While this time of year is almost always dominated by the over-saturation of pumpkin beer, much to the bafflement of most craft beer drinkers, the reason I look forward to the changing of the leaves is the wonderful slew of amber-red brews known as Oktoberfest beers, aka Märzen lagers.
The most well-known is the Samuel Adams Octoberfest, despite the misspelling, and no, I will never let that drop. For the best examples of the style, however, you’ll need to go looking for the true-blue German brands. No, not Becks.
The difference between the true brews and the imitators is sometimes subtle, but noticeable. A good Märzen strikes a good balance between malty and crisp, being sessionable, but still complex and interesting.
I normally do a full tasting, but I know from personal experience who the leaders of the pack will be. Hacker-Pshorr, Paulaner and Ayinger are the best of the German imports and you’ll find them available in some of the better liquor stores and beer bars peppered all over the state. All of them are at the heart of the festival in Germany, and all of them are sponsors; you’ll find a significant lack of the faux-German brands that many people think are German, like the aforementioned Beck’s.
And while on the surface it looks like the festival is little more than an excuse to pour down beer while making sloppy passes at girls in dirndls, there is a far more significant and important cultural meaning behind it. The first Oktoberfest was actually a wedding celebration, and once upon a time, the beer was stored and aged for months in preparation for the event. It was a time-consuming process, one that is deserving of more respect than one gives when guzzling from a funnel. Oktoberfest beers are not the beers you drink when the only agenda is shredding your senses. That’s what Natural Light is for. We here in the US have a habit of taking things to an unhealthy extreme, and even though Oktoberfest is, by nature, a drinking festival, that doesn’t mean you have to approach it with the ravenous determination of a undisciplined frat boy.
A well-crafted Märzen deserves your time and respect. Its flavor deserves to be enjoyed and appreciated. Remember, this is a beer that’s probably older than your family, and will probably be around long after you have passed. This is a beer made by men and women who are following traditions and brewing methods from a country that’s been dedicated to the fine art of making beer for centuries longer than we’ve even had a country. It’s an important and revered tradition to many, so slow down, take a breath and give the brew its due.
That’s not to say you can’t get hammered on them, but at least slow down enough to taste and savor the work and tradition that went into the noble and well-loved style of beer. Or, at least, learn to spell it correctly.