Each year, beer-lovers all over the world welcome the fall season with Oktoberfest brews. Quite literally, it’s a time-honored tradition. The iconic beer festival can be traced back to a royal wedding in 1810 in Munich, a several-day affair of beer drinking and feasting. It became an annual cultural event, spanning over two weeks every year from mid-September to the first weekend in October, with strict rules dictating that only beer from sanctioned Munich breweries could fill the mugs of festivalgoers.
A version of the European tradition lives on at bars and restaurants stateside, as well. But here, many operators extend the celebration well into October to capitalize on sales. Union’s OnPrem Insights data from the two-month period of September to October 2022 revealed that American craft Oktoberfest-themed beer sells as well as imported German “Oktoberfestbier” — and it’s not just the bars with German roots that are cashing in.
Oktoberfest Beer Isn’t Just for German Biergartens
In Germany, Oktoberfest draws in over 6 million visitors to fairgrounds that feature beer tents, live music, and food. It’s the world’s largest public festival, and popular Oktoberfest celebrations can be found all across the U.S., as well, giving on-premise guests a chance to indulge in a slice of Bavarian culture one boot-shaped stein at a time.
“The fall becomes this really unique time where the seasonality of beer hits another level,” says Bryan Roth, an analyst for Feel Goods Company and editor of the alcohol beverage newsletter, Sightlines+. “Oktoberfest straddles this line between what a casual drinker can get excited about and what an enthusiast looks forward to.”
Despite the festival’s worldwide popularity, only 12 percent of Union venues sold Oktoberfest beers during the official two-week celebration period in 2022. Yet Oktoberfest beers are a hit at many venues, commanding as much as 67 percent of beer sales during the months of September and October.
“The takeaway for operators is that Oktoberfest has the potential to be a big opportunity for many bars and restaurants,” adds Layne Cox, Union’s chief marketing officer.
At Union venues overall, Oktoberfest-themed beers — such as the top-selling Sam Adams Octoberfest, Hofbräu, and Spaten — constituted just 0.42 percent of overall beer dollar sales in September and October 2022, and only 0.54 percent during the two weeks of Oktoberfest proper. For comparison, pumpkin-flavored beers constituted only 0.24 percent of overall beer dollar sales in September and October 2022. In other words, Oktoberfest beer sales rake in nearly twice that of pumpkin beers, a fall flavor that has its own cult following.
“Our data shows that of the top-selling venues of Oktoberfest beers, only a few are German pubs,” Cox says. “Many of the bars capitalizing on Oktoberfest include Irish pubs, British pubs, sports bars, and more, and they are generating additional business from the beer festival well into October.”
According to Roth: “It has the potential to work really well on premise. Oktoberfest gives that special feeling — an excuse to have an experience,” he says, adding that in off-premise, this category is a sales leader based on what is effectively a two-month sales period. “In chain retail sales, Oktoberfest accounts for roughly 40,000 barrels of beer, which is equivalent to a mid-sized brewery,” he says, noting that Circana data (formerly known as IRI) could be even higher since some Oktoberfests get bundled under a “Seasonal” SKU. “We see what happens in off-premise when Oktoberfest appears on shelves. We see it succeed every year.”
Oktoberfest Beers Sell Well After the Festival Has Ended
One thing’s for sure: There’s money to be made outside of the Oktoberfest festival dates.
The traditional German Oktoberfest festival period runs 16 days, typically ending the first Sunday in October. But Union data shows that Oktoberfest beer sales are strong in the U.S. even after the official festival has concluded. The Saturday after Oktoberfest has ended shows 29 percent higher sales than the second Saturday of Oktoberfest proper.
“It’s not surprising that Oktoberfest beers sell best past the festival dates, because Americans — very reasonably — associate the beer with Autumn and the month October,” Cox says. “From a marketing perspective, it’s a seasonal draw, and it’s exciting that it’s here for a limited time.”
Roth adds: “I wouldn’t expect an average consumer to expect it for any other month than October.”
According to Union data, Oktoberfest beers also get guests spending an average of $2.00 more per beer, with check averages that are 23 percent higher than average. “Bars and restaurants can do more to capitalize on this built-in seasonal opportunity,” Cox says.
An average Oktoberfest beer is $7.98, which is $3.00 (26 percent) more than the average mainstream beer, 19 percent higher than imported beer, and 17 percent higher than craft. Notably, Oktoberfest brews can drive guests’ checks higher. The average check with at least one Oktoberfest beer on the bill during this period was 23 percent higher than the average check with at least one beer of any kind on the bill.
Oktoberfest Fans are Day Drinkers
Oktoberfest drinkers are more active than regular beer drinkers during Lunchtime and Happy Hour, according to Union data, signaling an opportunity for attracting guests earlier in the day for beer festivals or Oktoberfest specials.
Twenty-three percent of Oktoberfest beers are ordered during Lunch hours, compared to 16 percent of beer overall. Sales are highest during Happy Hour, with 39 percent of all Oktoberfest orders happening in that 4 pm to 7 pm period.
“Prominently featuring Oktoberfest beers can help Increase bar sales during the slower dayparts,” notes Cox.
An American Oktoberfest Beer Outsells All Others
Throughout September and October, Sam Adams Octoberfest is the best-selling Oktoberfest-themed beer by dollar sales, with 29 percent share. Hofbräu (one of six official beers of Oktoberfest in Munich) is close behind Sam Adams, with 27 percent share.
The Top 10 Oktoberfest beers ordered at Union bars and restaurants in the 2-month period of September and October, 2022 are a mix of German import and American craft brands.
Top-Selling Brands of Oktoberfest Beer
- Sam Adams (Massachusetts)
- Hofbräu (Munich, Germany)
- Spaten (Munich, Germany)
- Paulaner (Munich, Germany)
- Altstadt (Texas)
- Yuengling (Pennsylvania)
- Goose Island (Chicago)
- Warsteiner (Warstein, Germany)
- Shiner (Texas)
- Hacker-Pschorr (Munich, Germany)
Source: OnPrem Insights, September 1 to October 31, 2022.
The top sellers are all in the classic German “Märzen” style: A copper-colored lager, known for its rich maltiness and baked-bread aromas. The beer style gets its name from the German word for March, when the beer is brewed. It’s traditionally aged throughout the Summer and released in time for the Fall festival.
Notably, the state of Massachusetts (home to best-seller Sam Adams) has some of the highest sales share for Oktoberfest beers compared to overall beer. And the domestic beers on the list of top-sellers are all Big Craft, following brew culture’s most enduring tradition.
After Sam Adams, the Top 5 Oktoberfest beers are German imports. Specifically, there are only six beers that are served as official Oktoberfest festival beers in Munich, and four of those show up on Union’s list of top-sellers, as well: Hofbräu, Spaten, Paulaner, and Hacker-Pschorr.
The beers vary in flavor profile, some made in the traditional Oktoberfest style, and others in a more modern German style. What the beers all have in common, though, is their limited availability, usually released in August or September to kick off the fall season. In Munich, that means lederhosen, yodeling contests, log-sawing and stein-holding competitions, and polka dancing.
“If the idea of kitschy, German-inspired fun isn’t your bar’s style, then reimagine Oktoberfest for your own venue. You’ll appeal to your beer-loving guests — and maximize this seasonal sales opportunity,” says Cox.
Roth adds: “Part of the beauty of Oktoberfest is that there’s a lot of overlap between those who are casual beer drinkers and beer enthusiasts. For casual drinkers, it brings aspects of celebration on top of seasonality. For enthusiasts, it’s an invitation to be part of a beer tradition.”
For operators and bartenders, Oktoberfest as a story line helps sell, Roth concludes. “On-premise you get a broad mix of people. Some are going to be beer lovers, and it’s the answer to: ‘What’s good right now?’”