If you’ve been a long-time subscriber of our newsletter (thank ya!), you’ll know that older editions contained a segment called “Beer School” where we wrote about a beer-related subject. This week we’re talkin’ about Oktoberfestbiers. ‘Tis the season!
Prost! O’zapft is! Zum Wohl!
These words might mean something to you. Or maybe they don’t. To us, they mean it’s Oktoberfest season! Surely you’ve seen plenty of Oktoberfest beers on our shelves and on draft. Hopefully many of you have stopped by to try some, too!
But why do we see these beers every year? Where do they come from? And what’s the difference between an Oktoberfestbier, Märzen, Festbier, Oktoberfest and Vienna Lager? Before we answer those questions, let’s start with a few quick facts about the Oktoberfest festival itself!
- • Oktoberfest is held in Munich, Bavaria, Germany every year from mid-September to early October.
- • Oktoberfest 2017: September 16th to October 3rd
- • More than 6 million people descend upon the city every year to celebrate. Only 15% of the celebrators are tourists.
- • There are only 6 breweries allowed to produce Oktoberfestbier for the festival: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu, and Staatliches Hofbräu-München.
History of Oktoberfest
Let’s rewind to the year 1810. Ahh, the good ol’ days. Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese Charlotte Luise on October 12th. The citizens of Bavaria were invited to celebrate their marriage on the fields in front of the city gates. The celebration back then was nothing like the celebration we know today, and consisted of horse races. How exciting. It was decided to continue the celebration every year, and with every year came new additions to the celebration – children parades, choirs, tree climbing, bowling, swings, and (most importantly) lots of beer consumption.
All About Märzens
We’re talking about beer here, so why, out of alllll the styles of beer available, are Märzens the official style of Oktoberfest? Here we go again… let’s rewind even further back to the year 1553 where a Bavarian law stated that beer was forbidden to be brewed between April 24th and September 28th. Silly Germans. But also clever Germans.
Clever because Bavarian brewers brewed a higher ABV beer in March and left it to lager (literally translates “to store” in German) over the months that beer was not allowed to be produced. Lagering these beers meant storing them in cold, underground cellars typically in wooden casks. So when the time came to celebrate during the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese on October 12th, what beer do ya think they were drinking? Märzens! Today, that silly German beer law doesn’t exist (thank God), but now the tradition of Märzen being a fall seasonal drinking beer is deeply rooted in our history.
Oktoberfestbier vs Märzen vs Festbier vs Oktoberfest vs Vienna Lager
We’re going to break this down very simply: there is no difference. Really, the physical differences are so subtle that they’re hardly worth mentioning. But we’ll break it down anyway. Märzen precedes all of these styles both in time and in a beer-style hierarchy. “Oktoberfestbier” is a protected name reserved for breweries within Munich’s city limits. Breweries outside Munich must use Oktoberfest-style (or Oktoberfest) naming. Festbier is basically a pale version of Märzen. Vienna Lager is arguably the most unique among these styles and separates itself by not being a beer brewed for festivals, and is slightly more bitter and lower in alcohol.
And that’s a wrap on Oktoberfest beers, folks! We hope you learned a little somethin’ here that’ll make you appreciate your next cold, malty Oktoberfest. Prost!