Where Beer flows Like a River, and Dachsunds Run Wild
All photos by Kevin Gibson.
It was opening day for Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the U.S., and the wiener dogs were everywhere. In fact, I quickly realized I had to be careful where I stepped when I made my way into the crowd that had gathered around the makeshift race track in the middle of Fountain Square. It’s hard to see a Dachsund in a crowd, and I didn’t want to step on one.
Most people carried theirs, and most of the dogs (and even some of the owners) were adorned in costume, from faux hot dog buns and mustard or ketchup, to traditional Alpine hats. Nearby, brats and metts cooked on a grill and the aroma wafted over the throng. A Sam Adams beer bus was swarmed with people eager to get Oktoberfest started.
I’d never seen the traditional Running of the Wieners before this year; now, I’m not sure I ever want to miss it again. The feeling of the event was one of warmth and friendship, even a muted joy. I met people from Scotland and England who were in Cincinnati and wanted to stop in and see it for themselves.
I happened across an excited couple, one of whom held their dog Lexi, who was decked out in a bun and faux mustard. It was Lexi’s first year to participate in the Running of the Weiners, and she seemed either anxious to get the competition under way or simply confused as to why she was dressed as a hot dog.
Asked if they expected Lexi to make a bid for this year’s wiener dog title, her “mom” (whose name I didn’t get as they made their way toward the starting post) simply said, “We’re not even expecting her to leave the starting line. She won’t even walk through the crowd.”
Moments later, Lexi took her place alongside other wiener dogs with names like Sheldon, Hansel von Strudel and Paul. Heat after heat went down, with some of the dogs dashing excitedly from one end of the track to the other. Others milled about aimlessly or simply ran from side to side to greet the crowd.
Of course, adding to the joy was the beer. While I was there, only the Sam Adams taps were flowing, but the final total of different beers available was 108, including 40 in Brewer’s Alley, which was basically just a block of nothing but beer vendors waiting to make the lederhosen-clad festival-goers smile non-stop.
Most beers were $6 for a pint, or you could pay $12 for a souvenir (plastic) Oktoberfest mug and get it refilled to your liver’s desire for eight bucks the rest of the way. (I went for the mug.)
I chuckled at the many booths trumpeting frozen margaritas and daiquiris because I kept picturing someone telling their friends, “I went to the biggest Oktoberfest in America and drank six daiquiris!”
But along the way, there was beer vendor after beer vendor, and more German-inspired food than you could shake a bockwurst at. And there was plenty of German-style beer to go with it, from Weihenstephan (which bills itself as the world’s oldest brewery) to sneakier plays like Bell’s Lager (I didn’t even know Bell’s Brewery made a lager). And, of course, for the Running of the Wieners, one could enjoy an Oktoberfest or lager from Sam Adams, which was the presenting sponsor of the festival. Me, I went with the Rebel IPA, but I’m not going to argue with any of them.
And, of course, there was plenty of stuff to buy, from wiener dog hats shaped like actual Dachshunds (no kidding), to t-shirts to Alpine hats, beer glasses and more.
When it was all said and done, an estimated 650,000 people attended this year, according to Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber estimates. That ties the record estimated Oktoberfest Zinzinnati attendance figures of 2014. “I received an email from a gentleman in Mount Lookout, complimenting the Chamber on the friendliness, cleanliness and safety of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati,” Chamber Vice President Patrick Sheeran said. “This man took the time to tell us he was proud of Cincinnati. I’m humbled and proud of our volunteers, partners, sponsors, vendors, Cincinnati Police and Fire, Chamber staff and especially the 650,000 who attended.”
Oh, and if you attended Oktoberfest Zinzinnati and want to offer your thumbs up, voting is still on for the nation’s best Oktoberfest in USA Today’s 10Best Readers' Choice travel award contest. You can vote once a day through Monday, Sept. 28, at 11:59 a.m.
Oktoberfest Zinzinnati 2016 is set for September 16-18.