Oktoberfest is both a beer and an event (how many beer styles can boast THAT?!?). You’ll hear this beer referred to by a variety of names, such as Märzen, Oktoberfestbier or just Festbier, and even Wiener Märzen (um, thanks, I think I’ll stick with the first 3).
It should pour with a healthy, off-white head over a clear (not cloudy) body ranging in color from golden (helles), to amber or even dark brown (dunkle), with aromas and flavors tending toward sweet, lightly-toasted malt, with some bread/biscuit qualities, and a clean hop bitterness in the background. It should have a smooth, creamy texture with a moderate amount of carbonation – all combining to make this a very drinkable beer… good for all day beer fests under large tents, or in beer halls with a few thousand of your newest friends.
Below is a representation of what you can expect for each of the 5 profile characteristics – within a 1-5 rating scale:
Which takes us to the event – this year’s Oktoberfest celebration in Munich takes place September 17th through October 3rd and marks the 201st Anniversary of the original Oktoberfest celebration (more on that below). It’s the largest fair in the world, with a reported 6 million visitors each year. There are 14 primary beer tents, each with a slightly different attraction. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Fair without parades, traditional costumes (everybody loves GOOD DIRNDL! ), rides for the kiddies (and adults acting like kiddies), music concerts, and plenty of classic German dancing.
Brief History Lesson
Munich’s Oktoberfest began as a week-long wedding celebration for the Bavarian crown prince Ludwig to princess Therese from Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. By the mid-1800s, it was a recognized annual event … stopped only during times of war and other major conflict. Today, the Munich Oktoberfest takes place every Fall during the 16 days up to and including the first Sunday in October – primarily to enjoy all the outdoor activities before it gets too cold – but is celebrated worldwide (in various levels of authenticity) throughout the months of September and October.
But back to the beer…
Here’s a nice formal description for the Oktoberfest/Märzen style from the most recent Guidelines published by the Beer Judge Certification Program:
Aroma: Rich German malt aroma (of Vienna and/or Munich malt). A light to moderate toasted malt aroma is often present. Clean lager aroma with no fruity esters or diacetyl. No hop aroma. Caramel aroma is inappropriate.
Appearance: Dark gold to deep orange-red color. Bright clarity, with solid, off-white, foam stand.
Flavor: Initial malty sweetness, but finish is moderately dry. Distinctive and complex maltiness often includes a toasted aspect. Hop bitterness is moderate, and noble hop flavor is low to none. Balance is toward malt, though the finish is not sweet. Noticeable caramel or roasted flavors are inappropriate. Clean lager character with no diacetyl or fruity esters.
Mouthfeel: Medium body, with a creamy texture and medium carbonation. Smooth. Fully fermented, without a cloying finish.
Overall Impression: Smooth, clean, and rather rich, with a depth of malt character. This is one of the classic malty styles, with a maltiness that is often described as soft, complex, and elegant but never cloying.
When in doubt, follow the traditional hearty Bavarian fare such as Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Haxn (pork knuckle), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick – no, not a fish stick), Würstl (sausages) with Brezel (Pretzel), Knödeln (potato or bread dumplings), Kaasspotzn (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a fatty, spiced cheese-butter concoction) and Weisswurst (a white sausage)
Serving & Glassware
The Oktoberfest/ Märzen style is best served in the mid-to-high 40 degree range, but is just fine through the 50’s as well… as yours will often reach when knocking back a full Liter mug of the stuff. And while that big bruiser of a mug might be the most fun you can have in a glass, a regular pint glass or 0.5L mug will do just fine as well. Feel free to invest in a beautiful, handcrafted stein, too…
What to Buy:
There are about 40 varieties of Oktoberfests that you can find here in Southeastern PA, with the following 3 varieties being both well-rated, and pretty readily available across your better bottle shops and distributors in this area:
– Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, 5.8% ABV (Aying, Germany)
– Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen, 5.8% ABV (Munich, Germany)
– Great Lakes Oktoberfest, 6.5% ABV (Cleveland, OH)
Some “Think Globally, Drink Locally” suggestions around the Philly area would include: Sly Fox Oktoberfest (now in cans!), Victory Festbier, Stoudts Oktober Fest, Flying Fish OktoberFish, and Lancaster Oktoberfest.
For additional options, check out our Märzen / Oktoberfest page … And be sure to leave a Comment below to let us know about any fun Oktoberfest memories (or lack thereof) you’ve had!