Lifestyle & Belief

Alabama town celebrated Oktoberfest without beer for 34 years


Mugs of beer, like these served at the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, Germany, this year, are a new feature of Oktoberfest in Cullman, Alabama.


Johannes Simon

Since 1977, the weeklong Oktoberfest celebration in Cullman, Ala., has been known for its German music, polka dancing, bratwurst – and lack of beer.

Until citizens voted to change the law last November, Cullman was located in dry county with no alcohol sales, The Associated Press reports.

In place of beer, organizers tapped a keg of rootbeer to open the festival each year and also sold their own sparkling apple cider, called Oktoberzest, the Cullman Times reports.

To ease the festival into the new era, the organizers set up a biergarten but still kept certain areas of the festival alcohol-free. On opening night, the wet side was more popular than the dry side, the AP reports.

The beer certainly seemed to add an element of authenticity to the celebration, according to the AP:

Hundreds of people sipped beer and cheered at a stein-hoisting contest Monday night. A blocked-off downtown street was full of people enjoying $4 drafts; a few men wore traditional German pants and socks; couples washed down bratwurst and spicy pretzels with brew.

Jason Hicks, 30, told the AP that the event was better with beer. "Before it was just two old guys dancing," Hicks said. "It's not about the beer now, but it adds something." His wife Ashley, 27, added: "It's fun.”

Oktoberfest has simply taken a giant step forward this year,” the editorial board of the Cullman Times opined in Wednesday’s paper. “The tapping of the first beer keg did not drive off visitors to the festival, it only drew more people. 

Oktoberfest, with legal sales in place, allowed the festival to reach back to a more realistic picture of the German heritage that defines Cullman.”