Although Oktoberfest in Munich ended last Sunday, there’s no reason why we can’t continue to enjoy all the great Oktoberfest beer that’s produced every year. Today we’re going to take a look at the history and characteristics of this wonderful German style of beer.
Oktoberfest first took place on October 10, 1810 as a 16 day celebration of the marriage between Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The main attraction for the 40,000 Bavarians at the festival wasn’t the beer but rather a horse race. Over the next few years, the attention shifted away from the horse race and wedding anniversary and toward a celebration of the fall harvest. When food and beer stands were introduced in 1818, this transition was complete, and the Oktoberfest as we know it was born. Since that time, Oktoberfest celebrations have spread to the rest of Germany, and today, Oktoberfest type celebrations are held throughout the world each fall.
Some brewers have a tendency to make whatever beer they want and call it “Oktoberfest,” but the real stuff has its roots in the strong traditions of German beer. Oktoberfest is usually brewed in the Marzen style, a beer brewed in the late spring for consumption over the hot summer months. A type of lager, Oktoberfest/Marzen typically has a copper to red color with a lightly malty or sweet taste. The hops are generally mild and take a backseat to the malts. These balanced qualities make Oktoberfest/Marzen the perfect brew for the fall. It’s right between the lighter summer styles and the heavier winter styles.
Sam Adams’ take on Oktoberfest is probably the most well known American version, but be sure to try some German varieties for something slightly more authentic. Paulaner, Spaten and Ayinger are three great German breweries who each make a mean Oktoberfest that’s slightly sweeter than Sam Adams.