Oktoberfest is a Bavarian tradition dating back to the turn of the 19th century, beginning in October of 1810. It started to honor the marriage of Prince Ludwigand Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Five days after the marriage, a large festival was held outside of Munich, and amongst other festivities, a plethora of Märzenbier was served to foster the celebration!
The term “Märzen” (German for March) is a remnant from a time when the brewing season’s last beers were made in spring and stored until late summer or fall. Brewing was prohibited during the summer months due to the lack of refrigeration, so Märzenbier was brewed in March, lagered or cold-stored in caves for 10-12 weeks, and ready to drink by the late summer or early fall. This coincided perfectly with the wedding celebration, and and explains the popularity of the style in the fall.
Traditional Oktoberfest beer was a dark amber lager at around 6% abv, using German Hallertau and Tettnang hops. Modern variations tend to be lighter, but some dark versions can be found, especially from microbrewers. Today, only six breweries can produce official Oktoberfest beer: Augustiner, HackerPschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spaten, and Hofbräu-München. Luckily, brewers can make all the "Fest-Märzen", Octoberfest, and other variations of the name that they want, because it's a great beer!
1.) Sam Adams Octoberfest - 5.3% abv
Color: crystal clear dark amber.
Nose: roasted malt with a hint of chestnut.
Palate: minimal bitterness, but not a lot of sweetness either. Somewhat heavy body for a Märzen. Very well balanced, without anything standing out and nothing detracting. Has a mild copperish note, probably due to the type of malt used. More of that roasted chestnut character.
Finish: nice and clean, without any abrasive flavors that keep you coming back for more! At the same time, the density and the depth of flavor creates a rich profile that satisfies.
Thoughts: damn easy to drink, but not watery or plain like your lite variety beers. I enjoy Sam's Boston Lager just fine, but this takes it up a notch with the caramel and roast malt. Considering the wide distribution and approachable price point (around $1/bottle in the 28 packs), this is a must every October!
2.) Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Amber Märzen - 5.8% abv
Color: dark amber – slightly darker than the Sam, and not quite as clear.
Nose: a much stronger Märzen profile, with a strong roasted malt character.
Palate: more roasted malt, with a touch of bitterness. Lighter body, but still a satisfying amount of flavor.
Finish: clean and crisp.
Thoughts: Tony preferred this one to Sam's slightly, as the flavors were slightly more concentrated. It was easy to drink, and even somewhat thirst quenching. The bitterness builds up a bit towards the end of the glass, but it's still tasty.
3.) Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - 5.8% abv
Color: slightly lighter than the prior two, but the cloudiest of the bunch.
Nose: similar Märzen profile to the Hacker, just not as concentrated. A nice light rye bread profile.
Palate: medium to heavy body. Moderate maltiness with a bread-like, almost yeasty (in a good way) profile.
Finish: clean, but savory. Feels very filling even though It's no heavier than the prior two.
Thoughts: this is an excellent fest-Märzen, with well-balanced flavors, satisfying body and density, and great drinkability. The only real complaint was that it's quite hefty, drinking almost like liquid bauernbrot!
5.) Dry Dock Docktoberfest - 5.8% abv
Color: light amber, relatively clear.
Nose: lightly sour roasted malt, mild bitter yeast note.
Palate: Rich flavor but a light body. More roasted malt, and a touch of that yeasty bitterness.
Finish: Light rye bread, touch of bitterness.
Thoughts: solid, but goes a bit heavy on the sour and bitter notes to really be enjoyable. The flavor notes start off barely like a Märzen, but wraps up in line with what you'd expect.
6.) Prost Märzen Oktoberfest – 5.8% abv
Color: light amber, no haze.
Nose: faint roasted malt and caramel.
Palate: full-body and dense flavor. Hints of caramel and roasted/nutty malt.
Finish: finishes with a nice nutty funk.
Thoughts: of the American beers tasted here, this is probably the closest to a traditional Märzen. It's a satisfying drink, without any abrasive notes. Prost, Prost!
7.) Bonus: Casey & Aspen Brewing Collaboration 2015 Bier de Garde 7% abv
Color: very dark brown amber with just a touch of red
Nose: lemon zest with a slight vinegar note.
Palate: sour, with a bit of farmhouse funk. Gets a bit easier to drink after the first sip, but the vinegar note is more pronounced.
Finish: wraps up with a bitter sourness.
Thoughts: not sure if something went wrong as this one cellared, but our experience didn't match the brewer's notes at all. It seemed like the beer started turning to vinegar, and combined with the farmhouse profile which neither of us really enjoy, this one just wasn't well received.
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