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It seems to sneak up on us every year. All of a sudden in August and September, while we’re still clinging to summer mode, beers with descriptors like Oktoberfest, Festbier, Märzen, and the like start appearing on the shelves.
The Oktoberfest tradition in Germany stretches back over 200 years with the festival now stretching from mid-September to early October each year. The original Oktoberfest style is Märzen which is an amber/copper colored lager with traditional malt driven flavors of toasted bread/caramel with low/moderate bitterness and a dry finish meant to make them "crushable" in a festival setting. These were often some of the last beers of the brewing season as Märzen meaning March in German was towards the end of the historical September-April German brewing season. These beers were brewed with higher levels of malt and hops than other beers of the period to withstand being stored in caves during the hot summer months when brewing cold fermenting lagers was too difficult. Subsequently in the 1970's Paulaner brewery invented the Festbier style which was intended to be a lighter alternative to Märzen and has become the predominant beer offered at Germany's Oktoberfest each year (though in the US brewers still tend to favor Märzen).
These crisp and clean lagers with a bit more malt backbone than the crispy bois you’ve been crushing all summer are the perfect beers to help you transition into fall. Here at 90 Second Beer Review we’re a big fan of these beer styles and find them to be both really versatile for meal pairings and beers that seem tailor made for outdoor drinking as soon as you start feeling a nip in the air. With that in mind here are five of our favorite Oktoberfest beers for 2020:
OKTOBER FEST-MÄRZEN - 5.8% - Produit Et Embouteillé Par Brauerei Aying (Aying, Germany)
The märzen style originated in Germany and you can’t do much better than Ayinger’s take on the style. Smooth and perfectly balanced this is just a perfect fall beer and textbook example of the märzen style.
WEIHENSTEPHANER FESTBIER - 5.8% - Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan (Freising, Germany)
Also hailing from Germany this is Märzen’s lighter brother. With a more prominent malt flavor than you would expect given the color it brings notes of sweet honey, bread and granola. It drinks very smooth with a crisp finish that is very refreshing and drinkable. This is an excellent beer for session drinking.
CULTURE KEEPERS FESTBIER LAGER - 5.8% - Burial Beer Co (Asheville, NC) & Creature Comforts Brewing Co (Athens, GA)
When two rock stars of the craft beer scene get together you know you’re in for something good. Using local craft malt from Durham, NC based @epiphanycraftmalt they get great depth of flavor with a bit of a nuttiness in addition to the usual toast and caramel malt flavors.
OKTOBERFEST MÄRZEN STYLE LAGER - 6.5% - Great Lakes Brewing Co (Cleveland, OH)
The folks at Great Lakes have been a staple of the craft beer scene since 1988 and their take on an oktoberfest märzen is a stunner. Along with the usual toast and caramel notes there’s a bit of honey character to the malt that makes it unique and delicious.
MAD BISHOP OKTOBERFEST - 6% - Duclaw Brewing Co. (Baltimore, MD)
This beer delivers on the points of a traditional märzen oktoberfest with a heavy malt bill that brings toasted bread flavors and a mild bitterness on the crisp finish. While it carries a heavier body than many of the Oktoberfests I have tried, it's smooth drinkability makes this beer a great cooler weather crusher for Oktoberfest session drinking, with the added benefit of being widely distributed.
Bonus Beer: While only available for a limited time to those of us lucky to live in or near Durham, NC, Glass Jug’s Festbier is a personal favorite. Each year Glass Jug seems to find a cool throwback bottle style to use for this traditional Märzen style lager. There’s some great caramel/toast malt character and overall the beer leans into that malt sweetness but still manages to finish crisp and clean. Plus the cool bottle shapes with the classic looking label make for a fun keepsake to display in your home bar.
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