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Ah, Märzen. For the non-aficionados, we’re referring to the Bavarian lager historically brewed and preserved during the spring and summer months to be enjoyed in the fall. Sure, the exact origin and evolution has been muddled over centuries, but you know where we’re going with this. Märzen is widely known as Oktoberfest, the official brew at the Munich beer festival of the same name.
The German tradition has grown into an international celebration of all things Bavarian, with incarnations popping up all across the U.S. And our favorite part of any Oktoberfest event: Oktoberfest beers. From Munich’s finest to some microbrew marvels, here are nine of the best.
As they say in Deutschland, “Prost!”
1. Samuel Adams Oktoberfest
The Boston microbrewery’s Märzen rendition is the most popular domestic Oktoberfest on the market. And for good reason: The sweet and creamy lager blends five roasted malts and is highlighted by notes of toffee and toast. Bavarian Noble hops are added for a final touch of bitterness and authenticity. Like all Sam Adams seasonal beers, Oktoberfest is a great way to embrace nostalgia.
2. Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen
Oktoberfest brews don’t get more authentic than Spaten, which has been a part of the official Munich festival for as long as it has existed. Recognized by its beautiful golden brown color, Spaten Oktoberfest is an aromatic delight; a complex malt profile coupled with lemongrass hops that are low in bitterness. The flavor profile flourishes with sweet caramel, toasted biscuit, and zesty citrus. As convoluted as it sounds, Spaten Oktoberfest has a crisp and refreshing finish, and is arguably one of the easiest Märzens to drink in succession.
3. Great Lakes Oktoberfest
When it comes to American renditions of the German classic, Great Lakes Oktoberfest is hard to beat. The Cleveland-based brew—a two-time gold medal winner at the World Beer Championships—is a frothy, delicious amber lager that combines toasty malts and spicy hops as well as any of its predecessors did before. The beer’s delicate medium-full body has a dry finish, highlighted by fragrant noble hops. For originality’s sake, Great Lakes incorporated raisins into the malting process—they combine with sweet caramel and toffee for one heck of a flavor profile. Great Lakes is a must-have for anyone who considers himself an Oktoberfest snob.
4. Weihenstephaner Oktoberfestbier
Just north of Munich, in the Bavarian city of Freising, the hills call home to Weihenstephan. Operating since 1040, it’s celebrated as the oldest existing brewery in the world. Known for its array of wheats and a classic Pilsner, Weihenstephan is proudly represented in the Märzen market with Weihenstephaner Oktoberfestbier. (Simply known as Festbier in some regions.) While lighter in color than most Oktoberfest beers, Festbier is a full-bodied brew topped with a thick crop of white foam that leaves plenty of residual “lace”–that leftover foam that rings around your empty stein. Festbier is far more balanced, with a stronger hops presence than your average Oktoberfest, marrying the bitterness with underlying honey malts. The beer pairs great with traditional Bavarian food and, as such, is a fall beer garden staple.
5. Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen
Another brewery rich in Bavarian history, Paulaner was founded in the 17th century, back when monks brewed the beer for comically drunken friars. Paulaner is one of the most popular beers in all of Deutschland, and the brand’s Oktoberfest-Märzen is a staple at Munich Oktoberfest. The clear, amber-colored lager is similar to Festbier in its transparency and frothiness, with a prominent flavor that can best be described as “bready.” The sweet, toasted malts are finished with zesty herbal hops, and the beer has a nice amount of carbonation compared to its competition.
6. Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier
Of the “big six” Munich breweries allowed to serve at the official Oktoberfest—the exclusive group also includes Spaten and Paulaner—Hofbräu is the largest draw, and arguably the most popular Bavarian brew in beer gardens and halls across the U.S. Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier is probably the lightest on the Märzen color spectrum, but also one of the strongest—6.3% ABV due to its noticeably higher hop count. It’s still packed with all the rich malt components of its competitors, highlighted by nutty and fruity flavors. It’s another crisp, clean brew that pairs well German comfort food.
7. Beck’s Oktoberfest
Beck’s is Germany’s highest-selling exported brew. A true seasonal (the beer is only brewed and bottled for fall), Beck’s Oktoberfest is unique in that it is forbidden from being sold in Germany, simply because it is not brewed in Munich. Harsh, yes, but the beer still passes the German Purity Law of 1516, which requires fresh water and top barley and hops in the brewing process. Beck’s Oktoberfest is a bright copper lager topped by a creamy off-white head. It’s got a sweet floral aroma and the taste has some serious spice to it, followed by a grainy flavored finish. It’s a very pleasant dry lager; Germany’s loss is America’s gain here.
8. Brooklyn Oktoberfest
A fellow two-time gold medal winner at the World Beer Championships, Brooklyn Lager’s Oktoberfest is a popular seasonal in New York City’s emerging beer borough. A darker amber color distinguishes the beer from its Bavarian-brewed counterparts, but there is no slacking in the makeup. Brooklyn Oktoberfest is brewed with authentic Munich malts and hops. It has the toasty aroma that’s been prevalent on this list, but is also highlighted by crisp carbonation that makes the beer a refreshing option at seasonal parties.
9. Shiner Oktoberfest
Tucked in the southeast region of the Lone Star State is a place called Shiner, home to the Spoetzl Brewery, which produces a fine line of German-themed beers. Included in the bunch is Shiner Oktoberfest, a deep amber Märzen brewed with fresh German malts and hops. Shiner has a pleasantly sweet taste with all the toasty notes you love about Oktoberfest, while it’s also light on bitterness. When it comes to southern-style Festbier, Shiner is in a class of its own.
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