Tag Archives: Oktoberfestbier

Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager

As the leaves in the beer gardens begin to don their autumnal attire and the evenings hint of the harvest, my beer preferences turn to the kinds of beers whose colour reflects my surroundings. These gold, amber, and russet beers of autumn also have just enough added alcoholic warmth to stave off the evening chill –– the perfect transit point between the lighter beers of summer and the heftier beers of winter.img_0609

In Germany, autumn means amber Märzen and the deep gold Festbier served at Munich’s Oktoberfest. In North America, when it’s not a question of the ubiquitous love-it-or-loathe-it pumpkin beers, autumn beers conjure up images of pretzels, beer steins, lederhosen, bratwurst, beer tents, and oompah bands.

Back to the title for a moment: Aren’t Märzen and Oktoberfest beer the same thing? No. And yes. The difference between a Märzen and an Oktoberfest beer depends on where you are and when. Anyone familiar with the development of porter, stout, or IPA won’t be surprised to learn that Märzen and Oktoberfest beer, too, have undergone shifts not only in taste but in meaning over the decades.

The beer served on Munich’s Theresienwiese was, at one point, Märzen –– specifically, a kind of Märzen brewed in 1872 by Gabriel Sedlmayr of Spaten for Oktoberfest. The beer that Sedlmayr developed had much in common with the wildly popular Vienna Lager first brewed by Sedlmayr’s friend and colleague, Anton Dreher, in 1841. Sedlmayr’s new Oktoberfest beer –– a few shades lighter in hue than the brown beer hitherto served at the festival and less weighty –– swept the festival like a tsunami and soon became synonymous with Oktoberfest. But only until 1953, when Augustiner developed an even lighter Festbier, which every brewery soon offered alongside the more traditional Märzen all the way down through the late 1980s. From the early 1990s, Oktoberfest beer served on Munich’s Theresienwiese during Oktoberfest came to mean one thing: the burnished golden, malty Festbier first brewed by Augustiner.img_0631

But uncertainty in North America about what Oktoberfest beer is in Munich and other parts of Bavaria has not been aided by the Bavarian breweries themselves, many of whom export Märzen to our shores labeled as “Oktoberfest Märzen.” Beyond that, several North American breweries who brew a beer in honour of Oktoberfest brew a Märzen. (No complaints here –– I love the style!) As for the BJCP Style Guidelines, earlier versions were less than clear on the differences between the German beers of autumn. It wasn’t until they released their 2015 Style Guidelines that they introduced distinctions between Märzen and the Oktoberfestbier served during Oktoberfest. (The 2015 BJCP Guidelines label it simply “Festbier,” since the term Oktoberfest Bier has been trademarked. Curiously, this hasn’t stopped anyone in North America from calling their beers Kölsch, even though that, too, is a protected designation. But that’s another story.) On top of it all, Beeradvocate still has the following description on its site:

“The common Munich Oktoberfest beer served at Wies’n (the location at which Munich celebrates its Oktoberfest) contains roughly 5.0-6.0% alcohol by volume, is dark/copper in color, has a mild hop profile and is typically labeled as a Bavarian Märzenbier in style” (October 2016).

Confused? I was until relatively recently, too. Who’s to blame you if you haven’t been to Oktoberfest in Bavaria and have thought all along that today’s Oktoberfest beer is a Märzen? More to the point, why should you care? Well, if you’re really into the Oktoberfest Märzen beers that turn up in North America, I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed when you go to Munich for Oktoberfest and end up with a beer that isn’t a Märzen. But that’s not to say that Festbier isn’t any less worthy of your attention. It’s just a much different beast.

And so, to clear up any confusion for early twenty-first century fans of Germanic beer and folks judging these styles at homebrew competitions in North America, here’s a quick run-down of Germany’s beers of autumn, along with a few styles related either by taste and aroma profile (Vienna Lager), or by name (Austrian Märzen).

Click here for tasting notes

Oktoberfestbier (or, simply, Festbier): The golden-hued, malty, slightly honey-sweet, and dangerously quaffable beer served in Munich during the Oktoberfest. Other Bavarian breweries (Weihenstephaner, for example) may also brew a beer in the same style for sale in autumn, but since they aren’t part of the “Munich 6,” you won’t see their beers on the Theresienwiese during Oktoberfest.img_0314

Oktoberfest Märzen: Beer brewed by Bavarian breweries for export to North America during the autumn months. May also refer to any North American example of autumn amber lager brewed in the Märzen style that reigned supreme on the Theresienwiese between 1872 and 1953. The style is no longer served at Oktoberfest in Munich (though I wouldn’t complain if the Munich brewers were to bring the style back).

Märzen: Historically, a shape-shifter, ranging in colour from orange-hued amber to dark brown. In the days before refrigeration, various proclamations and decrees in the wake of the Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Laws) of 1516 prohibited brewing between the feasts of St. George on 23 April and St. Michael on 29 September as a means of preventing both fires and summer beer spoilage. So-called Sommerbier (summer beer, later rechristened Märzen) was brewed to a higher strength in March so that supplies of drinkable beer would last through the summer. Since the time of Sedlmayr’s release of a Märzen in 1872, the beer has become associated with autumn. (NB: I’m making the latter assumption in the absence of any evidence I have yet to turn up pointing to this semantic shift.)

Vienna Lager: Even though Märzen and Vienna Lager are fairly distinct at second glance, it’s easy enough to confuse the two styles, especially if the latter isn’t named Dos Equis Amber. Interestingly, the BJCP put the style on their watch list in 2015, suggesting that it might be time to rescue the classic style from its mass-produced pale reflection by moving it to the historical category.img_0460 Those worries may have been somewhat premature, for a key anniversary has spurred the re-emergence of Vienna Lager in its native land: the 175th anniversary of Dreher’s first batch brewed at the Schwechat brewery just outside Vienna. Today, Gusswerk in Salzburg, Loncium in the mountains of Carinthia, Ottakringer and Brew Age in Vienna, and even the granddaddy of them all, Schwechater, have released excellent Vienna Lagers in the past few years. Vive la Vienna Lager!

The takeaway: Sedlmayr’s Märzen brewed for the 1872 Oktoberfest may well have been identical to the Vienna Lager being brewed in the Habsburg Empire at the time, but the two styles diverged over the next century. Nowadays, Märzen is a delectably malty beer that showcases toasty aromatics and melanoidin richness. Vienna Lager is also malty, but it has more pronounced hop aromas, flavours, and bitterness. In many ways, you could consider it the hoppy cousin of the slightly sweeter contemporary Märzen.

Austrian Märzen: I will touch only briefly on the Austrian version of a Märzen here, a year-round beer that has little in common with the autumnal Märzens of Bavaria and North America. If anything, an Austrian Märzen is more like a cross between what, in Germany, goes by the name of Export Bier and a helles lager. The beer is yellow-gold and crystal-clear, with a clean malt expression and slightly more of a hop presence than a helles lager, but not approaching Pilsner territory.

Now all you need to do is go out and grab a few of these fine beers for those afternoons when it’s still just barely warm enough to sit on the front porch or for those smoky evenings when the wind is rustling the leaves still holding out against winter.

Click here for tasting notes

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Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

The Colour of Fall Leaves: Tasting Notes on Märzen, Oktoberfestbier, and Vienna Lager

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Featured Beer: Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe “Bonator”

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Sources:

BJCP Style Guidelines, 2008 and 2015.

Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer, Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 2007).

Beeradvocate, “Märzen/Oktoberfest,” https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/style/29/ (accessed 11 October 2016).

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

1516 Ingolstadt: http://www.1516-ingolstadt.de/geschichte/geschichte-bier/

Horst Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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The Colour of Fall Leaves: Tasting Notes on Märzen, Oktoberfestbier, and Vienna Lager

Wondering about the differences between Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager? Check out “Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager” before cracking open your first beer in this four-pack of Central European beers.img_0599

a) Märzen

Märzen is a malt-lover’s dream. Depending on the brewer, the malt character can run the gamut from toast and what I’d describe as a “Munich malt fruit” character (dark cherry-like) to dates, dried figs, autumn honey, malted milk, malt balls, and Swiss milk caramel.* My partner in crime nailed the style: It’s like a Rolo, she said.

*Swiss milk caramel is a descriptor I use often for beers like this, and requires some explanation. When I was a kid, my grandma used to send us a parcel at Christmas that had all kinds of chocolates and sweets that we never saw in Canada. She always sent along a box of caramels that were quite a bit different than the ones we used to get while out trick-or-treating at Halloween. They were much lighter in colour and had a pronounced creamy taste that brought the caramel flavour down a notch. So when I mention Swiss milk caramel, think of a very light caramel aroma and flavour with fresh cream.

Weissenoher Monk’s Fest Traditional Märzen, Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe (5.4%)

Weissenohe’s Märzen is unfiltered and gloriously caramel-amber, with all the fresh milk, bread, toast, and Swiss milk caramel a malt lover could want.Monks Fest USAnew A touch of floral hops and a suggestion of green apple from the yeast only adds to the complexity. The beer is lightly sweet, with plenty of malted milk, toffee, dates, and dried figs swirled together with Munich “malt fruit” (dark fruit/black cherry). A slate-like fermentation character keeps this filling beer on the refreshing side. This one’s almost in Bock territory in terms of hearty richness. A monument to decoction mashing. And just what the doctor ordered for the maltheads in the crowd. Three Tankards

b) Oktoberfestbier

Burnished gold in colour, Oktoberfestbier boasts exquisite honeyed malt and fresh country bread with a touch of light toast, a dash of herbal or spicy hop aroma sometimes reminiscent of lemon tea or cinnamon, and a crisp mineral fermentation character. On the palate, these medium-bodied beers are round, unctuous, and clean. A hint of residual (white nougat) sweetness mingles with just a trace of hop bitterness accented by honey, toast, and even roasted nuts. Drinkability is a hallmark of the style –– dangerously so.

Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier (6.1%)

But for its lingering cap of pearl-hued foam, Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfestbier looks like effervescent golden apple juice bubbling away contentedly in its Maß (1-liter stein).loewenbraeu-oktoberfestbier-flasche An intriguing slate-mineral medley opens the show, joined quickly by a chorus of fruit suggestive of golden apples sprinkled with cinnamon, green grapes with a dash of cardamom, and white peach. Acacia honey, marzipan, and a dusting of light brown sugar sweetness rounds out the ensemble. None of these aromas overpowers the other in this oh-so-slightly malt-forward beer: subtle complexity’s the word. With its moderate but tingly carbonation, Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfestbier is a playful beer that seemingly floats on the palate. Spicy and elegant hop leaf with a touch of musk come together with intriguing flavours of white grape, white peach, and fresh-cut artisanal bread with honey drizzled over it. An unassuming bitter note in the background ensures that this slightly off-dry beer finishes crisply before its lingering aftertaste of white peach and baking spice takes over. Complex enough to contemplate; balanced and refreshing enough to drink for hours. (And yes, Löwenbräu is owned by AB-InBev. But rest assured, Munich breweries like Spaten and Löwenbräu don’t mess around with their Oktoberfest Bier, lest they get laughed off the Weisn.) One Tankard

c) Vienna Lager

Expect a solid bedrock of toast, melanoidin, a touch of bread crust, and light Swiss milk caramel malt supporting spicy hop aromas and flavours heading in the direction of Bohemia.

Ottakringer Wiener Original, Vienna, Austria (5.3%)

Luminescent light amber with orange hues, Ottakringer’s crystal-clear Vienna Lager is a fine-looking beer. Aroma-wise, the Ottakringer is not quite as intense as some of the other Vienna Lagers that have appeared in the past few years, but it delivers complexity to spare. ottakringer_wiener_original_flascheHerbal-pepper-floral hop notes open out onto subtle toast and caramel, and the yeast/fermentation character imparts a note of mineral-peach that gives the beer a certain levity. Ottakringer is slightly fruity on the palate, combining peach, marzipan, toast, and a hint of light caramel. A lighter body compared with many other contemporary Vienna Lagers adds to the perception of bitterness, and the beer finishes slightly drier and more austere than many of its compatriots. But Ottakringer’s offering is still Vienna Lager through and through, and not only because it’s brewed in the heart of Vienna’s sixteenth district. It’s also classically Central European, with a profile melding leafy hops, a hint of pepper, a whisper of sulfur, and a touch of what I’d describe as an earthy cellar note.

d) Austrian Märzen

Austrian Märzen has almost nothing in common with its Bavarian namesake. Occupying the territory between an Export Bier and a Bavarian helles lager, Austrian Märzen is yellow-gold and crystal-clear, with a clean malt expression and slightly more of a hop presence than a helles lager.

Gösser Märzen, Styria, Austria (5.2%)

Gösser’s Märzen looks like a Tuscan countryside in summer. Fruity-floral hop notes and a hint of mineral and stone fruit preside over a bed of white nougat-like bready malt.goesser_sorten_maerzen_6er Pleasant but not intense, Gösser tips the scale in the direction of hops, with a yeasty bread dough note leavened by freshly crushed grains and a touch of grassiness. Gösser starts off on the palate like artisanal white raisin bread, with herbal-fruity hops lending a touch of spice. Light brown sugar mingles with stone fruit and an interesting noble hop spiciness mid-palate (the combination of which is reminiscent of spiced white raisins or spiced peach), and a firm bitterness ensures that the beer finishes crisply and refreshingly. Fairly high levels of carbonation cut through the honeyed malt, which also makes for a slightly prickly and zingy mouthfeel. Not nearly as complex the Budweiser Budvar and Stiegl Pils that share shelf space with Gösser at my local Billa supermarket, it’s still a bracingly refreshing beer that doesn’t require loads of concentration while drinking.

Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Nearly 40,000 people headed out to the horse race just beyond the Munich gates on that first Oktoberfest day in 1810. Families and groups of friends staked out places to sit on the meadowland heights surrounding the track and began tucking into their bread, sausage, and beer as the races began. The mood was festive at this Olympic-style race, and the event was a resounding success. After all, Munich at the time numbered 40,638 souls, and most of them came out to enjoy the race (Eymold, 327). It wasn’t long before plans were laid to repeat the event annually on what soon became known as the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow), named in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig’s bride, Therese Charlotte Louise von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Try saying that even once after you’ve had a few Maß of beer on today’s Theresienwiese.

From Modest Beer Stall to Opulent Beer Castle to Massive Beer Tent –– Or, How to Keep Tens of Thousands from Going Thirsty

If the horse race was the main attraction during the early years of the festival, the merriment soon spread out along the margins of the track. Bowling was popular, as were wheelbarrow races, swings, shooting galleries, and the first carousel that graced the Wiesn in 1818. Looking back briefly to 1814, the German poet, Achim von Arnim, noted that thirsty travelers could find ample Bretterbuden (simply appointed wooden stalls) in which Munich’s tavern keepers slung beer in half-liter tin-lidded tankards (Dornbusch, 49). At first, the guests sat on benches at tables under the open air. Soon, though, the Bretterbuden expanded to offer indoor seating.oktoberfest-postcard-munchenkindlstein As the festival began to extend over several days, provisioning all the attendees became a necessity, in particular since Oktoberfest had begun attracting festival-goers from all over Bavaria. The Bretterbuden proliferated.

With the enormous rise in prestige of the Munich breweries from the 1880s, their presence at the festival began to grow as well. In 1895, the now-defunct Thomasbrauerei built the first Bierburg (“beer castle”), a hall large enough to accommodate 800 thirsty patrons. A 1907 decision to do away with the Wirtsbudenring (a ring of 18 tavern stalls) fundamentally altered the complexion of the Wiesn, opening the door for other breweries to compete with the splendour of Thomasbrauerei’s beer castle. By 1910, all of Munich’s largest breweries had commissioned leading architects to design impressive festival halls that cited decorative elements from the Baroque and Biedermeier eras.

But even those structures weren’t large enough to accommodate the droves of imbibers who descended upon Munich each year. Breweries soon turned to massive tents to simplify the challenge of seating increasingly large numbers of patrons. In 1913, the last year before the First World War broke out, the Pschorr Brewery erected a tent so large that it could hold 12,000 stein-hoisters –– the largest beer structure that has ever stood on the Oktoberfest grounds. It wasn’t long before the beer tent replaced the beer castle, transforming the physical appearance of the Theresienwiese and shaping our contemporary imagination of Oktoberfest in the process. As of 2005, the entire festival grounds offered seating for 100,000 festival-goers; the largest fest hall is the Hofbräu tent and garden, with 10,000 seats.oktoberfest-hofbrautent-fdh

Roll Out the Barrels! The Changing Fortunes of Oktoberfest Beer Styles

Ever headed to Munich during Oktoberfest and been surprised to see that they serve one beer only –– a burnished golden beer at that? Isn’t Oktoberfest beer supposed to be an amber-coloured and richly malt Märzen beer, you might be thinking? If you’re Central European, you’ve probably never been caught up in this confusion. To many Canadian and American beer enthusiasts, though, Oktoberfest remains synonymous with Märzen.

In case you’re wondering where all the Märzen went, here’s a short explanation.

During the first several decades of the Oktoberfest, breweries brought whatever they had on hand to the festival –– usually some sort of forerunner of today’s Munich Dunkel. It wasn’t until 1872 that Spaten’s Gabriel Sedlmayr began brewing a beer specially for Oktoberfest –– a Märzen beer based loosely on the Vienna Lager first brewed by Sedlmayr’s colleague, Anton Dreher, in 1841. This amber beer was a shade or two lighter than the dark beer typically available in the Bretterbuden, and that much easier to knock back. Märzenbier soon conquered the festival.

Fun facts:

Dial “M” for Märzen: After Sedlmayr introduced the drinking world to his particular brand of Märzen in 1872, the barrels that arrived at Oktoberfest bore an “M” insignia. Each cask –– known as a “Hirsch,” or stag –– contained 200 liters and weighed around 300 kilos (Eymold, 328).

Horses and wagons: Breweries used horse-drawn carts to deliver their casks of beer not only to Oktoberfest, but to the inns and taverns of Munich right down into the 1950s (Eymold, 328).

Parades! The first parade was held in 1835 on the occasion of the silver anniversary of King Ludwig I’s marriage to Queen Therese. The parade was a spectacle of decorated wagons and inhabitants from across Bavaria decked out in the Tracht (lederhosen and dirndl) of their respective regions –– the origins of today’s Trachten- und Schützenzug procession that takes place on the second day of Oktoberfest. Back in the day, the festival parade was meant as an impressive demonstration of Bavaria’s “national” character. Festive parades were also held on the occasion of the 100th and 125th anniversary of Oktoberfest. Since 1949, the festival parade starting in Munich’s center and winding its way through the city to the Theresienwiese has been an annual opening-day tradition.

But even the reign of Märzen would prove to be temporary. In 1953, an even lighter Festbier –– Augustiner’s Wiesnedelstoff –– entered the festival ring. Soon all the major breweries had followed Augustiner’s lead, and began serving this eminently quaffable Wiesn beer alongside their Märzen. Wiesnbier displaced Märzen entirely by the late 1980s, becoming simply Oktoberfestbier.

Nowadays, Oktoberfest is about one beer, and one beer only. And only by the Maß. Which is just fine –– it eliminates the need for ordering so you can concentrate on the festivities.oktoberfest-postcard-augustiner-wiesnedelstoff The servers bring armfulls of 1-liter tankards right to your table. Take one, pay up, and Bob’s your uncle.

Here’s what you can expect:

Brewed to 13.5-14 degrees Plato and lagered for eight weeks at minus one degree Celsius, Oktoberfestbier is now a protected trademark of the Munich breweries. The result is a beer somewhere between a helles Bock and a helles Lager that clocks in somewhere between 6% and 6.3% ABV. Burnished gold in colour, the beer exudes aromas of fresh bread, honeyed malt with a touch of light toast, and a mild herbal or spicy hop fragrance depending on the brewer. Medium- to full-bodied on the palate, Oktoberfestbier has a mild residual (honey nougat) sweetness, flavours of lightly toasted bread, and just a hint of hop bitterness. The beer is reminiscent of Alpine meadows, with a refreshing mineral character. Round, supple, and clean. And the epitome of what German speakers call süffig (quaffable).

Darauf ein Oktoberfestbier!

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Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

The MaltHead Manifesto

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Sources:

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum, Munich (visited 17 September 2016).

Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, München und das Bier: Auf großer Biertour durch 850 Jahre Braugeschichte (München: Volk Verlag, 2009).

Horst Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Image Credits:

“Münchner Kindl mit Bierkrug,” Paul Otto Engelhard/München, 1913 (postcard image).

“Augustiner Edelstoff,” Holzfurtner, Plakat, Offsetdruck, 1976 (postcard image).

Hofbräuhaus tent, Theresienwiese, Munich (F.D. Hofer).

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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