We are on the doorstep of the opening of one of the world’s greatest annual events. No, we’re not talking about the semi-annual Lindsay Lohan court appearance; we’re talking about Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest is an event worthy of your attendance and one that you would likely feel the urge to return (as opposed to Mardi Gras, Carnival in Brazil and your last family reunion). The event takes place 15 days before the first Sunday in October and the festival lasts for two weeks. The very first Oktoberfest was commenced to commemorate the marriage of then Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen (say that three times fast) in 1810. Oktoberfest is prized for it jovial atmosphere, live music, magnificent food, and the great Oktoberfest beers.
Oktoberfest beers are part of a beer family that is distinguished beyond its appealing flavors in having the longest and most confusing style name in the world of beer. Vienna/Märzen/Oktoberfest is the moniker that you will find these brews living under. Vienna denotes the city in which this style originated in the mid 1800s. However, Vienna as a brewing town hardly produces beers like this anymore. Instead they have surrendered the style to their neighbors to the north Germany. Märzen is simply German for March the last month that beer could historically be brewed due to the lack of refrigeration and the coming warm spring days. These March beers were nestled away in cool caves and lagered (aged) until September and October. The first German — primarily Bavarian — versions likely displayed both Märzen and Oktoberfest. Today brands typically opt for one or the other, while I have seen hybrid Fest-Märzen labels.
Fest beers are lagers ranging in color from deep gold to deep bronze and should display brilliant clarity. They impart a rich, while not at all cloying, malty sweetness and a mild spice note derived from toasty malt, as the hop impression of this style is quite subtle. They are the perfect accompaniment to most all of the Oktoberfest favorites such as roasted chicken, sausage, pork stews, and roast oxtail. Fest beers possess more strength than your typical Pilsner but go down just as easy so leave the car keys at home.
Today Oktoberfest-style beers can be found year round under the Märzen tag. Still, many brewers decide on the seasonal approach and these beers can be seen trickling on to our store shelves about now and predictably remain through the remainder of the year. The style is enjoying a bit of a revival being produced in dozens of U.S. breweries and often with great success. American consumers are flush with a healthy choice of Fest beers both domestic and imported. Considering that most are seasonal offerings the bottles you find on the shelves of your favorite mart or tavern are reliably fresh. Be sure to sample a range of these gems while the season remains, you’ll be glad that you did (lederhosen optional).