Beer Lovers Love Oktoberfest
Photo: Louis Hansel (www.unsplash.com)
At Epic Mens, we're thankful for Oktoberfest. It gives us the opportunity to get together with good friends and drink some good beer. What's better than that?
You don’t have to be in Germany (and it doesn’t have to be October) to enjoy the smooth, toasted-malt flavor of a full-bodied Märzen beer, but surrounding yourself with blaring oompah bands and thousands of happy, lederhosen-garbed revelers certainly helps. No one knows this better than the experts at the German Beer Institute. Brimming with historical, scientific, and popular insights, the institute’s website is as close as you’ll ever get to a beer lover’s bible. However, on the off chance you don’t have hours to spend perusing the site, we’re happy to summarize the highlights. So, pour yourself a tall, cool one and let us share with you all we’ve learned (from the folks who should know) about the world’s most celebrated brew.
Every October, millions of thirsty, globe-trotting partiers descend on a meadow outside Munich called Theresienwiese (Theresa’s fields) or Wies’n for short. The meadow was named after the bride of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and has been the site of the annual Oktoberfest festivities ever since his grand wedding celebration in 1810. The festival’s main draw, of course, is the world-famous Oktoberfestbier or Märzen Beer. With great gusto and enthusiasm, today’s Oktoberfest revelers consume a jaw-dropping 400,000 sausages (yum!) and more than 1.5 million gallons of beer. Although authentic Oktoberfestbier is brewed only in Munich, there are many Oktoberfest-style beers that qualify as Märzen-style German lagers. (At this point in our education, given we don’t speak German, we were forced to use our handy online translator ap.) As it turns out, März means March in German and lager means storehouse, which makes perfect sense because Märzen beers are brewed in March and stored for consumption throughout the summer and fall. The result is a well-aged, not-too-sweet, deep-amber brew with a relatively high alcohol content of about 5 to 6%.
The First Märzen-Style Beers
It seems the crisp, clean lagers we enjoy today have only been around for a few centuries. However, darker, more bitter-tasting ales have been a dietary staple for almost 3,000 years. As early as 1000 B.C., northern and central European tribes were brewing ale from wheat, barley, and other wild grains. Made first in homes and then later at monasteries, feudal estates and communal breweries, early ales were murky, sour, and full of debris. Supposedly, ancient brewers simply dropped a half-baked loaf of bread in a jar of water and waited for spontaneous, uncontrolled fermentation to happen. They didn’t know the milky top and bottom layers were actually naturally occurring airborne yeast strains that responded differently to cool and warm temperatures. It wouldn’t be until much later in the 17th century that brewers would begin to understand and control the fermentation process for quality and consistency. And it wouldn’t be until the 19th century that they would finally recognize yeast as a living, single-cell fungi, capable of converting sugar into alcohol. Through trial and error, brewers would discover they could control a beer’s color and taste by manipulating the grain selection and fermentation temperature. Top-fermenting yeasts work in warmer temperatures to rapidly produce darker, more bitter-tasting ales. Bottom-fermenting yeasts work in cooler temperatures to slowly produce more mellow-tasting lagers. In the case of lagers, which may be aged for up to four months, slower fermentation and more residual sugars result in a crisper, less fruity, and more full-bodied beer with a translucent amber color and a smooth finish. Prior to refrigeration, lagers could only be brewed in cool weather. Brewing began in fall and ended in the spring. Märzen or March beer, which originated in Bavaria, was brewed with a higher alcohol content for greater stability in warm temperatures and stored (or lagered) in cool caves and cellars for consumption during the summer and early fall. In October following the harvest, it became necessary to drink up the last of the Märzen beer so the casks could be readied for the new brewing season. And so, the annual Oktoberfest celebration took hold.
Today’s Märzen Beers
Fortunately for us, advancements in controlled malting, yeast management, filtration and refrigeration mean that great tasting lagers can be brewed anytime, anywhere. But if you want to celebrate Oktoberfest with the real thing, Las Vegas restaurant critic and columnist Bob Barnes recommends three top Märzen/Oktoberfest-style beers you can pick up at any of your favorite craft beer stores.
- Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest is a traditional Märzen made with natural spring water, dark and light-colored malt from two-row Bavarian summer barley, a centuries-old exclusive yeast strain and Noble Hallertau hops. Produced by one of Bavaria’s pre-eminent 15th century breweries, this rich amber Oktoberfest-style beer is characterized by a clean, toasty malt flavor, sweet hop aroma and strong carbonation.
- Hofbräu Oktoberfest is a pale amber brew with a crisp, somewhat sweet flavor. Brewed by another renowned 16th century Munich brewery, Staatliches Hofbräuhaus, this craft beer is notable for its slightly stronger hops profile and higher alcohol content (6.3% ABV).
- Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen (An Epic Mens staff favorite!) is named after Saint Francis of Paula, the patron saint of the Pauline monks who established Paulaner Brewery in 1634. This amber-hued, 5.3% ABV Märzen has a full malt aroma and nutty, light-roast flavor with a malty sweetness and trace of hops.
Barnes recommends all three, but you don’t have to choose. Invite a few of your favorite friends over for an authentic Oktoberfest experience and try them all. Throw in some brockwurst and sauerkraut, and your guests will think they’re at the real deal – or at least they’ll think they’re at a really great party that happens to be in October. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
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