Choose Your Own Bockfest Adventure with This Guide to Over-the-Rhine's Annual Debaucherous German Beer Fest

The three days of protracted celebration are held to honor the coming of spring, bock beer and OTR’s brewing heritage. And the festivities kick off at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28 with the annual parade

Feb 25, 2020 at 12:06 pm
click to enlarge Bockfest - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow

If you’re unfamiliar with Cincinnati’s weirdest festival (and that's saying something for a city that hosts the world's largest chicken dance and has a weekend-long festival devoted entirely to goetta), you may be confused when the streets of downtown and Over-the-Rhine are overtaken by roaming goats, kegs on floats and a bunch of dudes and ladies dressed in lederhosen and dirndls for the 28th-annual Bockfest.

The three days of protracted celebration are held to honor the coming of spring, bock beer and OTR’s brewing heritage. And the festivities kick off at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28 when the annual parade, led by a goat pulling a keg of beer and the reigning Sausage Queen, steps off from Arnold’s Bar & Grill on E. Eighth Street downtown and winds its way to the Christian Moerlein Malt House Taproom (aka Bockfest Hall), where a ceremonial blessing of a keg launches a weekend of drinking.

So, first thing to know: What is bock beer?

Bock beer is generally stronger than your typical lager, with a robust malt character and a dark amber hue with little to no hops. It was invented by German brewers in the 14th century in the town of Einbeck, and then adopted by Bavarian monks and other brewers in Munich who couldn’t pronounce the name. They called it “bock” instead of “beck” and the name stuck. It’s apparently hilarious in German because “bock” also means “billy goat.” Hence the goats and monks and other assorted German accouterments on display during Bockfest.

For the festivities, plenty of local breweries have made their own bock beers — there are 24 brews from 20 local breweries, including Christian Moerlein's Emancipator Dopplebock, Sonder's William Goat Bock Bier, Taft's Billy Goat Bock, Paradise's Billy Baroo Dopplebock, Rhinegeist's Bock Bock Goat and more. Expect to find plenty of these tapped at local participating venues. There are 26 of them throughout downtown, OTR and Pendleton listed on the Bockfest website that have their own Bockfest-related schedules — they also happen to be on a free and friendly Bockfest Shuttle route. 

Here’s what you can expect each day at Bockfest Hall inside Christian Moerlein Brewing Co.’s taproom and event space, which has been transformed into a German festival spot with tons of beer vendors, a gigantic outdoor tent, food (from The Lubecker, Servatii, Good Guyz Food Truck, House of Brisket, Mikey's Late Night Slice), live music and more. With free admission all weekend long. 

click to enlarge Bockfest Parade - Photo: Steven Hampton // OTR Brewery District
Photo: Steven Hampton // OTR Brewery District
Bockfest Parade

FRIDAY, Feb. 28 5 p.m.-1 a.m.

  • 5 p.m.: The night starts with food and beer tappings.
  • 6 p.m.: The annual Bockfest parade steps off from Arnold's Bar & Grill at 6 p.m. featuring the reigning Sausage Queen, Beard Baron and a goat-pulled keg of beer — plus plenty of creative and bizarre costumes and floats.
  • 7:30 p.m. An official tapping and blessing of bock beer happens roughly around 7:30 p.m., with bonus parade awards, in Bockfest Hall (aka the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. taproom and event center at 1621 Moore St.).
  • Live music from the Zinzinnati Bierband, Naked Karate Girls, Gee Your Band Smells Terrific and Whiskey Daze continues through the night. 
Sausage Queen competition - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Sausage Queen competition

SATURDAY, Feb. 29 10 a.m.-1 a.m.

  • 10 a.m.-1 a.m.: Bockfest Hall will be open all day for drinking, dining and dancing. Bands playing today include Just Add Beer, Kyle Knapp, Lagniappe and DJ Drowsy. Music continues in the evening with the Rusty Griswolds, Cold Tuna and Amy & The Arrangements.
  • 10 a.m.: Hungover? Run it off at the Bockfest 5K as you meander past historic brewery sites and finish with a cold one at Bockfest Hall.
  • Noon: Historic brewery tours and heritage talks begin. The tours are ticketed, including Dr. Morgan's Hangover Relief Tour. Get tickets and times here.
  • Noon-5 p.m.: The BockFest Pig Roast will be spread out in Bockfest Hall, featuring roasted pork, slow-cooked green beans, Bavarian sweet and sour coleslaw and more. ($30 pre-sale only; includes dinner and a beer.)
  • Noon-6 p.m.: The Bock Beer Games pit brewery again brewery for the Brewer's Cup from 1-3 p.m. before games open to the public. Feats of strength and tact include beer keg rolling, stein holding and dizzy bat hammer schlagen.
  • Noon-6 p.m.: Also taking place noon-6 p.m. is the Bock Beer Experience, a ticketed ($30) tasting where you can get 4 ounce samples of every bock beer on draft at the festival and a souvenir Bockfest pint glass.
  • 7:30 p.m.: Beard Baron finals. This contest occurs in conjunction with the Sausage Queen competition. If you have facial hair, you can enter in one of these categories, which will be scored. Categories include full beards under 5 inches, from 5-inches to 10-inches and up, plus mustache, partial beard, ladies fake creative beard and freestyle. The overall winner gets to accompany the Sausage Queen during next year’s Bockfest Parade.
  • 9 p.m.: Sausage Queen finals. The Little Kings Bockfest Sausage Queen is one of the most highly regarded positions of the festival — a gender-neutral royal who reigns over Cincinnati and the festival until the next year's crowning. The queen will lead the 2019 Bockfest Parade, carrying a symbolic tray of bockwurst. The competition finals take place Saturday and entrants are judged on personality, presence and talent — which means there will be a whole bunch of weird displays of sausage eating. 
  • click to enlarge Bockfest Hall - Photo: Steven Hampton // OTR Brewery District
    Photo: Steven Hampton // OTR Brewery District
    Bockfest Hall

SUNDAY, March 1 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

  • 11 a.m.: Continental Sunday. This family-friendly all-day extravaganza is a throwback to the Cincinnati of the 1800s, with authentic entertainment from German-American societies, German food and beer specials and a breweriana exhibit.
  • 11 a.m.: The Bock Bloody Mary Bar is back, featuring Grandma Debbie’s homemade mix and a ton of garnishes.
  • 11 a.m.: The goat theme continues with a special ticketed goat yoga hosted by Good Green Earth Farm. Tickets ($30) include a beer and one hour of guided yoga, accompanied by hooved farmyard animals.
  • Noon: Bockfest turns into BockFeast on Sunday afternoon with the continuation of this special German-inspired buffet dinner featuring a full roasted pig. ($30 pre-sale only; includes dinner and a beer.)
  • Noon: Little Links Pageant. This child’s Bockfest pageant invites kids to dress in their best “Welcome Spring” attire. Think German outfits, goat costumes, monks robes… Kids will be judged by a panel of local “celebrities.” Registration ends Feb. 28.
  • Noon-4 p.m.: Visit a petting zoo.
  • 3 p.m.: How are you still going after all this bocking? If you have anything left to give, take this teeny, tiny .05K fun run. Basically, you only need to make it 164 feet. Winners receive a T-shirt, bottle opener medal and beer and ticket sales ($30) go to benefit Bockfest.

Click here for a full list of events with times and prices, if applicable.