Oktoberfest is a great time of year. The official Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair held annually in Munich, Germany. The event lasts for sixteen days and always runs from around the middle of September to the first week in October. So, for example, Oktoberfest 2013 ran from Saturday, September 21st up to Sunday, October 6th. Oktoberfest helps to usher in Fall and all the harvest beers it has to offer. Check out a little history below and finish up with the top 5 Oktoberfest beers.
Oktoberfest is more than just a big party; it’s also a style of beer. Known for a rich German malt aroma and a malty sweet taste and dry finish, this beer welcomes in the fall. A good overall impression of a solid Oktoberfest/Märzen should be a smooth, clean lager with a depth of malt character. This isn’t to say these are sweet beers, as cloying, sugary tastes should be avoided, but the sweetness should rather be complex and soft.
Technically, most Oktoberfest beers are actually Oktoberfest-Style beers. This is because of the rules set forth to be an actual Oktoberfest beer. To be a true Oktoberfest beer, the Reinheitsgebot must be followed and the beer must be brewed within the city limits of Munich. This means there are only six breweries that make actual Oktoberfest beers. Those are:
- Staatliches Hofbräu-München
Oktoberfest-style beers originated thanks to the lack of refrigeration hundreds of years ago. Most likely, the Oktoberfest/Märzen style of beer came from beer being stored in cold storage for the summer months. Märzen means March in German, so this style was brewed in the last months of Spring, as little brewing was done in the summer due to the heat. Remember, there was no such thing as plate-chillers back then! March was traditionally the last month of the year to brew in, so these were labeled as the freshest and last batch for the season.
These beers would be stored in cold caves and enjoyed all summer. The Oktoberfest itself, however, didn’t start until 1810 and the association with beer didn’t happen till 1818.
Now that you know a little about the fest and the style, here are the top 5 Oktoberfest-Style beers as rated by Craft Beer Academy. I’m sure the ones in Germany are much better than the ones in this list, so assume these are the best commercially available Oktoberfest beers in the US market.
This is probably the most traditional entry into this list. While Weihenstephaner isn’t an official Oktoberfest beer, it sticks to the style amazingly well.
Great Lakes Oktoberfest
Great Lakes’ entry into the list is a great beer that sticks fairly well to the style. Using traditional German malts it gives a solid malt taste, but the lack of Noble hops detracts from the slight hop aroma found with this style. Overall, a great example.
New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest
Staghorn comes in as the highest ABV beer in this list. At 6.3%, it is slightly higher than the standard of 4.7%-5.8%, but still holds true to the style. You get a little bit of alcohol warmth with the maltiness of this beer, along with the slight Noble hop aroma.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest
Boston Beer is known for their love of German Noble hops, so its no surprise that they do a great job with Oktoberfest beers. This example gives a great toasted malt flavor with some toffee undertones. The Noble hops shine through more than a 100% true-to-form Oktoberfest, but pair nicely with the malt.
Fat Heads Oktoberfest
The last member of this list is from Fat Heads Brewing. Their Oktoberfest Lager has a chestnut red color and features imported German malts. Noble hops and a definite crackery malt flavor set this off from the rest as a great example of the Americanized Oktoberfest beer, but still a great entry into the category.
The Oktoberfest style of beer has a huge amount of history behind it and drives the biggest fair in the world yearly. While this style is only available for a short time, it’s a style few ever get tired of and always come back for more. And besides, when else are you going to get to use that beer stein?