WINTERVILLE — Beer lovers raised a glass to the German-based tradition of Oktoberfest as the town’s two breweries — Local Oak Brewing Co. and Nauti Dog Brewing Co. — joined forces to host a local version of the event.
Located within walking distance of each other, the owners of Nauti Dog and Local Oak had been planning a joint celebration of Oktoberfest for months. Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to proceed with the event last weekend.
“When we opened up, we already said Oktoberfest would be our chance to have a party and show off,” said Nauti Dog owner Chuck Smith. “COVID kind of put that on hold. We finally decided we can social distance outside. We both have great outdoor spaces.”
To help mitigate the risks associated with COVID, owners required temperature checks upon entry and provided hand sanitizer. Disposable cups also were used.
“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate the risk,” Smith said. “We want people to understand it’s not because we believe COVID isn’t real, but we believe there is a reason for people to come on out and have some fun.”
The event’s name is a bit misleading, Smith said. Oktoberfest has always begun in September. The annual celebration stems from a marriage ceremony held 200 years ago in Munich, Germany. The tradition has since crossed continents and oceans and is celebrated worldwide.
“It’s the oldest and best beer festival going on in Germany and it’s a chance for us to show off a couple of beers that are hard to make,” Smith said. “Traditional German beers are lager-style beers. They take longer to make and there is less room to hide an error. It’s an opportunity to play with something at a higher level.”
Local Oak owner Ben Self said, “We’re beer-centric people. This is the perfect celebration.”
Both Local Oak and Nauti Dog released a variety of newly handcrafted ales and a festival lager.
Beers were available on tap until the supply ran dry, Smith added.
Along with food trucks, the breweries also offered traditional Oktoberfest games at their locations during the day-long celebration.
At Local Oak, a string of contestants tested their arm strength during a stein-holding competition while at Nauti Dog, participants tested their dexterity in the Hammers-Schlagen.
“It’s a traditional German game where you have a 16 penny nail and you take turns trying to drive the nail flush into the wood,” Smith said.
A mug relay race, an Oktoberfest costume contest and pretzel necklace competition also were featured.
Participant Clay Vick of Fountain said this was the first Oktoberfest celebration he has attended.
“It’s a nice cool day. It makes you think of being in Germany. The beer is delicious,” Vick said.
Marla and Sunny Fields of Washington were happy to have a sense of normalcy return.
“I’m glad they started it especially with everything going on. It’s nice people are out and can gather,” Sunny Fields said.
Others were impressed with the celebration and happy to see such an event in Winterville.
“It’s awesome. This is a really cool for a little town to put something like this on,” said Shelby Smithwick of Washington.
Stephanie Conner of Ayden added, “It’s chill. You can relax a bit and not have to worry about being so close to everyone. It’s cool somewhere like this does this.”
Owners of each brewery were excited to see the response Oktoberfest received from the community and are hopeful for the festival’s future in Winterville.
“This feels awesome. It feels like the culmination of what we have been working on all year,” Self said. “If Oktoberfest is successful this year then maybe we will have it again next year.
“Maybe Winterville will turn it into a block party. Who knows?” he said.
Owners of the two breweries said they have a great relationship and want to make Winterville a better place.
“There is a spirit we talk about when we get together — it’s co-opetition,” Smith said. “The truth is a rising tide lifts all boats. The better he does and the better I do the better it is for Winterville and the better it is for the eastern North Carolina beer scene. As much as there is friendly competition there really is a strong desire to see us both succeed.”
Local Oak owner Amy Amacker added, “Both breweries wanted a Winterville celebration. Having two locations helps space people out. With both of our outdoor areas, people can still come and social distance and have a beer.
“We just want to promote Winterville in general. We are so close to each other,” Amacker said. “We want people to know they don’t have to Greenville to have a good time.”