Everything slows down a bit as Summer draws to a close. The mornings get cooler, the days become shorter, and the trees shed their leaves in vivid colors. Fall is great, but it also means the cold winter months are headed our way. On the bright side, we have Fall seasonal beers everywhere and Oktoberfest season has started. Almost every craft brewery, from the neighborhood one-barrel brewpub to the regional powerhouse, has a unique offering this time of year. Harvest Ales, Brown Ales, Dunkleweizen, Oktoberfest, and of course Pumpkin Ales are on every seasonal craft beer list and rotating tap handle available. There’s quite a variety when it comes to Fall beer options, but the truly first Fall beer was the Märzen. So we are going to dedicate this list of Fall seasonals to the Oktoberfest/Märzen category.
Over four hundred years ago, Bavaria (a southern region of Germany) had already built a reputation for being damn good brewers. With this, came governmental decrees to keep the integrity of their beer pure and tasty, and their reputation for higher-quality beers, in good standing with the rest of Europe (also due to religious reasons and pricing control). Most craft beer enthusiasts know about the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law that defines the ingredients allowed to be used in brewing beer, which has been on the books in Bavaria for exactly 500 years. Another, less discussed, law was written in the 16th century that controlled when beer was allowed to be brewed in Bavaria. That law then led to the development of the Märzen beer.
In Bavaria, beer was not allowed to be brewed in the hotter summer months between late April and early September. So some of the last beers were brewed in March (or in German, Marz, hence the name). Some of these beers were then stored and allowed to ferment over the summer months until it could be consumed in late summer or early fall. The original Märzenbier lager of this time period was probably much darker and higher in gravity than it’s modern counterpart. Today, in America, when most people think of an Oktoberfest beer, they imagine malty sweetness and bready tastes, with amber and copper coloring; this is (by modern style guides) a Märzen. Either way, the modern Märzen style has become synonymous with the change of summer to fall in the beer world. This is in no small part due to a wedding that occurred just over 200 hundred years ago.
You may have already heard this story over the weekend, but in case you imbibed a little heavy and don’t remember exactly what your drinking buddy was talking about, here is a quick refresher. King Ludwig I of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810, in Munich. There was a five-day festival to honor the newly-wed couple that included, among many other things, beer. Much of the beer that was consumed at the event was the locally brewed Märzenbier. This event was transformed into a public holiday known as Oktoberfest, and slowly grew in duration and attendance. The dark-hued Märzenbier style was traditionally served as the official Oktoberfestbier until 1872 when the Sedlmayr family (a well-known local family of brewers) premiered a lighter version inspired by amber malts. This amber colored beer became the traditional Oktoberfestbier until the mid-1990s, and it is still the style most associated with American Oktoberfest beers. Since the 1990s, more sessionable pale German lagers of the Festbier style are the beers traditionally served at Oktoberfest in Munich.
So, this Fall, when you’re picking out a seasonal brew from the draft wall or trying to decide on which six-pack to buy for the “Oktoberfest Party” remember the style that started it all was the Märzen — with a little help from a probably over-priced wedding.
With that in mind, be on the lookout for a local Märzen or try and find one of the brews below.
The Abita Oktoberfest is a German style lager. It is a copper hued full bodied beer that uses Hallartau (Noble German hop) hops in the boil and dry hopping, imparting spicy notes.
This German style lager has forward malt flavors, and pours a clean amber color. Described by Duck-Rabbit as subtle and beguiling, slightly toasted flavors. Pairs well with goat cheese and cold cut hams.
Just check out the reviews online to see why this beer scored so high on Beer Advocate. This lager was inspired by traditional German Oktoberfest beers. Described as toasty and smooth, and the perfect addition to grilled meats and fall activities.
A rapid growing brewery out of Tampa, Cigar City gives a nod to the Festbeer style with this fall seasonal offering. Festbeers are known for having moderate malty & bready tastes with hints of sweetness, and deep yellow in color with medium body. This beer is similarly self-described.
Made by the 1st licensed microbrewery in Colorado, this beer is a traditional Oktoberfest with a bite at 9% ABV. If you are a fan of strong beers and Oktoberfest, then you’ve probably found your brew for the season. It’s brewed with Vienna and Munich Malts and hopped with Hallertau and Czech Saaz, giving it a full body and earthy hop aromas.
Always innovating, every year Sierra Nevada does a collaboration brew for their Oktoberfest release. This year they are collaborating with Bamberg, Germany’s Mahrs Bräu. It’s apparently traditional to the classic festival brew.
This traditional Bavarian-Style Märzenbier I saved for last because, like the beers drank at the original Oktoberfest in 1810, it was brewed in March and slowly fermented over the summer months. It’s a full bodied brew with malty flavors that was lightly hopped with Spatz, Hallertau, and Saaz. Find it if you can.
Sources: Beeradvocate.com, BJCP Style Guidelines, ratebeer.com, hookerbeer.com, cigarcitybrewing.com, ramsteinbeer.com, duckrabbitbrewery.com, abita.com, sierranevada.com, boulderbeer.com, www.muenchen.de/int/en/events/oktoberfest/history.html