Plenty of questions often fill my brain’s idle time, most of which may not have a definitive answer. And while my favorite season for beer usually leans toward the one approaching, fall is a time of beer unlike the rest where a confluence of flavors hit the market fast and wide. Harvest time brings the fresh-hopped pales, the gourd-centric savory and sweet, and the nutty browns and malty darks that seem to warm up the ever-crispier air. But, it is the slew of Marzens hitting the shelves that has me most excited for the season known as Oktoberfest!
Marzens, as may know, are darker lagers usually brewed at the end of spring in March (Marzen in German) to avoid warmer summer temperatures that induce unwanted bacterial infections in the beer. Kept cold (lagered) for the summer, this slightly stronger, full-bodied beer is ready to be poured by the half-liter into large glass-handled vessels come the middle of September. The amber to copper-colored, malt-forward brew is rich and toasty, and once the celebrations start, it flows forth from Bavarian taps across southern Germany. This year the festivities go from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6 in Munich, but Oktoberfest parties are now commonplace in the United States to places as far-flung as Thailand.
The great thing about the Marzen or Oktoberfest beer is its accessibility. An adventurous “dark” beer for the light beer crowd to enjoy for an afternoon without being too strong for their “delicate” palate, while at the same time offering a quaffable, crisp, clean malt showcase appreciated by the connoisseur, a good Marzenbier is really a beer for “the people.”
Here are my top three recommendations for this year’s Oktoberfest: Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen, the classic often considered Germany’s best; Great Lakes Oktoberfest, a smooth, malty lager with subtle Noble hops; and Von Trapp Oktoberfest, which is brewed with light and dark Munich malts for caramel and toffee notes, plus additions of Hallertau and Tettnanger hops for peppery spice hints.
Wherever this coming fall may take you, be sure to take some time out to enjoy the Fest season and the many wonderful brews awaiting you at each turn of the corner. Hops, malt, fruit and gourds, Autumn brings practically the whole spectrum of flavors out. Yet, the Marzen in particular, when crafted by an expert, presents a simple but elegant brew offering a festive session like few others.
This week’s recommendation: Von Trapp Oktoberfest, a Marzen with semi-sweet, toasty malt character balanced by subtle, spicy and floral German hops. 5.6% ABV. Stowe, Vermont.
Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and The Beer Hub in South Utica, New York.