Bavarian Banquet, Slalom Keg Races Among New Additions to Whitefish’s Great Northwest Oktoberfest

Attendance at last year’s festival was up about 20% over pre-pandemic years, with an estimated 8,000 people coming out across two weekends

By Mike Kordenbrock
A stein is filled at Great Northwest Oktoberfest in downtown Whitefish on Sept. 23, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The core elements of The Great Northwest Oktoberfest — beer, brats, sauerkraut, steinholding, and dancing in dirndl and lederhosen to live music in Depot Park — will be the same this year, but there are some changes on deck for one of Whitefish’s most popular events, which starts on Thursday, Sept. 28.

Some of the festival tweaks this year are of a more mundane nature, like utilizing synthetic turf in certain high-traffic festival areas to limit the impact on the park’s grass. Others are a little more mouthwatering, like the addition of a one-night only “Royal Bavarian Banquet” on Oct. 5.

Prepared by Reeves Stanwood, the chef and owner of Piggyback BBQ, the meal will include marinated and slow-roasted beef “sauerbraten,” served in a traditional gingersnap gravy with rye bread; “wurstplatte” plates with an array of German-style sausages; currywurst brats covered in curry ketchup and curry spice, and a warm “kartoffel salat” potato salad with bacon, onion and apple cider vinegar dressing. Unsurprisingly, the menu also features sauerkraut, as well as traditional German sweet red cabbage, sweet and spicy sauteed apples, and a “Gewuerzkchuchen” German chocolate spice cake.

The banquet will coincide with the crowning of the festival’s “Hop Queen,” who will preside over the festivities, and in addition to the specialty foods offered, there will be three kegs of Hofbrau’s “Kellerbier.” Described in a Great Northwest Oktoberfest press release as a “legendary” strong German Lager, the beer is aged beneath Hofbrau’s Munich brewery, and will be poured for one night only at the Whitefish festival.

Food trucks will also be on location at this year’s festival, including 406 BBQ, Montana Mountain Dawgs, Piroshki Palace, KnucklHed BBQ, Frey Guys Funnels & More, The House of S&M, and Bubbles and Boba.

Beer will be provided by the Munich-based brewery Hofbrau, and the Missoula-based brewery Bayern Brewing. Selections from Hofbrau include Oktoberfest, dunkel, original lager, and hefeweizen. Bayern will be offering Oktoberfest, amber lager, St. Walter Hefeweizen, pilsner lager, and Dragon’s Breath Dark Hefeweizen.

There will also be a new event for this year’s festival to replace the log-sawing competition which is no longer offered.

 “We have done that forever and ever, and insurance companies decided they didn’t like the risk involved there,” Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Gartland said of the decision to drop log sawing.

The men’s log-sawing competition during Oktoberfest. Beacon file photo

The replacement for log sawing is a beer keg slalom race course, where teams of two will face off in an attempt to be the first one to get their empty keg across the finish line. Gartland said organizers looked around at other Oktoberfest activities across the country for ideas to replace log sawing, and found festivals in Florida and Oregon doing barrel rolling.

“It’s just a straight sprint with a barrel rolling, with one person on each side and they’re only allowed to use one hand. It’s a little comical. We put our spin on it … having Whitefish Mountain [Resort] here, we turned it into a slalom,” Gartland said.

Activities at this year’s Oktoberfest will also include kids chicken dancing, keg hurling, and the ever popular men’s and women’s steinholding competitions. Kevin Collum, a legend in the world of Whitefish steinholding who won last year’s competition, passed away last year, and Gartland said this year will be the beginning of a new memorial plaque in Collum’s honor, which will commemorate steinholding winners at the festival.

“He was a hell of a competitor and a hell of a guy,” Gartland said. “He was a big part of helping our event.”

Other festival changes this year include moving the bars for beer and other refreshments outside the big tent that houses tables, a stage and a dance floor. The move should allow for more people to fit into the tent, which seems like a necessary move given last year’s attendance. Gartland said it was up 20% over previous pre-pandemic iterations of the festival, with an estimated total of 8,000 people coming out over the course of the festival’s two weekends. Gartland said last year’s festival went through 120 kegs of beer and well over 5,000 bratwurst were served.

Music this year will be provided by Europa, the Flathead’s Bavarian Echoes German Orchestra, and the Canadian polka outfit The Western Senators.

The Great Northwest Oktoberfest runs from Sept. 28 through Sept. 30, and Oct. 5 through Oct. 7, with an additional Oct. 4 “Hop Queen Qualifier” event at the Firebrand Hotel. The festival goes from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and from noon to 11 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is $8, and kids 12 and under can get in free if accompanied by a parent.

The festival kicks off on Sept. 28 with “Locals Night,” which offers free entry for Flathead County residents with valid ID. Gartland said it’s the most popular night of the festival.

Dogs are not allowed at the festival, and carpooling is encouraged due to limited parking. ATMs will also be on site.

For more information go to whitefishoktoberfest.com.

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