Even the most casual beer drinker is familiar with Oktoberfest. The beer style and the celebrations have become so normal for beer drinkers that everyone from the seasoned craft beer geek to even non-beer drinkers are usually familiar with both. That's certainly not the case with Bockfest. If you find yourself in Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine neighborhood on the first weekend of March, things get a little strange. You might turn a corner and run into a goat, spin your heels, and come face to face with a monk, then upon bolting in confusion down an alleyway, come head to head with a 'Sausage Queen' in mid revelry.
Bockfest is a glorious piece of Cincinnati's beer culture that requires a little bit of explanation to embrace fully.
A brief history of bock beer and Cincinnati Bockfest
Bockfest (Photo: @craig.s.smith)
Let's start simple... what is bock beer, and why are we celebrating it each spring? For that, we need to take a historical journey back to Germany, where lagers were born. Historical German breweries (which at the time were run by monasteries) brewed a hearty, malty beverage during Lent to help them make it through their fasts each spring. This beer, over the years, became what we now know as Bock beer, though... I doubt it was nearly as delicious as our modern breweries are currently making it.
In the early 1990s, one of Cincinnati's first modern craft breweries decided to brew a bock beer to help welcome in the spring. To celebrate the release of this beer, they kicked things off with a party at Arnold's Bar and Grill in Over-The-Rhine (Cincinnati's oldest saloon), and the beer arrived at the event via a wagon that carried it right from the brewery. The event was so much fun that they repeated it the following year and again and again for years to come.
Bockfest Parade (Photo: @honkus)
Cincinnati's Bockfest was born.
This fest is a true Cincy experience and community-led festival with a 30-year history. In the mid-2000s, Bockfest was reinvigorated as enthusiasts and volunteers decided to tie this festival to Mardi Gras(which happens right at the same time as Bockfest). What happened was an epic mashup of Cincinnati's hard-to-ignore German roots into a wild, wacky mix of character that has to be seen to be understood.
A new Bockfest was born right as Over-The-Rhine started to see a resurgence of new business and new life.
Getting To Bockfest
Bockfest is the first weekend of March every year, and getting there couldn’t be easier right in the heart of OTR. Garage Parking is available within a short walk, and after a quick ride on the streetcar, you'll be in the heart of the city to snag a hotel room. Spending the weekend at this unique Cincinnati event couldn’t be any easier, and hopefully, you can see why it should be at the top of your list each spring!
Bockfest Event Schedule
Cincinnati Bockfest (Photo: @theotrmama)
Much like Mardi Gras, to kick off a proper Bockfest weekend (and yes, you should dedicate a full weekend to do this right!), you need to hit up the parade. The Bockfest parade always starts from Arnold's Bar and Grill, a nod to the festival's history (and you should head there to have a couple of bock beers before the parade.)
After it starts around 6 pm, the parade then winds its way through the streets of OTR over to Bockfest Hall for the tapping of the first bock beer.
You'll see lots of singing, dancing, goats, monks, and generally jolly, beer-drinking, Cincinnati-loving folks. You'll see plenty of breweries represented, and local businesses showing their support.
The fun doesn’t stop on Friday night, though. Early Saturday morning, the festivities kick off with a Bockfest 5k run through the neighborhood, followed by a full day of celebration. You can catch a live band on the stage in Bockfest Hall or take one of the incredible (and highly recommended) tours through some of the historic brewery buildings and underground lagering tunnels that hide right beneath your feet. With so much fun happening all around, you’re bound to get pretty thirsty!
Drinking At Bockfest
Bockfest (Photo: @leanbrig)
Bockfest centers around several things: celebrating Cincinnati's history, eating a lot of great food (especially sausage), and maybe most importantly–drinking a lot of bock beer.
I'm fairly certain that you'll never see this many bock beers available in one place anywhere else in the world. It's a beautiful sight to see. There are several styles of bock beer ranging from the lighter, fruitier weizenbocks through the spectrum to the big, hearty, boozy doppelbocks.
It might be hard for you to decide, and I encourage you to come on day two for an event that will make it a lot easier for you, the Bock Experience. This ticketed tasting extravaganza gets you a souvenir glass to taste all the craft bock beer on tap at the festival. Get a seat, take your time, and enjoy yourself!
A Whirlwind Of A Weekend You'll Never See Anywhere Else
It takes a little bit of time after the Cincinnati festival to wrap your mind around it all. Live music covering the full spectrum of German "oompa" bands, to modern rock and pop cover bands grace the stage. Costumes surround you throughout the whole weekend. Folks dressed as monks, wearing traditional German trachten, or even dressed as goats fill Bockfest hall. You'll see folks of every age and every walk of life all arm in arm, smiling, laughing, and drinking. Your belly will be full of sausage and lots of bock beer, and you'll wonder how you ever used to welcome in the spring season without this celebration.
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