Yes, it’s time to get out your lederhosen and polish off those dusty steins, boots or drinking vessel of choice: this weekend marks the beginning of Oktoberfest (and the start of autumn, too), so it’s officially okay to start reaching for the seasonal brews. While you might be tempted to reach for a pumpkin beer, which flood American markets right about now, hold off this weekend and explore the wonderful world of traditional Oktoberfest and Märzen beers.
A little history: while modern brewing conditions allow for beer to be brewed just about any month of the year, the conditions were much less desirable back in the early 16th century, when the hotter months posed an issue with temperature control and there was an abundance of harmful bacteria in the air. To keep things flowing smoothly, German law stated that beer could only be brewed from September to April. As a result, Bavarian brewers had just six months to brew enough beer for an entire year. Much of this beer was brewed in March, hence the name Märzen (German for March) and was given a higher alcohol and hop content to help preserve the beer. When October came, Oktoberfest marked the time all the old beer was to be consumed to make room for the next year’s.
Though it’s celebrated worldwide, Oktoberfest has its home base in Munich, where more than six million visitors descend upon the city annually to drink their fill of special seasonal lager. What’s interesting about Oktoberfest is that unlike other beer festivals around the world, which feature dozens of breweries, at this festival only the six breweries brewing within the Munich city limits are allowed to participate: Hofbräuhaus München, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Paulaner Bräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu and Augustiner Bräu. Each brewery must adhere to the Reinheitsgebot, so you won’t find any gourds in these autumn brews.
While it may seem like a simple task to down a stein of the festive cold brew, its light amber color can be deceiving, as it does indeed hover around 6%. Though there are lots of variations on the Octoberfest/Märzen styles, there are some general tastes across the board which you can expect. Look for lots of sweet bready malt and grassy hop character resulting in a hearty but refreshing beer that finishes clean. Even if you can’t make a kickoff celebration this weekend, don’t worry – the festivities last until October 6th!
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