As the color is indicative of the temperatures at which the malts are roasted, red Marzen beers were quite an advancement in technology. Prior to the invention of this style, wood, which as anyone savvy with a bbq grill knows is very hot and the temperature is trickier to control, was used to roast the malts. High heat results in a very dark roast that is indicative of a European lager (aka, a stout). As access to coal became more widespread, brewers in central Europe could consistently control the temperature of their kilning process which resulted in lower temperatures and lighter malts.
Prior to Marzen, Europeans were brewing dark beers almost exclusively while the English were ahead of the curve based on their access to coal and they were brewing a wide range of lighter ales. What makes Marzen special is that it took the paler malts that Europeans were becoming famous for and it mixed them with the bottom-fermenting process that produces lagers. It’s hard to imagine now but the red hues of a marzen beer were the first ‘light’ lagers. So, Oktoberfest is kind of celebration for beer lovers, and I ascribe that just as we all feel compelled to drink a Guinness in March, we should pay our respects by drinking Oktoberfests as we celebrate the arrival of fall. Circle of yeast.
- Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen – Look for this as an individual 16.9 oz. bottle rather than a six pack.
- Beck’s Octoberfest – Almost impossible to find. There’s a retailer finder on Beck’s website though if you want to see if it’s available in your area.
- EKU Festbier – generally unheard of in the US, but if you’re overseas…
- Erdinger Oktoberfest Weisbier– This one is a trick question. It’s a wheat beer that is brewed FOR Oktoberfest. Read the label, campers.
- Hacker-Pschorr Bräu München – A Bavarian Marzen as noted by its red color. I think brau means original but that’s all I know. The website is in German if you want to test out the capabilities of Office 2007 to translate it.
- Hofbrau Oktoberfest – One of the tents at the traditional festival. This brew is probably the one held in the highest regard amongst fans of the style. And they sing a mean chorus in the tent at the festival.
- Paulaner Oktoberfest – One of the breweries featured at Oktoberfest in Munich and a brew that is widely available in the US.
- Spaten Oktoberfest – Launched in 1872 (pssst, Marzens were brewed in the 1830s), it is considered the world’s first Oktoberfest, but even this is a lighter version of the original (see next).
- Spaten Ur-Märzen –If you can find it. Ur means, ur, I don’t know.
- Warsteiner Oktoberfest – Another popular brand that your local bar may carry.
- Sam Adams Octoberfest – Don’t be fooled by the ‘hoppy’ reputation of Sam Adams’ Boston Lager, their Octoberfest tastes like roasted refreshment.
- Berghoff Oktoberfest – A restaurant and microbrewery in Chicago.
- Breckenridge – Colorado brewery with a wide distribution.
- Brooklyn Oktoberfest – from a respected brewery in New York.
- Pete’s Oktoberfest – I’ve heard that this one is hoppy.
- Gordon Biersch Marzen
- Paulaner Oktoberfest
Since Marzens were originally only brewed in Vienna, pay particular attention to brewers who specialize in Vienna-style brewing, like Sam Adams. Dos Equis Amber and Negro Modelo, two Mexican beers, both evolved from the recipe for Oktoberfest brought over to Mexico by European immigrants. When the process reached Munich, where many fans of this style of the beer believe it was perfected, it took on the name Oktoberfest at the Spaten brewery and that is where it lost most of its distinct red color in favor of an amber hue. While they brew a beer called Octoberfest year round, it is their Oktoberfest Ur-Marzen that is based on the original.
Oktoberfest beers are bottom-fermenting lagers that were preserved at cold temperatures with the goal of drinking them up by October, so they don’t require a whole lot of hops to preserve them. People who enjoy the malty goodness of light lagers (aka, pilsners) should have no problem enjoying an Oktoberfest as they bid adieu to summer. Of course, fewer hops also means that they aren’t suited for transport from the mother country, so they are a bit hard to find even at this time of year. Chances are that your local liquor store is only going to stock the version that your nearest (or largest) craft brewer makes. And that’s okay. It is the spirit of the thing after all and I for one am not ashamed to drink a Sam Adams if they are the brewers with the means to share this style with those of us in Los Estados Unidos.
For Home Brewers
The recipe for Marzen specifically calls for it to be brewed in March and aged for 6-8 months, so while most people don’t think to drink one until after Labor Day, these brews can be enjoyed as early as August. Enjoying them year round is still an option.
Typically on the high side of 5% but can reach almost 8%.
Back when refrigeration was nothing more than a cold cave in the summer, brewers made batches of beer in March before the heat of the summer months made brewing lagers impossible. This is why the original term for this brew is Marzen and it was in October when the stores of it they had tapped to sustain them during the late summer months were drained at a festival called Oktoberfest.
Most people don’t realize that the Oktoberfest festival ENDS the first weekend of October, so you really should get started drinking one as soon as possible if you’re ever going to make that deadline.