September 18th, 2014
Oktoberfest is both a celebratory festival in Germany (and West Michigan!) and a style of beer. Let me tell you a bit about the history and characteristics of the beer style:
Before refrigeration, it was nearly impossible to brew beer in the summer due to the hot weather and bacterial infections. Brewing ended with the coming of spring, and began again in the fall. In March, brewers would brew a high gravity beer to be kept in cold storage and served until beer could be brewed again in October. When the barrels were needed for storage of the newly brewed beer in the fall, the last of the Marzen had to be finished, and quickly! The festival of Oktoberfest became an excuse to finish off these March-made brews. Thus, these beers can either be called “Märzenbier” or “Oktoberfestbier”.
Traditionally, Märzenbier was full-bodied, rich, toasty, and dark copper in color with a medium to high alcohol content. Over time, the malt bill was lightened, and with the invention of refrigeration, storage was no longer an issue over the summer months. Thus the long aging period is no longer true for Oktoberfest beers. Today’s Oktoberfest beers are still malt-forward, but they are generally lighter brews, though each brewery (especially in America) often takes a little bit of liberty with the style.