Oktoberfest is an odd duck within the plethora of beer styles since they can be challenging to categorize. Oktoberfest beer is a category that can be difficult to categorize. The Oktoberfest beer category comprises beer explicitly brewed for Oktoberfest, the main Oktoberfest festival, as well as beers made in this fashion. The festival is held annually in Munich, Germany, between mid-September and the beginning of October. It is a showcase for six local breweries allowed to serve their beer at their property: Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr Augustiner, Hofbrau, and Lowenbrau. These are the actual Oktoberfest beverages in the most pure version.
But you can also see an Oktoberfest label on various other seasonal beers made in and out of Germany. Although the flavors differ, these beers are usually designed to mimic Oktoberfest’s historic designs served at the official celebration over time and tend to be lagers.
“When talking about Oktoberfest, it’s important to understand that the beer has changed since the first festival in 1810,” says Goose Island R&D manager Mike Siegel and explains his opinion of one of the most prevalent misconceptions about the beer’s style. Siegel recently collaborated with Munich’s Spaten Brauerei, one of the festival’s official breweries, to create a fresh Oktoberfest ale for Goose Island.
In America, our Oktoberfests are usually red-hued, mildly sweet beers called Marzen beer, a lager-style beer brewed in March and stored until autumn. However, at the actual event beer, they are more similar to what we envision as a German Lager — more pale beers identical to another German style called Dortmunder. Dortmunder.
“[Back in 1810], the beer of Munich was Dunkel, a dark lager, and by 1872, the amber beer [aka Marzen] we are more accustomed to was introduced,” Siegel describes. “As a result of using paler malts, it continued to get lighter in color throughout the 20th century. These days, the beer served at the Munich festival is golden, slightly more so than Helles (another pale, German lager style), but brewed to a higher gravity, resulting in a beer with a higher alcohol content. They are no longer the amber brews that American brewers make today, which use lots of Munich and Caramel malts for color and a sweet, full flavor.”
To sum up, the Oktoberfest beers that are made in America and designed to imitate the traditional style of Oktoberfest and Oktoberfest in Munich are usually not as good as the authentic Oktoberfest beers that are served at the real German Oktoberfest. An older style typically inspires them.
Be aware of this distinction. Sure American brewery owners produce Oktoberfest beers closer to contemporary German style, referred to as German-Style Oktoberfest/Wiesn. In turn, mindful of American views, some German beer producers sell American-style Oktoberfest beer to the U.S., known as American-Style Oktoberfest/Marzen.
So, let’s declare, “Prost!” for the Dortmunder style German Oktoberfest and Marzen in the American style Oktoberfest.