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A Brief History of Märzen and Oktoberfest

A Brief History of Märzen and Oktoberfest

As the air becomes crisper and the leaves begin to change, beer enthusiasts turn their attention from summer quenchers to darker and maltier beers. The beer that best represents the autumn season in both taste and appearance is the copper colored, malty lager known as the Märzen.  

The Märzen originated some time during the 19th century. As the name implies, Märzen, or “March beer,” was typically brewed in March and lagered in cold caves during the summer months. Before refrigeration, the brewing season began from the onset of fall until the cool days of early spring. The idea behind the Märzen was to use up the last of the remaining hops and malts before brewing ceased for the summer. The traditional Märzen was brewed at a slightly higher gravity and fermented at lower temperatures for an extended period of time. This would prevent spoilage, resulting in a cleaner, more stable beer.

The Märzen is commonly referred to as an “Oktoberfest” beer since its release coincides with the famous fall festival held in Munich, Germany, each year. The first Oktoberfest celebrated the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The marriage occurred on October 12, 1810, and the wedding festivities lasted for five days. The timing was perfect, as the new Prince and Princess tapped that year’s locally brewed Märzen, which became the drink of choice for fall consumption. An example of a traditional Märzen is Paulaner Oktoberfest.

The beer served at the royal wedding, and for about the next sixty years of Oktoberfest celebrations, was a traditional Märzen. That was until Josef Sedlmayr of Spaten Brewery introduced his own rendition of this amber lager. Spaten produced the first modern Märzen and the staple at all Oktoberfest celebrations thereafter, as this style was quickly adopted by many other German breweries. Spaten Oktoberfest is available every fall at your local beverage center.

Today, the majority of beer served at Oktoberfest in Munich is Festbier. Originally, Festbiers were made for export to the United States. Paulaner was the first to create a golden version of the modern Märzen in the mid-1970s because they felt the traditional Oktoberfest was too filling. Other German brewers quickly followed suit and began making Festbiers in order to provide a lighter, more drinkable, but still malty option for Oktoberfest attendees.

A great example of a Festbier is Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest. Each year, Sierra Nevada partners with a different German brewer to reproduce Germany’s famous Oktoberfest beers. This year, they collaborated with Brauhaus Miltenberger to produce a Festbier, deep golden in color with a deceptively rich malt flavor that is balanced by German whole-cone hops. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest can be found where you purchase beer.

So, there you have it. A brief history of Märzen and Oktoberfest. This fall, when you’re yearning for something darker and maltier to complement the autumn season, reach for a hearty Märzen or refreshing Festbier. Prost!

Brian Coffey
Brian Coffey

Brian has had many passions in life and after being in the beer industry for over 7 years, he has naturally developed a passion for craft beer - both learning about it and drinking it. He loves trying new beer, pairing it with food and if you join him, you better be able to “name that beer," rate your liking of it and describe its “notes." Brian enjoys all beer styles and feels there's a time and place for every beer. He currently has an affinity for sours, Belgians, and Germans. Outside of his love for the beer, Brian loves the Saratoga Race Track where in August you will find him with a refreshing Coors Light or Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy in hand.

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