This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg already has an entire section of their park called (and devoted to) Oktoberfest, where you can get German food, hear traditional music, and choose from a variety of beers. But when summer starts to wind down and autumn (and Howl-O-Scream) is right around the corner, the park rolls out the barrel for Bier Fest: a multi-day festival featuring more beer, more food, more music, and… honestly, just more.
This year’s Bier Fest stepped it up from last year, with more than 100 beers on tap at stalls throughout Oktoberfest and inside the Festhaus itself. The Fest is also twice as long as before, running select days until September 18.
With this embarrassment of riches, there was no way I was going to be able to sample absolutely everything. So I deliberately aimed low: two food items, a beer, and their advertised German cordial tasting. Otherwise there was no way I was making it out of the park, much less home.
The Festhaus had its usual fare available, but special Bier Fest stalls had a variety of spins on traditional German food: pretzels, schnitzel, sandwiches, and bratwurst.
The first thing I tried was their bratwurst pretzel, which is pretty much what it says on the tin.
The pretzel was nice and soft, and the bratwurst (which I’m stupid picky about personally) was very good. It’s hard to tell without my hand for scale, but that’s a pretty large pretzel. It was very filling — which was a bit annoying, as it was good enough for me to want seconds.
When it came time for more food, though, I varied it up and had Jäger Schnitzel.
This was not what I was expecting at all — I know what schnitzel is and I’ve had it before, but I was surprised to see it on a stick like, well, fair food. This had every opportunity to be badly cooked or a mess to eat, but it was not only delicious, it held up on the skewer. (Even with me, ever-clumsy, being the one to eat it.) The drizzle was a really good mushroom sauce. I’d originally considering putting some mustard on it, but anything else might have undone what was already just fine.
Bier Fest attendees have the opportunity to buy a beer sampler either online or at the event for $22 ($42 including a souvenir mug), but I’m not as much a beer connoisseur as many of my friends. To that end, I went to one of the outdoor booths, told the lovely lady there what I liked, and had her match me up. I ended up with a Saving Daylight — a wheaty, citrusy beer — from the Virginia Beer Company. It was about $9 for an extremely full glass that lasted me the majority of my walkabout there.
Even though I didn’t try more than one, the fact that the people at the taps were that knowledgeable and that friendly tells me that you’ll find something you like there. There are also a lot of local brews that rotate out, so if you want something Virginia-made, you’ll have no trouble finding it.
The Cordial Tasting
This was $14.95 for a flight of four shot-sized liqueurs, complete with background on the history and flavor profile of each one. You also walked away with a nice glass.
This event was so popular, though, that by the time I got there the park had bought out a good portion of the local ABC’s German stock and there was no more to have. So while Jägermeister and Bärenjäger were on the menu, the other two — Chambord and Domaine de Canton — were decidedly French. Not that that was a minus.
The host was extremely knowledgeable and extremely friendly, and I learned a lot about a few things I already figured I knew plenty about. The booth also sells hats, shirts, and mugs for those who want souvenirs to take home.
Three bands are appearing over the course of the event: The Happy Dutchman have their own stage outdoors where they perform traditional German music five times throughout the day. Next weekend, Harley Boone will be appearing in the Festhaus for four shows daily.
This weekend that spot was filled by the Kevin MaC Band, a local group specializing in country and oldies. Listeners to local country radio may have heard their newest single, “#Winning.” They did a fantastic show that felt more like casual jamming than a rigid performance, improvising and creating off-the-cuff medleys.
Overall, Bier Fest had a great party atmosphere, fantastic food, nice decor, and extremely friendly staff. I can’t believe I was unaware that this was a thing last year, and wish I’d had a chance to go more than once. Next year I will be in line for multiple bratwurst pretzels and as many shows as possible.
Bier Fest runs from 11 AM to park close on select dates through Sunday, September 18. For more information and to purchase packages in advance, visit the event’s official website.