Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer and folk festival, would have begun in Munich, Germany, this weekend, were it not for the pandemic. It’s the second year in a row that the official celebration was canceled. Ordinarily, it sees over 6 million visitors over its 16-day span. But even though you can’t celebrate in Munich this year, you can still enjoy Oktoberfest at home.
The festival originated in 1810 with the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig, the future king of Bavaria, to Princess Therese, culminating in a five-day celebration. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities, which included parades, feasts, and horse races. In subsequent years, the festival grew to include agricultural exhibits, games, carnival booths and, of course, beer.
There are two definitive styles of beer associated with Oktoberfest. The first, and more traditional style, is Märzen. Märzen is one of the original amber lagers, introduced by the Spaten Brewery in Munich in 1841. The name derives from the German word for “March,” as it was brewed in the month of March for lagering in cold caves throughout the heat of the summer (before refrigeration).
These stronger “March beers” were served in the fall, and eventually became the style of choice during the Oktoberfest celebration. In 1872 Spaten was the first brewery to call it Oktoberfestbier.
Märzen remained the standard festival beer until 1990, when a lighter, more drinkable version supplanted it in Germany.
Sometimes called Wiesn (German for “the meadow” which is the local name for the festival), American style guidelines often refer to the style as festbier.
It’s a lighter, golden-colored lager, developed by the Paulaner Brewery in the 1970s, which felt that the original amber style was too filling. From the ‘90s onward, this golden Wiesn or festbier is the main style of beer served at Munich’s Oktoberfest.
In America, Märzen is still synonymous with Oktoberfest beer, so much so that many of the German breweries brew the style to export to the U.S. specifically under this label.
The hallmark of the style is a malt-forward, rich and bready character, with a mild hop presence and a clean, dry finish. The malts are complex and luscious, but shouldn’t be sweet or cloying, nor should there be any caramel or roasted flavors to the beer.
Festbier also emphasizes the malty flavors but is lighter in color and body, with more emphasis on hops. You’ll get more bread dough character from the malts, similar to a Helles lager such as GoodLife Brewing Company’s year-round Bavarian Lager, with a bit more body and hop spicing.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier is the benchmark of this festbier style, befitting the brewery that developed it. It’s malt-forward and a richly aromatic brew, fragrant with cracker and biscuit, with puffed barley cereal and crusty bread. The flavor is rich and sweetly cereal-like, with a balancing hop bitterness to keep the malts in check. It’s clean and dry in the finish, with a super-drinkable quality will keep you sipping for more.
Locally, several breweries have versions of Märzen available as of this writing. Deschutes Brewery’s Bend pub is pouring Ludwig Von Crispy, a malty, toasty lager that is 6% alcohol by volume and 25 IBUs. In Sisters, Three Creeks Brewing Company offers Bier Bier, its take on the style, with 6.3% ABV and 25 IBUs.
Wild Ride Brewing Company debuted its Schnitts & Giggles Oktoberfest beer during Redmond’s R’Oktoberfest event last weekend. The bready, malty take on the Märzen style is 5.4% ABV with 20 IBUs. Finally, McMenamins is selling cans of its Oktoberfest Lager, brewed at the Edgefield Brewery in Troutdale, which is 5.68% ABV and 25 IBUs.
Sunriver Brewing Company tapped a fresh hop version of a festbier last week, Fresh Hop Holy Schmidt!, malty with a flourish of zesty floral notes from the fresh Liberty hops used. It’s 5.8% ABV with 25 IBUs.
Keep an eye out for other Oktoberfest-inspired beers as well — there’s plenty of time to celebrate as the official event would ordinarily run from Sept. 18 through Oct. 3. Of course, you can celebrate all month long with a selection of these and other festive brews.