| I love Oktoberfest Beers
by Barbara Barlett
Hi Bob and Friends - It's Oktoberfest time and it's a beer style I really
like. I've never been to the festival in Germany but that doesn't stop
me from drinking every Oktoberfest beer I can from the authentic
ones to the less than good versions. And that's what got me to do a
bit of research about it. Then it hit me - I have all this information why
not sent to to Bob and see if he might publish it in his column.
So here is what I learned, I hope you like it. Oh yes, I do admit to
writing it all down and rewriting it a few times. Sending stuff to you
can be quite intimidating especially since you print such interesting
articles. Here goes:
It is well-understood thathe the so-called “original” märzens were a
product of brewing technology and limitations of the time—in this
case, the mid-16th century. “März” in German meaning March, it refers
to a Bavarian brewing ordinance of 1553 decreeing that beer should
be produced only between Sept. 29 and April 23 each year, as the hot
summers and lack of refrigeration would lead to unacceptable spoilage.
The first märzens were thus brewed in March and then socked away in
the coolest available locations, be they cellars or the same temperature-
consistent caves used to age bock beer. Slow-fermenting via the best
lager yeast strains available at the time, märzens were also made a bit
stronger than other beers, which helped with their preservation. The
completed beer could then be brought up from the cellar in August or
September, lasting into the autumn.
Enter Gabriel Sedlmayr’s son, Josef Sedlmayr, who by 1872 had taken
over his father’s brewery. Using Munich’s lager yeast and lighter kilned
malts, he brewed his own beer in the Vienna lager style, lagered it over
the summer and introduced it at the 1872 Oktoberfest, calling the
result “Ur-Märzen,” or “the original märzen.”
The name might not have been quite accurate, but what Sedlmayr
created was the first truly “modern märzen,” and one that still exists in
a version today—Spaten Oktoberfestbier, which still carries the phrase
“Ur-Märzen,” 144 years later. The beer was an immediate sensation,
and the rest of the Munich breweries scrambled to catch up. Soon,
they were all brewing amber versions of märzen, and the older, darker
lagers settled into new styles. The meaning of the term “märzen” had
been permanently changed, even as modern refrigeration meant it no
longer specifically needed to be brewed in March.
Märzen has been the iconic beer of Oktoberfest ever since, although
you may not realize that at the actual festival, only six breweries’ beers
are allowed—the “big six” of local Munich brewers, composed of
Spaten, Löwenbräu, Augustiner-Bräu, Hofbräu-München, Paulaner and
Hacker-Pschorr. At its heart, Oktoberfest has remained a “Munich
That regionality has also led to another evolution in märzen as a style,
in more recent years. From the 1970s onward, as the legend of
Oktoberfest grew as a world event, and as thousands of tourists
flocked to Munich every September, the Munich breweries began to
change their flagship märzens to better suit changing tastes, and also
the tastes of tourists, and their märzens began to get lighter.
By the 1990s, all of the big six Munich brewers had created lighter
märzens for the festival, beers that somewhat blur the lines between
true “märzen” and a blonde Munich helles, or are helles-like but with
just a tad more malty presence. Still other German breweries have
separated the style down the middle and make multiple beers: A true
“märzen” of the kind born in 1872, and a lighter “oktoberfestbier” that
better reflects current tastes of the festival. But regardless, that brings
us up to the modern day, as far as märzen in its home country is
As for me, well, I love the style and the history of it all. Maybe one
year I'll get to go but until then there are enough Oktoberfest beers
around and local festivals to keep me happy.
Thanks Bob - I really enjoy reading you column every month!
Many thanks for sending your article Barbara. It was a fun,
informative, and most interesting read. I learned a lot about
Oktoberfest as I'm sure many of our readers did. Please don't feel that
sending to me is intimating. I think I can speak for everyone here at
BeerNexus and say we're all just beer lovers trying to spread the word
that craft beer is the best beverage in the world. So please keep
sending article in.
I'd like to invite everyone to send me their own columns about
anything related to beer/drinking/booze just as Henry did. I select
the best and publish them here. So join in and get writing.
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