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The largest beer festival in the Netherlands takes place in Amsterdam every autumn and celebrates the release of bok beer, a dark seasonal lager. This year marks the 36th annual Bokbier Festival on October 25-27 at the Beurs van Berlage building in central Amsterdam – the world’s first stock exchange.
Even if you’re a loyal Oktoberfest patron, here are five reasons to consider heading to Holland for an “off the beaten beer path” experience:
1. There’s more (room for) variety.
Face it, a day at Oktoberfest does not mean “tent hopping” from one brewery to the next. It means finding one spot and staying put, which also means drinking the same beer, liter after liter.
That can be a great thing at Oktoberfest, but beer lovers after a mixed mug will appreciate the market style setup at the Bokbier Festival in Amsterdam. The open layout is lined corner to corner with almost 100 small bok beer stands to sample from.
Visitors have surprisingly ample elbowroom to float around from tap to tap. The beers are brought from small and large breweries across the Netherlands, with a considerable cluster from Belgium and a handful of German bok beer classics.
2. It’s (almost) self serve.
Like most beer festivals in the US, the Bokbier Festival has a “bar service style” where patrons approach different stands to be served. There’s no waiting for traditionally dressed barmaids (which can be a disappointment for some); simply find your next appealing bok tap and show your glass to the brewer behind the bar for a refill.
3. BYO grub.
Food here is not amazing, but guests are free to bring in food from outside. Anything goes, from take out boxes to grocery bags full of snacks. Even high tables are available for a sizable spread. Some common Dutch beer snacks include cubes of fresh Gouda cheese with mustard, small smoked sausages, and spicy borrelnootjes peanuts with a thin cracker shell.
4. It’s cheaper than Oktoberfest, sort of.
Oktoberfest beers are hitting the €10 mark per stein. While the number of beers consumed varies from person to person, calculate in the food, candy and carnival rides: It’s easy to drop €50 on a day at Oktoberfest without even trying.
Amsterdam’s Bokbier Festival charges between €10 and €15 for a one-time entry fee that’s good for the three-day period. This includes a sampler glass, which you can take home, and counts as your re-entry ticket.
Sampling the beer is on a token-based pay structure. One token is usually €2, and a six-ounce sample costs one token. One Oktoberfest liter stein equals to about five of these samples, so the price of beer is about the same. The savings is more apparent when you consider all the little extras (or lack thereof). At the Bokbier Festival it’s strictly about the beer.
5. It’s way, way smaller, but still traditional.
Although Amsterdam’s Bokbier Festival is the largest of its kind in the world, it pulls in about 10,000 visitors for its weekend soiree at the downtown venue. In contrast, Oktoberfest welcomes over 4 million in a span of two weeks (with over a dozen tents holding thousands of seats).
Still, the Bokbier Festival has its traditional Dutch drinking music, old beer chants, and farmers dressed in overalls instead of lederhosen. You’ll catch locals wearing authentic wooden clogs, and some women wearing dirndl-like dresses. And above all, the friendly spirit of beer enthusiasm flows freely throughout the weekend, just like a good beer fest should.