Tag Archives: Oktoberfest

Get your Dirndl on …it’s Oktober

Long before the seasonal onslaught of pumpkin beers marked the turning of the seasons, like 1810 long before, German beer lovers were celebrating Oktoberfest, a sixteen or seventeen day fair held in Munich that ends on the first Sunday of October.

While the origins of the fest had more to do with royal weddings and the celebratory trappings of Bavarian culture – food, music, dancing, parades, games, costumes etc. the modern incarnation is really best known, for better or worse, as a bit of a piss-up.

However, despite the presence of what is locally known as beer corpses (overtly drunk patrons) the beer in those extra big steins really does deserve some reverence.

Oktoberfest beers, true Oktoberfest beers that is,  are strong caramel forward creations, low on hops and high in sugar, that must conform to the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) and be brewed within the city limits of Munich. Presently, there are six breweries that meet the criteria to produce traditional Oktoberfest beers.


Oktoberfest Beers photo from Sanfa Media

Oktoberfest Beers photo from Sanfa Media

Like many traditions, as the popularity of Oktoberfest broadly, and Oktoberfest beer specifically, went global the essence of the beer style evolved. In Tasting Beer, Mosher suggests there has been a general trend towards producing drier and paler versions of Oktoberfest beers.  As Oktoberfest beer changed Marzen beers came to stand-in for the traditional and Oktoberfest the modern interpretation.

Nonetheless when you grow weary of pumpkin pie spices try a beer that is and always has come to typify the fall season.

According to Rate Beer the top ten Oktoberfest/Marzen beers are:

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen

Free State Octoberfest

Surly SurlyFest

Grassroots Song of Spring Ale

Dark Horse Octoberfest

Heater Allen Bobtoberfest

Les Trois Mousquetaires Oktoberfest

Calumet Oktoberfest

What the Heck is Marzen and Why you Need to Try It


Motivated by the excellent eisbock limited release, Hermannator, from Vancouver Island Brewery, I recently picked up another seasonal from VIB the Harvest Plow Marzen to see how it stacks up.


Harvest Plow pours a deep amber gold colour with just a little bit of white head that quickly dissipates. The beer has great clarity. On the nose I get lots of malt and this continues in the flavour. There is a nice amount of bitterness to balance out this beer, almost ESB like in style, and it is very clean drinking. Body wise it is a pretty light beer, which really enhances the drinkability. I like a subtle beer. The finish has just a touch of sweetness and is rather dry. Harvest Plow is just one of those great go-to beers when you want something borderline sessional. This beer is kind of like autumn in a bottle – pretty colour, a little sweet, a little bitter, just the right amount of strength and overall very pleasant.



So what the heck is Märzen Beer anyway?

According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, it was common practice to brew strong beers at the end of the brewing season (March = Märzen) for consumption in the fall. This allowed the brewer to use up any remaining hops and malts before the summer season. Oktoberfest, Marzen and Vienna-style beers form a similar family of beers, which likely originated in Germany and Austria prior to the 1800’s. Oktoberfest beer is the strongest of the three and Vienna uses paler malt than the Munich malt used in the October and March beers. Märzen beer ranges in colour from pale gold to dark amber, is a medium bodied lager with caramel malty flavour, little to no hops and a dry finish.


Basic German for Beer Geeks

Do you know your dunkels from you bocks? Do you want your Schwarzbier served kellerbier style? When should I start my Oktoberfest brewing? Do you want a lemon wedge with your weissbier? If you are not entirely sure what on earth I am on about please take time to enjoy this post is entirely devoted to some of the classic German beer styles and terminologies.

Beer Terminology

Kellerbier: The German equivalent of real ale. Kellerbiers are unfiltered version of house beers that are served fresh and cloudy. Tend to be more full-bodied than their filtered counterparts.

Beer Styles

Munich Dunkel: A descendant of the red beer, this is the first lager style and it may date back to the 16th century. Complex malts balanced with a very subtle hop presence and bitter roastiness. Dunkel means dark.

Maibock or Heller Bock: Originated in Einbeck, which is located in Southern Germany. There are descriptions of bock beer dating back to 1613 as found in The Herbal Book of Johannes Theodorus. By the 18th century the style was widespread in Southern Germany. Bock beer is characterized as rich and malty with a mild bitter finish.

Dark (Dunkel) Bock: A secondary form of bock beer that was popularized more recently by American brewers and homebrewers. The dark bock is also heavy on the malts but adds a roasted element for increased bitterness and a cocoa (or coffee) like finish.

Eisbock: A bock brewed using a process similar to the creation of ice wine. Eisbocks have high alcohol content and are characterized by rich malts and fruitiness. Eis translates to ice.

Doppelbock: First created in 1629 by monastic brewers in Munich. The Doppelbock is rich with caramel malts, very little hop and a slight roastiness on the finish. Doppel is double.

German Schwarzbier: Germany’s darkest beer brewed with a technique called ‘satz’ mashing, which soaks the mash in cold water and then boils hops in the thin mash. Full on roastiness with lots of malt and scant hop bitterness. Schwarz means black.

German Pilsner: Originated in Northen Germany and based on the popular Czech pilsner. The German Pilsner is crisp, malty and balanced with herbal hops. The Munich version of the Czech pilsner is known as Munchener Helles.

Dortmunder Export: A pale lager designed for export and brewed in Dortmund, Germany. This beer marks the shift towards industrialized brewing. Dortmunder is well-balanced, clean with mild hoppiness and caramel malts.

Oktoberfest: This term only applies to certain beers made in Munich proper. Generally this style of ale is brewed in March (Marzen). Flavour is marked by caramel malts, little to no hops and hints of toastiness. This style has been evolving to become paler and drier.

Dusseldorfer Altbier: Descends from a well-established tradition of brown top-fermented beers. Altbier is characterized by toffee malts, lots of herbal hops and a dry bitter finish. Alt translates to old.

Weissbier/Hefeweizen: A regional speciality of Bavaria in the 16th century. Brewed from wheat, the weissbier is creamy, highly carbonated, cloudy and fruity/spicy on the nose. Weiss means white, hefe is yeast and weizen translates to wheat. Variations include the Bavarian Dunkel Weizen, Weizenbock and Berliner Weiss.

Roggenbier: German beer brewed with rye that originated in Regensburg, Bavaria. This beer is grainy with a spicy rye flavour, moderate bitterness and even tartness. Roggen is rye.

Kolsch: Brewed exclusively in Cologne (Koln) following particular guidelines (North America appears to be exempt from this strict set of conditions). Kolsch beers are crisp and clean with fresh malt, fruit notes and subtle hop.

*Thanks to Randy Mosher’s (2009) Tasting Beer and the BJCP Style Guidelines (2008) for historical information and tasting notes.

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