Few beers have more history behind them, and also more misunderstanding about them, than Oktoberfest style beer. The beer will be forever associated with the annual festival held in Munich, Germany – which actually begins in September. Way back when, before 1-800-Flowers or a Whitman Sampler came into being, Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig wanted to celebrate his marrying of Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Since the Princess was a hottie (I’m assuming she was hot, after all he was a prince) he decided to throw a huge party. Ironically, there was no beer served at this party (yeah, what a snoozer of a shindig), but in later years thirsty Germans celebrated the nuptials with a beer they had been drinking since the 16th century. These beers were traditionally brewed in the late winter, with the breweries working overtime to get them into fermentation by March to take advantage of the cold temperatures. This gave rise to the original name, Marzen beers. They were strong and well hopped by lager standards, and would have to last the loyal beer drinkers until the next grain and hop harvest in Fall. Well, as any truly dedicated homebrewer can tell you, sometimes you start running out of room for all your beer. And these Old World brewers were no different. When it came time for the Fall harvest, all of the wooden casks filled with Marzen beer needed to be emptied to make room for the next year’s brewing. The best way to get rid of a bunch of beer hasn’t changed since the earliest signs of brewing in ancient times. Throw a party. Hence the “Oktoberfest” became the preferred name, instead of “Marzen”, for these strong malty lager beers.

Oktoberfest style beers can be considered the first real seasonal beer. But through better brewing practices and technology, brewers were eventually no longer at the mercy of that pesky Mother Nature. Soon lovers of the style were able to enjoy it year round. And today, although some breweries produce the style year round, those breweries that produce it seasonally tend to release them as early as late Spring to quench beer geeks’ thirst. And on top of that, most homebrewers brew these for consumption in October, instead of the more traditional September. Hey, I’m not pointing a finger. The Germans can be confusing. Drinking Okoberfest in September, listening to techno music, and worshipping David Hasselhoff like some sort of god. It kind of is what it is.

I do invite you though to take a walk down Germania lane. Below are two recipes for Oktoberfest style beers. One of them is traditional. The other is a model of one of my favorite Oktoberfest style beers that is brewed with rye. Both of these beers are going to utilize lager fermentations (see my previous blog post about lager brewing!). And ideally these should get brewed and then packaged, but not opened until mid-September. Keep them in a cool dark place until the Fall, and then throw your own authentic Oktoberfest party!

Traditional Marzen/Oktoberfest Bier

ALL GRAIN: (90 minute boil)
4.5 lb Pilsner Malt
3.5 lb Light Munich Malt
3.5 lb Vienna Malt
½ lb Amber Malt

EXTRACT WITH GRAINS: (60 minute boil)
6.6 lb Munich LME
1 lb Munton’s Light DME
1 lb Vienna Malt
¼ lb Victory Malt
½ lb Amber Malt

Hop Schedule:
Bittering addition for all-grain is 1oz of Hallertau for 60 minutes (Boil for 30 minutes then add bittering addition)
Bittering addition for extract with grains is 1oz Northern Brewer for 60 minutes

Late additions are the same for both beers
1oz Saaz 15 minutes
½ oz Hallertau 10 minutes

Wyeast 2112 or White Labs 810, ferment between 58-65 F

 

Munich on Rye (Rye Oktoberfest Beer)

ALL GRAIN: (90 minute boil)
4 lb Pilsner Malt
4.5 lb Vienna Malt
1 lb Dark Munich Malt
3.5 lb Rye Malt

EXTRACT WITH GRAINS: (60 minute boil)
6.6 lb Munich LME
1 lb Munton’s Light DME
1.5 lb Flaked Rye
1 lb Vienna Malt
¼ lb Victory Malt

Hop Schedule:
Bittering addition for all-grain is 1oz Tettnang for 60 minutes (Boil for 30 minutes then add bittering addition)
Bittering addition for extract with grains is 1oz Tradition for 60 minutes

Late additions are the same for both beers
1oz Tradition 15 minutes

Wyeast 2112 or White Labs 810, ferment between 58-65 F