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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Frank About... Oktoberfest Beers!

What is Oktoberfest beer?

Well, with the official Oktoberfest in Munich kicking off in just a couple of days, I thought it would be a great time to discuss Oktoberfest beers!

Oktoberfest, Märzen, Märzenbier, Wiener Märzen, Festbier, and Oktoberfestbier are all terms that refer to an iconic style of beer that makes its appearance around autumn and the harvest time of year.

A typically medium- to full-bodied lager, Märzen is known for its malty flavor, lighter hopping, and dry, clean finish. Although the original Märzens were known to be dark, appearance can vary in color from pale (Helles Märzen) through amber to dark brown (Dunkles Märzen), in Germany. In the Czech Republic, brewers produce pale, amber, and dark beers in the Märzen style. And there are variations in flavor; the North American version normally exhibits a stronger hop aroma and bitterness balance, while the Austrian style closely resembles the Helles in color, body, and flavor balance, and is the most popular beer style in Austria.

Märzen originated in Bavaria, probably before the 16th century. A Bavarian Brauordnung (brewing ordinance) decreed in 1539 that beer may be brewed only between the days of Saint Michael (September 29) and Saint George (April 23). The reason for this requirement was the increased danger of fire during the warm and dry summer months.

Over the summer months, beer had to be stored in a Lager (storage), in caves or stone cellars, sometimes built into the sides of mountains or hills. These locales were frequently selected because there was a pond nearby. During the winter, when the pond had froze, blocks of ice would be cut and put into the cave or cellar. This was usually possible until around the month of March, when the beer was brewed to be stored there for months to come. The entrance to the cellar or cave would also be shielded from sunlight by planting Horse-chestnut or Conker trees in front of it, which have large, shade-providing leaves.

As intended, the beer was often kept in the cellar until late in the summer, and the remaining beer was served at the Oktoberfest. In order to last such a duration of time, either the original gravity and alcohol were increased, or the hopping was strengthened.

The term “Oktoberfest Beer” is an official designation, and is trademarked by the Club of Munich Brewers. In order for a beer to be officially named an Oktoberfest beer, and to be served at Munich’s annual Oktoberfest, it has to meet some standardized brewing criteria. The beer must adhere to the German Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot, mandating that beer can only be brewed with water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. The beer must average a minimum of 6% alcohol by volume (ABV). Also, and maybe more importantly, the beer must be brewed within the city limits of Munich. There are only six breweries that meet these criteria, and can have their beer be designated as official Oktoberfest beer: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Spaten, and Staatliches Hofbrau-Munchen.

It’s that time of year, so head to your local liquor store that carries a vast selection of beer, check the “Seasonals” shelves, and find a few gems to take home and sample. Maybe you could even have a little Oktoberfest of your own, and have some friends over to enjoy a few German dishes, and pair your fermented finds with the food!


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