Oktoberfest! Just the mention of that sacred word brings about images of steins, lederhosen, tents, and oh so much beer. Not to mention the music, the parties, and the food. So, really what’s the big deal about Oktoberfest beers and how did all of this get started?
The Beginnings of Oktoberfest
It all began with a royal wedding in October of 1810 when two people were joined together creating a celebratory event during a nation’s young beginnings and tumultuous times. Wouldn’t you want to find a reason to celebrate during tumultuous times? Sounds like we need one now, too!
The townspeople had such a great time, they decided to repeat the same event the next year, and then added ale to the celebrations, and eventually more ale, and more food, and more games, and more tents. Today, there are more than six million people flocking to Munich to drink a total of more than seven million liters of beer. The celebration lasts for two weeks, ending in early October.
When this all started in the 1800s the beer then was probably more like a Dunkel, dark and bold, more than likely due to a lack of malting knowledge. As we all know, technology advances, and as brewers began to understand the finer nuances of malts and kilning abilities – indirect heat instead of direct fire, for example- the beers became lighter in color and less intense with the flavors, resulting in what we now call a Märzen.
Märzen: The First Official Oktoberfest Beer
For over a hundred years, the Märzen was the official beer of Oktoberfest. Named after the month of March, the story goes that the guy in charge eons ago didn’t allow beer to be brewed in the summer due to the possibility of bad bacteria growth over the hot summer months. All the beer had to be brewed by March, so it could be stored in dark, cool caves to ferment properly. Then, come fall, it all had to be consumed quickly to make room for the new season’s hops and grains. Quite convenient for an excuse for a party, if you ask me.
Festbier: Today’s Official Oktoberfest Beer
Today, the official beer of Oktoberfest has evolved once again to increase its drinkability factor, with its ABV still remaining quite bold at around six or seven percent. Regardless, the official beer at the official Oktoberfest in Munich is now the festbier, or better known in Germany as the Weisn, named after the field where the wedding took place so many years ago.
The Big Six
While the Oktoberfest beer style has changed a bit over the years, the breweries that have been brewing them since the beginning have not. The same six breweries that brew today for the world’s largest beer party are the same six that started brewing for it over 200 years ago. That’s a lot of pressure to put on six breweries if they have to make enough beer for six million people…every year!
Think your favorite brewery could brew for Oktoberfest? Think again! Unless your favorite brewery happens to be one of the big six. Those six breweries are: Spaten Brauerei, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Hofbräu, Augustiner, and Löwenbräu. And they all must brew within Munich’s city limits.
Staying True to Traditions…Or Not
While there are only six breweries allowed to lay claim to Germany’s Oktoberfest beer, the U.S. does not follow suit. In fact, the most popular Oktoberfest style of beer in the U.S. is primarily still the Märzen. Go ahead. Pick up any Oktoberfest beer in almost any grocery store, liquor store, or taproom, and the majority of the time, it will be a Märzen. Not sure what that says about Americans vs Germans regarding traditions. Although, it does seem that we have stayed truer to traditions than the Germans have when it comes to Oktoberfest. But then again, Germany still follows the Reinheitsgebot Law, and I definitely don’t see that law becoming a tradition here anytime soon, if ever.
September Means Oktoberfest
Whatever traditions we decide to follow or not follow, whether you’re in Germany, the U.S., or any other country for that matter, September means Oktoberfest! And that’s one tradition I think we can all agree on. It’s time to dance like a chicken with some lederhosen while holding a stein or two of beer and singing our favorite oompah songs at the top of our lungs.
So, if you’re not heading to Germany anytime soon, what beers should you be drinking for your Oktoberfest celebrations elsewhere? We’ve compiled a list to kickstart your brain. Some may be easy to find, others not. Some may be traditional, others not. We may have had some, others we’ve never even heard of before. We simply wanted to make your life easier by picking out some beers to get your celebrations started sooner.
Oktoberfest Starts with Your Local Brewery
What we really encourage, though, is reaching out to your local brewery and grabbing a crowler, a growler, a bottle, a six-pack, or a four-pack of their Oktoberfest to go. Or better yet, find out when the party starts, and join in on your very own local Oktoberfest. You may not be able to get to Munich this year, but you can sure as hell drink like you’re there.
Oktoberfest Beers for Your Oktoberfest Celebrations
- BrewDog – Festbier Bavarian Helles 6% ABV
- Schell’s Beer – Hefeweizen Bavarian Style Wheat Beer 5.5% ABV
- Alesmith Brewing Company – Aleschmidt Oktoberfest German-Style Märzen Lager 5.5% ABV
- Sierra Nevada – Kellerweis Bavarian Style Wheat 4.8%
- Spaten – Oktoberfest Ur Märzen 5.9%
- Samuel Adams – Octoberfest Märzen 5.3%
- Left Hand Brewing Company – Oktoberfest Märzen Lager 6.6%
If you’re interested in more of a full history all about Oktoberfest and the malts that have helped to craft them over the years, head on over to our sister story written for Malteurop Malting Co., The History of Oktoberfest Beers and the Malts that Made Them.
Craft Breweries Near You
When you find the coolest breweries to celebrate Oktoberfest, let us know, we’ll add it to the map! Or maybe you’ll find one because it’s on the map. Either way, use the map, find the breweries!
More Fall Beers for Your Enjoyment
When you’re a beer lover, seasons are defined by beers. If you’re in need of some other suggestions for some great fall beers, we’ve got you covered. Or, we can at least get your brain thinking.
Ales vs Lagers
What’s the difference between all these beers anyway? How do I know what’s what? We’ve made a very simplified cheat sheet just for you.