Oktoberfest is Here: We Have Your Guide to the Fanfare and the Beer!
I’ve written a lot about seasonal beers, and as a craft beer fan, I look forward to these offerings. The marzen, known also as the Oktoberfest, has long been a favorite for me. Along with the larger American craft breweries and their German counterparts, independent craft breweries also give a lot of offerings in this style. It is popular amongst a lot of beer drinkers, and seemingly comes out earlier in August every year. Already dozens are available.
It’s interesting to note that the marzen was traditionally a harvest style beer that is transitioning to late summer for its release. I feel Thanksgiving is the culmination of the harvest season, and I wrote last year that Oktoberfest beers are perfect for pairing with the turkey. Unfortunately, most of the breweries have moved on to stocking winter beers by November. I want to tell you what Oktoberfest beers are out there while we are still in early September, as well as why you should get some now and sit on a few for later this year.
Let’s first go to Germany (Bavaria) where the style originated. The marzen is a full-bodied lager that can range from light golden to mahogany in color depending on the grain used (most tend to have an amber hue). It is generally brewed in the spring, as marzen is German for March. It became an autumn favorite around 1810 when it was the featured beer at a royal wedding. It quickly became the beer of choice for folk fest all across southern Germany, and the Oktoberfest Marzen was the beer associated with the harvest. Of all the fests, Munich’s became the biggest and most famous – you may have heard of it? It’s still held annually, and only beers made within the city limits of Munich are served.
A lot of German brewers offer the Oktoberfest (or simply festbier). Excellent examples include Ayinger, Hofbrau, Paulaner, and Warsteiner. A fine one is also made by Weihenstephaner, which just happens to be the world’s oldest brewery still in existence. My favorite German festbier is still Spaten, which is available in Indiana, but not much of it makes it here, so check for it sooner than later. It is malty sweet, with balanced bitterness, and especially good on tap if you can find it.
I want to focus on the independent breweries in the United States making Oktoberfest, but first I’ll run through all the big ones (not all independent) because they are easiest to find. Sam Adams Oktoberfest is one of the most popular, and it is already on draft state wide, and easy to find in most stores. It is now available in 12 pack cans! Leinekugels, and Goose Island both make good festbiers, as does Victory, and I hope we see in it in Indiana this year. Yuengling makes an excellent one that is not available here yet, but you should be able to find it in Ohio if you’re there. Sierra Nevada gets honorable mention because they collaborate annually with a German craft brewery to explore, “The roots of Germany’s famous Oktoberfest beers.” This year’s collaboration is with the Brauhaus Miltenberger, and I have enjoyed as much as I have previous years offerings.
Should you be traveling outside of Indiana this fall, many other excellent Oktoberfest beers are made by independent and regional breweries. One of my favorite is still Penn Brewery’s Oktoberfest. I first tried it in 2003. If you make it to Pennsylvania, you have to drink one at Penn Brewery’s true to form German style beer hall on Pittsburgh’s northside. The late Tom Pastorius spent years learning brewing in Germany before he opened the Penn Brewery in 1986. The Hofbrauhaus has a Pittsburgh location, but they also have one in Newport, Kentucky, and their Oktoberfest beer is also not to be missed. There are German style breweries throughout the Midwest, and from Wisconsin to Missouri, you can probably find a good craft made Oktoberfest no matter where you travel.
Here at home, our craft brewers offer us a few Oktoberfests, and I want to focus on two Indiana ones, as well as a Michigan example that should be easy for you to find. Supporting these three breweries ensures more of the same next year. I’ll start with Bells Oktoberfest, which is a good American version that while malty, isn’t overly sweet. It has a honey amber color, and clocks in at 5.5% ABV. I found it smooth, and refreshing yet flavorful like all Bell’s beer. I imagined myself drinking it in the spacious beer garden behind the Eccentric Taproom in Kalamazoo. Bells was providing Hoosiers with great beer choices long before the majority of our breweries opened, and as far as I’m concerned, they still deserve a place in our hearts.
Upland Brewing has certainly been making waves with their sours, but I’m currently excited for their Oktoberfest. The label features a stein on a blue field. It is crisper than some of the others I’ve described, and the 20 IBU’s come out boldly in this hefty 6.7% ABV beer. There is a noticeable maltiness that I appreciate as well. I have enjoyed this beer several times over the past few years. It was a 2008 bronze medal winner at the BTI World Beer Championships, I want to encourage you to try it again – or for the first time.
Sun King also offers us an Oktoberfest, and I first tried it last year at their taproom. It is malty with a full body finishing very crisply. What I appreciate about it is the full flavor. This year it is available in 12 oz. cans with Oktoberfest related cut outs on the back of the packaging. It is a very popular seasonal for Sun King, and should be easy to find wherever you are.
While I have only focused on a few Oktoberfest in this article, there are plenty more, and if you like the style, I encourage you to seek them out. As I write this, 3 Floyds Munsterfest is hitting the shelves. Perhaps even the fiercest hop heads need to quaff on one of these this fall. I think we are in the heart of the season, and I expect more to hit the market. As September goes on, I encourage you to stock up because the style of beer is good for campfires, hayrides, apple picking, and all the other great activities autumn provides us. And any Halloween party would be enhanced with the beer meant to celebrate the harvest. Many Oktoberfestivals will take place here in Indiana, and the second largest in the world is held in Cincinnati from September 15 through the 17th.
There are plenty of reasons to stock up on this beer. It is popular, and it pairs well with food. Bells even says that theirs goes well with pizza! I wrote last year that it pairs well with turkey, so I would suggest keeping a sixer for Thanksgiving’s main course. Yet the breweries seem to be putting out their winter releases right after Halloween, so I suggest stocking up on Oktoberfest while they are here. The style goes with most of the late year meals, and I definitely encourage you to try it if you haven’t already.
Oktoberfest beer is in high demand this time of year, and there are plenty to choose from on the market. I wish you happy drinking, and I hope you can explore many of them. If it’s new to you, I hope that you like the style. There are many beer festivals coming up here in Indiana, and I personally look forward to drinking Oktoberfest beers over the next three months!