It’s still August, but, school is upon us, and there has been a bit of a chill in the air, and that turns my thoughts to the fall, and to Oktoberfest in particular.
Now, you might think Germany’s Oktoberfest was an ancient feast, since they’ve been making beer there something like forever, but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s fairly recent. Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, later King Ludwig I, decreed a celebration in October of 1810 on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen (say that five times as fast as you can), and invited the rest of the kingdom to come to the party.
This was a fairly rare event — royalty mingling on such a grand scale with commoners — but 40,000 people happily obliged and showed up for the party. And, they thought it was such a great idea that they continued to do it every October thereafter. What began in Bavaria spread to the rest of Germany and then through the world.
The festival actually begins in mid-September, running 16 days to the first Sunday in October. In Munich, alone some 6 million people attend at the various beer halls and consume over 5 million liters of beer over that period.
This brings us to our German beer word of the week: Märzen (mare-tzen). It comes from the month of March (März). In the days before electric refrigeration was available, to brew beer in the heat of summer was to court disaster (and not a little ridicule for one’s folly); the brewing season ended in the spring and then began again in autumn.
Most beers in Germany were brewed in the month of March and were kept in cold storage, meaning in the basements of big stone buildings, including the cellar of the local City Hall or, in German, the Ratskeller. The beers were brewed to survive the summer, and tended to be full-bodied, rich, with toast flavors, and typically a dark copper/amber in color. The alcohol content was medium to high to help with preservation.
I tell you this because it’s a style that brewers the world over aim for, and it’s what we’re going to take a look at today, as the result of a recent conversation with Bert and Ron at Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett. All bottles are 12 ounces unless otherwise noted, and available at Bert’s while they last.
Victory Festbier, $2.25, 5.6% alcohol by volume. “Brewed in the Oktoberfest style” they claim, this is a copper-toned beer under creamy/frothy off-white head with a light malt nose leaning toward green hay and straw. It is a medium bodied beer with a dry palate, medium acidity and bitterness, medium alcohol and flavors that reflect the nose with grain predominating some caramel hints in the background all the way to a toasty and nutty finish.
Erdinger Oktoberfest, $2.35. This one’s a weissbier, made in Germany, it says “Bavaria” very prominently on the label as do the people in traditional garb. This is a pale yellow beer under a white huge head with a hops nose and some hints of wheat. The palate is light, with medium bitterness and acidity, light alcohol, and a thinner texture with flavors of wheat, citrus, and some floral notes.
Harpoon Octoberfest, $1.95. 5.3% ABV. There is a New Bedford-invented whaling harpoon on the label, although the beer comes from Boston and Windsor, Vt. To the best of my knowledge whales can be found off the coast of Boston but not off the coast of Vermont. Here we are back into a darker style, copper/amber under a frothy head with a clearly malt nose and aromas of grain, straw, and toast. The palate is medium with good carbonation, acidity and bitterness in a nice, even balance, medium bodied with flavors of malt grain, caramel and roast. Whales or no whales, I’ll drink beer in Vermont anytime.
Sam Adams Oktoberfest, $1.95. I may have mentioned this one recently but it’s on the shelves and widely available so I thought I would mention it again. A darker copper in color, under a light tan head with malt on the nose. Body is medium; the flavor intensity is stronger with caramel, toast and roast, some nuttiness and a pleasing finish.
Goose Island Oktoberfest Märzen, $1.85. They billed this as a traditional Märzen made with Hallertau hops. Amber under a tan head. Malt nose. Medium to light body, integrated alcohol, good bitterness, medium acidity, medium flavor intensity of malt, including coffee and toast, roasted and burnt notes, a little nuttiness and, somewhere in the background, a hint of grain.
Blue Point Oktoberfest $1.95. This is a much lighter beer than its companions in this, a lighter amber with a white, creamy head. The nose is slight, predominately malty. It has a slight sweetness, medium bitterness, low acidity and light alcohol in a medium to light body profile with flavors of straw, toast, and some hints of toffee.
Ayinger Oktoberfest $3.35. 500 mL/16.9 oz., 5.8% alcohol. German in origin. The head is just off-white and the beer is light, pale gold, with a light nose of hops, balanced alcohol, acidity and bitterness. The palate is dry overall, with a mix of hops and malt.
Shiner Oktoberfest Märzen-Style, $1.95. The head is huge and frothy, just a slight bit off-white with a light amber colored beer beneath. The nose is all malt with burnt aromas, roast, toast, and some grain hints. The palate is drying with medium bitterness and acidity, medium alcohol that appears well integrated, and medium to light body with flavors of toast/roast, nuttiness, and again some hints of grain and aggressiveness.
Atwarter Brewery Bloktoberfest, $2.30, 6.2% ABV. Copper colored, small off-white head, malt and hops on the nose. The palate is drying with good bitterness, good acidity, medium tannin, balanced alcohol, medium body and medium texture, with flavors that run toward malt with caramel, hints of grain, toast and roasted flavors emerge at the finish. Very good.
Lastly, a toast. There are number of Latin phrases that have made their way, with a few changes, into German over the centuries. Germany was, after all, the northern border of the Roman Empire for a very long time and gave the Romans no end of trouble.
There is an old Latin toast, “pro sit” meaning “May it be to your good.” It was carried over into the German, were somewhere along the way the “i” dropped out, giving us the modern “Prost!”
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh.com.