What’s Brewing? It’s time for Oktoberfest and the Festbier/Marzën invasion
Festbier is the youngest addition to the celebratory Oktoberfest beers.
Before diving into a few details about Festbier, let me first clarify that Oktoberfest is technically a name that should only be used by breweries in Munich, Germany. After all, this is a celebration of Bavarian traditions and only brews that are produced within the area for the celebration are specifically called Oktoberfest beers. The name Oktoberfest is parallel to the term champagne, in which only sparkling wines produced in Champagne, France, may be called, champagne. Everything produced outside the area is simply a sparkling wine.
Out of respect, you’ll see Festbier as opposed to Oktoberfestbier on the menus at various breweries to denote Oktoberfest, the two-week long celebration in Munich, Germany. This is celebrated around the world from mid-September through early October. The original six breweries in Munich that produce beer for this annual event are Löwenbräu, Spaten, Hofbräu, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr and Paulaner Brewing Co.
A little history
The Festbier style was created in the 1970s by Paulaner Brewery. This brewery was first established in 1634 in Munich, by the Minim friars of the Neudeck ob der Au cloister. Paulaner is still among the top-selling beer brands in Germany today. Modern tastes desired a less filling beer after comments arose that Marzën, the traditional style beer of Oktoberfest that is brewed in March and lagered until fall, was far too heavy and sweet.
Although today’s Festbier is still malt forward with 90 percent Pilsner and 10 percent Crystal malts, it is less malty than traditional Marzëns. Festbiers have a lighter body with fragrant hop aromas. More in common with the Helles lagers, Festbiers are bright golden yellow color and should have good clarity. Possibly due to the characteristics of original Oktoberfest-Marzën, Americans typically expect to see an orange or amber-like color in their Festbier.
To the detriment of the Festbier style, some breweries will add artificial color or nontraditional malts yielding a darker orange-like color to the final product to satisfy consumers. Festbiers should have a smooth, creamy profile and still maintain the crispness of a lager. Traditionally Festbiers are slightly higher in alcohol to help motivate the Oktoberfest celebration in Munich.
Although Marzëns will always maintain their historic place as the original Oktoberfest brew, Festbier is the more recent choice beverage for the occasion.
Here are a few brews produced for the American Oktoberfest celebration you’ll find at your local distributors and breweries.
Helicon Brewing Co. (Oakdale)
Festbier German Lager (5.9% ABV). Brewed with Pilsner and Crystal malts. Pours translucent golden color with a white frothy head. Slight floral nose. Slight presence of hops with a malt backbone. Clean finish.
Penn Brewery (Pittsburgh)
Oktoberfest German lager (5.5% ABV). A rich, copper-colored Munich-style fest beer. Malty and medium-bodied. Features nutty, toasty, slightly roasted, and caramel characteristics with a well-balanced hop bitterness. The brewery throws its own epic Oktoberfest celebration this weekend — Sept. 28-30.
Four Seasons Brewing Co. (Latrobe)
Wet Hop Harvest Ale Harvest Ale (5.4 ABV). Pours yellow with a fluffy white head. Brewed with fresh wet hops that contribute earthy, floral, hoppy notes.
All Saints Brewing Co. (Greensburg)
Oktoberfest German lager (5.7% ABV). Pours light copper color with a balance of malt sweetness, hop bitterness and toasted crispness. Light body, with a clean, crisp finish. Brewed with
100 percent German malt and hops. All Saints fourth annual Oktoberfest celebration is
Mark Brewer is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
He’s the author and illustrator of Brewology,
An Illustrated Dictionary for Beer Lovers.