We are coming into my favorite time of the beer calendar. The long, hot summer has ended, giving way to cool, crisp nights and with it a veritable parade of seasonal styles.
The first among them: Oktoberfest!
What Is Oktoberfest?
Well it’s a party. And a beer. And a beer you drink at a party. And a beer that is kinda associate with the party… listen, it’s a whole bunch of things. More than anything else it’s an excuse for the beer community to don some lederhosen and swill those nice, light drinkable German lagers until the curse of the bierleichen sets in.
But more than that its when a particular style of beer appears on tap lists all over the Craft Beer landscape.
Why is Oktoberfest in September?:
It’s… a whole thing.
Essentially the whole idea of a German party at the end of September came from the 1800’s when Crown Prince Soandsos married Princess Whoreallycarsabouzen.
Not their real names.
They were rich. They were powerful. So their subjects threw them a hell of a party when they got hitched. And the Germans, enjoying a party as much as anyone decided to do it again the next year only with more beer. And the next with even more beer.
But the Germans are also a very practical bunch. After a few years, the royal couple became irrelevant to the celebration at hand. They were, presumably, still married but they didn’t need to be to celebrate. So, even though they were married in mid October, organizers decided to move it a few weeks earlier into September when it was a little warmer and the days were longer.
And then, in 1994, the schedule was tweaked one more time so that the anniversary of the reunification of Germany, October 3rd, would always be included in Oktoberfest. Because what better way to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunion of a divided people than with an epic drinking party.
But they kept the name. And they added more beer just to make people forget.
So… What is Oktoberfest?:
Like I said. It’s a party. Specifically a Volksfest (think of it as a German county fair. Except for way more drinking. Well… public drinking anyway) held every year in Munich, Germany. There it is a celebration of all things German. Food, beer, culture, beer, music, beer, beer and let’s see… oh yeah, beer.
In fact beer is such an important feature that the Munich breweries took to producing a special lager for the occasion that was about 2% stronger than their usual offerings. It was a touch darker than their regular fare, rich malty and dangerously drinkable. The brew was traditionally brewed in March and cold-stored until the festival giving the special brew the name ‘Märzen’.
Festbier vs. Märzen:
Germans make everything complicated. This is a national trait that I don’t think any amount of beer will remedy.
So if you go to your local beer shop and pick up a few bottles of Oktoberfest produced by Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Spaten or other Munich brewery (because a proper Oktoberfest must be produced by a Munich brewery) and pour it into a glass you will probably notice that its a touch… lighter than one would expect. In fact, when compared to ‘Oktoberfest’ beers produced by your local brewery it might be downright… pale.
Well, over the past few years the beer rolled out for Oktoberfest has gotten progressively lighter. It’s still a touch on the strong side but it’s rich, caramel toasty sweetness has given way to some lighter honey, baked bread flavors. Nobody knows why, it’s just what happened
Because of this there is distinction among beer aficionados between ‘Festbeir’ ‘Oktoberfest Beir’ and Märzen. It breaks down like this:
Must be produced by a brewery in Munich specifically to be served at Oktoberfest.
Any beer produced by a brewery that is similar in style to an Oktoberfest.
This is the darker, amber colored beer you’re probably more familiar with.
There you have it. Now go forth and get some delicious German beer. I mean, I guess it’s available always, but if you need an excuse, there. You have it. Oktoberfest. Prost!