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Prost! Here’s to Märzen/Oktoberfestbiers

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Munich’s Oktoberfest has been over for a week and a half, but that doesn’t stop us American beer lovers from enjoying a good Märzen—also called oktoberfestbier—throughout the month of October. Traditionally, these beers were brewed in late winter to early spring, which is why the style is named for the month of March. Back in the day, German beers tended to come out pretty funky in the summer—it’s not like they knew a great deal about sanitation, and yeast hadn’t even been ‘discovered’ yet—so brewers did most of their work in the cooler months. Come fall, it was time to finish off the last batch so they could fill the barrels with new beer. This led, naturally enough, to some beer-drinking revelry around early autumn.

While your modern Märzen may not be aged for six months like its predecessors, it should still be at least a month old, according to the German Beer Institute. A good Märzenbier should be amber in color, with a rich malty flavor and plenty of body. It should also be fairly hoppy, at least for a German beer. Every fall, lots of American breweries come out with variations on the style—some good, some not-so-good. Since we couldn’t get to Munich, we rounded up a few examples and had a rather pleasant afternoon.

Widmer Okto:

It’s not exactly true to the Märzen/Oktoberfest style, but it’s a good beer. Widmer weren’t trying for perfect style accuracy here, so that’s all good. This libation tastes like a Vienna lager with a delicate, swet/dry balance; slightly more on the sweet side. There’s a hint of peppery pilsner flavor, and a faint aroma of noble hops.

Shiner Oktoberfest:

This one has the characteristic Shiner flavor. I tasted a hint of Vienna and Munich malts, which is indicative of a Märzen. It also has the dry mineral finish that is classic Shiner.

Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen:

This one is lighter in color than the preceding two, but still falls within the amber range. It smells and tastes strongly of German Pilsner malt; not so much Munich malt. I couldn’t quite pinpoint the yeast flavor. Something German, of course, but I couldn’t quite guess which one they might have used. Probably the founder’s great-grandpappy’s yeast culture from 1723, or some such. Anyway, the beer dried out exceptionally well, but still retains a hit of sweet.

Ben described it as an autumn-colored beer with a taste of freshly-cracked Pilsner malt, and a kiss of noble hops on the back of the tongue. It has a wonderful single grain flour taste. All around, it’s outstanding.

Harpoon Octoberfest:

It’s hoppier than the previous four, and nearly ruby in color. Flavor-wise, it’s almost like a Märzen pale ale. No, I’m pretty sure that’s not a style, but if it were, Harpoon would have nailed it. This beer has plenty of the expected malt character, but plenty of hops, too.

Thirsty Dog Barktoberfest:

Decent beer—the first I’ve tried from Thirsty Dog. It smells and tastes like Munich malt. The flavor is dry up front, with a sweet after-taste. I got hungry about the time we got into this one, so I tried it with some fresh-baked banana bread. The sweet bread brought out a roastier character in the beer. It was a tasty pairing.

Victory Festbier:

This one has a whiff of hops in the nose. The characteristic Munich malt flavor is well balanced with a bit of hops. Victory’s offering is a good American example of a Märzen. It has the strongest yeast flavor and bite of the lineup. I like it.

Oktoberfest sampler

We did pretty well with our selection. There wasn’t one that I didn’t like, or couldn’t recommend. Yes, Paulaner’s entry is unfairly long compared to the others, but what do you expect from an excellent German brewery? The American versions we tried were all good, but it’s hard to beat the masters at their craft, you know? By the way, in case you were wondering why I skipped Spaten, it’s because we’ve had their Märzen plenty of times before. It was the first genuine German beer I tried, and the Spaten Märzen remains a favorite of mine.


German Beer Institute: Okotberfestbier

Dornbusch, Horst. “Bavaria’s “Extreme” Lagers.” Zymurgy, Vol. 32, No. 6. November/December 2009.

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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

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