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How to celebrate Oktoberfest at home

Oktoberfest IRL may be out of the question, Hometoberfest is certainly still on the table. German beer required; lederhosen strongly encouraged.

Celebrate Oktoberfest at home

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What beer did they drink at the original Oktoberfest?


Märzen (pronounced “Mare-tsen”) is the beer that defined Oktoberfest. If you’re aiming for the most historically accurate Oktoberfest beer, you can’t do much better than a liter of this rich, malty, mysteriously drinkable lager. Brewed in March - or März in German - this lager fermented in cool caves over the summer. So by the time Oktoberfest rolled around, a gloriously smooth, malty beer was waiting in the wings.

How does Märzen get its color and flavor?

Märzen is a clean, crisp, fully drinkable lager, but it’s not the fizzy yellow kind that dominates so much of today’s beer landscape. You see, in the early 1800’s, the light, golden pilsner malts that make up light lagers today simply didn’t exist. Munich’s brewmasters made their Märzen with the darker, toastier barley malts available at the time. In fact, one of these deliciously biscuity malts eventually came to be known as “Munich malt” and it’s still used in many styles today. Does your city have a malt named after it? We very much doubt it.

What does Märzen taste like?

The complex malts in its recipe are responsible for the Märzen’s deep amber hue and lush, caramel malt profile. It also features a clean lager aroma of lightly toasted bread that plays a major part in the flavor. All this malt character is only slightly sweet, as a healthy portion of German hops balances this beer so you’ll definitely want to keep sipping. Since they were originally brewed in an age before refrigeration, Märzens are moderately strong; this helped improve their shelf life. ABV generally ranges from around 5.7-6.3%.

Some of the earliest versions were so dark, toasty and even chocolatey, that today we’d probably classify them as the even darker Dunkel. Grab a few of those if you want extra Bavarian street cred. However, most Märzens are light-to-medium amber.
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  • Helles

    So you’ve just had a liter of Märzen, made short work of a pretzel and then moved on to a bratwurst. You’re clearly nailing it, but washing it all down with another Märzen seems like a bridge too far. Enter the Munich Helles style beer. A more modern Bavarian brewing creation, Helles (pronounced “Hell is”) is a light, easy-drinking lager that focuses on light grainy goodness with a touch of herbal hop flavor. Never overdoing it, Helles makes for a crucial alternative to Märzen reruns if you’re stuffed with pretzels and sausage. The beer’s ABV also averages about 1% less than Märzen, so it’s a wise choice if you’re pulling a long haul. “Helles” is also primed for punny beer names from your local brewery.
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  • Festbier

    Somewhere between the intense maltiness of the Märzen and the restrained beauty of the Munich Helles lies the Festbier. Festbier has the silky Munich-style malty goodies of the Marzen but the lighter body and color of the Helles. With its foamy head and golden color, it’s pretty much the Google Images standard search result for “beer”, but it’s by no means generic. Festbier strikes a balance between modern tastes and old-timey comfort. It makes sense, then, that this beer became the predominant style at the Munich Oktoberfest following German Unification in 1990. Festbier beer blends the toasty and the light, the complex and the accessible, the Kraftwerk and the Hasselhoff. We think it works pretty well, as do legions of Oktoberfest revelers. As your own master of ceremonies, you’ll have to decide which Oktoberfest beer is your favorite. We’d never presume to do it for you.

    What’s the proper glassware for an Oktoberfest beer?

    The most satisfying way to enjoy any of these beers is in a sturdy stein glass with a handle. You can do a liter (33.8 oz, or just under three 12-oz beers) or a half liter; either should feel pleasingly hefty in your hand. Few things are more satisfying than a “Prost” toast where you clink the bottom of the steins together.

    What foods do I pair with Oktoberfest style beers?

    The Germans have done a lot of the homework for you on this one. Much of what you’ll see on the menu is toasted/caramelized to perfection, just like the above family portrait, featuring Märzen and its kindred spirits of sausage and pretzels. You can certainly try different sausage concoctions like a bright, herbal Thuringer, smoked Andouille, or plant-based. Don’t forget proper sturdy buns and your favorite mustard! If you aren’t going full German, all of these beers will pair phenomenally with good old-fashioned BBQ.

    Where can I find the best Oktoberfest beers?

    You might find traditional, Munich-made versions of all the above styles, particularly this time of year. However, there’s a good chance that a local brewery is also making a wunderbar, fresh Märzen right in your backyard. We recommend getting a mix of the traditional and tasting how traditional stacks up against local craft. Craft breweries aren’t bound by historical constraints and may have their own spin on Oktoberfest, so take a look at the packaging to see if they’re aiming for something closer to a Märzen, Helles, or Festbier. We've got lots of options for you and your friends to fill your steins right here on Drizly, so pop into our Oktoberfest tent! One last tip: please “Chicken Dance” responsibly. Ein prosit!