One of the beauties of beer is that it can be made year-round. Unlike wine and cider, beer isn’t beholden to a harvest. But that doesn’t mean brewers are ignorant of such activities. Your local watering hole will often feature a brew or two to complement the season, even a holiday. And if you’re a dedicated drinker, then you know the fall/winter calendar by now: Fresh hop beers in September, gourd brews in October and November, and plenty of spiced winter warmers for December and January.
But few capture drinkers’ hearts quite like a classic Oktoberfest beer. Maybe it’s the impressive heft of a stein loaded with foamy, amber-hued liquid. Maybe it’s the delight of drinking under large blue- and white-checkered tents. Hell, maybe it’s the sight of men and women in lederhosen and dirndls. Whatever it is, Oktoberfest brings out autumnal drinkers in ways fresh hop IPAs and pumpkin ales never could.
A brief history of Oktoberfest
It was the marriage of future Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese on October 12, 1810 that laid the foundation for Oktoberfest. All of Munich was invited to celebrate the nuptials. Horses were run, and beer was drunk—this is Bavaria we’re talking about. The people loved it. So much so that the following year they decided to throw another party to commemorate the event. Oktoberfest was born. The annual event became a massive boost to the local economy, despite a few cancellations due to Napoleon, cholera, world wars, and COVID.
Per tradition, Oktoberfest kicks off at 10:45 a.m. on the third Saturday in September and lasts for roughly 17 days. Pre-pandemic, seven million people would trek to Munich to partake in the festivities. If you’re a dedicated beer drinker, it ought to be on your bucket list.
What’s in a name?
Those seven million might not be in Munich this year, but the beer you will always have with you. Though many labels sport the name “Oktoberfest,” you’ll also find plenty of breweries using its more stylistic moniker: Märzen (German for March, the month it’s traditionally brewed in). Consensus points to Gabriel Sedlmayer II as the inventor of Märzen in 1840. He and his buddy Anton Dreher picked up cutting-edge malt kilning methods from British brewers and brought them back to Eastern Europe to concoct two new beers, Märzen and Vienna Lager. Both alike in dignity and technique, Märzen utilizes Munich malts—which gives the drink a cookie-like quality—while Dreher’s Vienna Lager uses Vienna malts, which hew closer to a biscuity flavor. Both are medium body beers with low to medium bitterness and keep to the 5.5-6.3 percent alcohol by volume range.
What about the hops?
Malt is the main characteristic of Märzen, but American brewers love their hops. If you’re heading out to the liquor store to pick up a few bottles, definitely drop a couple of classics in the basket—Spaten for sure, Paulaner if you’re feeling fancy—for comparison’s sake. Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen uses Herkules and Hallertau Mittelfrüh (the traditional German hop), while Spaten uses Hallertau and Tettnanger. Both beers go spectacularly well with roast chicken, grilled sausage, and freshly baked pretzels dunked in sweet and spicy mustard.
Filling out your six-pack
The menu is set, and Spaten and Paulaner are in the basket. There are dozens more Oktoberfests and Märzens to choose from. You could grab another from Germany (Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen), a national staple (Samuel Adams OctoberFest), maybe even an Oktoberfest-inspired ale (Crystal Springs’ Oktoberfest). That one you got to try: The nose is nutty toast with a bit of bright lemony hops. The flavor has a bit more citrus, a touch of tea, and some sweet malt. Pick one up at all your better liquor stores. And while you’re there, here are three more Boulder County brews to round out your Oktoberfest experience.
Left Hand Brewing’s Oktoberfest—Brewed with Munich malts and CTZ and Mt. Hood hops, Left Hand’s Oktoberfest pours a beautiful clear honey gold, has a clean nose, and delivers strong flavors of biscuit and caramel. It’s a well balanced fall slugger.
Wibby Brewing’s Wibtoberfest—Wibby’s Oktoberfest produces a darker amber color, a full head of foam, and strong lacing down the glass. An indication that Wibby’s take leans heavier on the hop components, which deliver in the nose (fresh and floral) and in the mouth. But don’t worry, Wibtoberfest still has roasted malts to spare.
Avery Brewing’s The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest Lager—Most Oktoberfests are brewed for sessionability. Avery says nuts to that; all you need is one. Clocking in at 8 percent ABV, The Kaiser is a bold and beasty brew featuring sweet caramel, toast, and hop spiciness.