Beer of the month …or not

By on October 8, 2014

By now, every brewer — if they make one — has their Oktoberfest/Octoberfest available. So, what is this seasonal concoction? As American craft brewing defines them, Oktoberfests are generally a gold-colored lager with an emphasis on malts and a moderate ABV somewhere around five percent.

As with everything beer related, many craft brewers in the U.S. have tweaked the traditional recipe. And some, like Thirsty Dog Brewing Company from Akron, Ohio, honor the old world tradition by using only German malts and hops in their Barktoberfest. Across the pond, where Oktoberfestbier (a.k.a. Märzen) was born, the recipe for their world renowned beer has had some slight modifications throughout the years, but one thing is for sure — only a handful of brewers can legally brew an Oktoberfestbier.

The traditional recipe for Oktoberfest beers dates back to medieval times. Due to climate and lack of refrigeration brewers traditionally created a stock of beer in the month of March (März in German) to last their patrons through the summer months. Brewers used caves, sometimes packed with ice, barrels, and hops to help keep the beer fresh. As the months grew on in this medieval summer the beer would naturally change and by September the hop flavor lessened and the beer became more malt forward. Then something fun happened. In order to start brewing again and restocking their caves, the barrels needed to be emptied and a lot of beer went into a lot of bellies rather quickly.

The two week party in Munich, Germany, eventually known as Oktoberfest, started as a celebration of the marriage between Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810. It grew organically as people continued the tradition of celebration every year (well, almost; the festival was canceled 24 times due to war and cholera epidemics). Over the years there have been changes and additions to the event, moving it into September for better weather was one such change. As the event grew — this year 6.2 million people visited — so changed the beer, slightly.

True Oktoberfestbier, served at Munich's Oktoberfest, can only be brewed by the six breweries in the city limits: Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu-München, Augustiner-Bräu, Paulaner and Spaten.

True Oktoberfestbier, served at Munich’s Oktoberfest, can only be brewed by the six breweries in the city limits: Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu-München, Augustiner-Bräu, Paulaner and Spaten.

The true Oktoberfestbier, as it has come to be classified, served at Munich’s Oktoberfest is one style and can only be brewed by the six breweries in the city limits: Spaten, Löwenbräu, Augustiner-Bräu, Hofbräu-München, Paulaner, and Hacker-Pschorr. The registered trademark, Oktoberfestbier, is secured by the European Union as a Protected Geographical Indication — similar to a wine’s appellation. In the U.S., some breweries have not even tried to capture the tradition of the “March” beer and simply slap the word Oktoberfest on their label; others have tried hard to recreate an historic beer.

So, although the seasonal brew sounds like the month we are currently in, it has little, historically, to do with the month of October. Yet, with the miracles of modern technology, today we can enjoy our beers of March in October without the use of cave-aging. If you missed out on the fun in Munich this year, the second best thing locally is Stoudts’ Oktoberfest where the celebration runs every Sunday throughout October. Gates open at noon. And of course, Stoudts’ brews an Oktoberfest beer.

Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at 354-0609.

One Comment

  1. SBO

    April 26, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Personally, I like PAULANER HEFE-WEISSBIE because bubbles like cream, soft fragrant

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