QR
Camden Oktoberfest, throughout October
Imagine a fully decked out Bavarian beer hall complete with traditional beer tables, Oktoberfest bunting, miles of delicious sausage including authentic German Bratwurst, grilled Black Forest sausage, Currywurst, pretzel alternatives Brotzel plus giant sloshing steins of German beer. Full fancy dress is encouraged so that you can feel right at home at this raucous party and to add an extra dimension to the already sensory tickling delights on offer. To complement the theme, your host waitresses and waiters will be decked out in authentic Dirndl and Lederhosen as they keep your steins filled to the brim.
The mouth watering beers originate from across Germany and are supplied by Spaten, Löwenbräu & Becks, so you should expect only the finest Bavarian brews. Full refunds will be given on tickets in the event of cancellation due to changing restrictions.