Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #5 – Oktoberfest

At the end of September, I was fortunate enough to visit the world’s oldest and biggest beer festival in Munich, Germany. It therefore makes perfect sense for this edition’s beer style to be the beer of the same name – Oktoberfest!

The Oktoberfest style name is interchangeable with that of Märzen, which means March. Beers of this ilk can also be known as Märzenbier, Wiener Märzen and Festbier, just to confuse matters!

It may seem strange that a style called March is associated with a beer festival that takes place for 16 days from late September to early October (it used to be held entirely in October, but was extended so that it started in September), but there is good reason.

The current beers at Oktoberfest are cold-fermented lagers, but prior to cold storage being developed in the 1800’s, March was the final month in which beer could be safely brewed in Bavaria, because of its typically hot summers. Indeed, the brewing of new beer was forbidden between 24 April and 28 September.

The Bavarians used to brew strong beers in March and store them in Alpine caves, ready for launching them at Oktoberfest. Brewers soon realised that the low temperatures in the caves produced a long, slow secondary fermentation in the cask, whilst maturation resulted in a lively, natural carbonation of the beer and the yeast settled to the bottom. This cold storage process became known as lagering, hence the modern day, generic term of lager beer.

The original Oktoberfest/Märzen beers were described as “dark brown, full-bodied, and bitter”, however, these days they are more likely to be pale in colour (Helles Märzen), rather than amber or dark brown (Dunkles Märzen). Conversely, many brewers in the USA brew beers that are more accurate representations of the traditional style.

Examples of Oktoberfest beers I sampled in Munich (by way of the ubiquitous steins!) were Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier (6.1%) and Augustinerbräu Oktoberfestbier (6.0%) – certainly not for the faint hearted when served by the litre! Examples from the other four of the big six Bavarian breweries are Hacker Pschorr Original Oktoberfest (5.8%), Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier (6.3%), Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier (6.0%) and Spaten Oktoberfestbier (5.9%).

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