Octoberfest officially ended on October 5th, but American Craft Breweries have their own takes on the Märzen style of beer available on shelves across the nation. This next week we’ll have a full round-up of which Märzen beers to seek out and which to skip.
But what makes a Märzen?
The word Märzen comes from the German word for the month of March. Märzen beers were those brewed in spring and left fermenting in cool caves and cellars, often with ice from the prior winter.
These beers were then slowly released over the hot summer months when brewing would have been impractical. The higher alcohol and hop content allowed the beers to be better preserved over that time. By October the hops had fully mellowed, allowing the rich malt to take center stage.
By fall the remaining casks had to be emptied to allow for the next season’s brews. Rather than let the beer go to waste (as if that were an option), informal gatherings to consume the märzenbier were held by necessity rather than intentional organization.
The formal festival in Munich started in 1810 with the wedding celebration for Crown Prince Ludwig. The public was invited to the festivities held outside the city gates. Originally held for five days, in later years the festival was extended and then moved to September to allow for better weather conditions. The modern Munich Oktoberfest runs for 16 days, ending on the first Sunday in October. Munich Oktoberfest is the worlds largest funfair, playing host to 6.5 million visitors in 1999.
Want to experience a large, proper Oktoberfest without crossing the Atlantic? The largest outside of Germany are in the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo in Canada, hosting 750,000-1,000,000 each year. The largest in the United States is held in Cincinnati, Ohio, boasting a half million participants each year.
The festbier style has changed over the centuries as public tastes shifted. Originally Octoberfest beers were much darker, closer in style to a Dunkel than the copper lagers we know today. Interestingly, in Germany many Festbiers are brewed even lighter for local consumption while exported as more traditional, darker lagers.
Today many craft breweries make their own version of the Oktoberfest Märzenbier. For many it is the only proper lager they make.
Read our full guide to this year’s Oktoberfest beers here