Learning About Beer: Oktoberfest

It’s the first week of September, there was a slight chill to the air last week though it’s in the 90s today, and there are too many damn pumpkin beers on the shelf. Pumpkin beers seem to be the new official beer of fall, but long before pumpkin beers became popular in America Germans were having a fall festival with its own style of beer, Oktoberfest.

History of the event

Bavarian King Maximilian Joseph held a 2-day festival for the 1810 wedding of his son, Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Besides plenty of food and beer for the entire town, there were also horse races. The event ended up being so popular that it became a yearly tradition.

I mention the horse races because what American’s see of Oktoberfest is people with giant steins sitting at long tables in massive tents, some that hold up to 6,000 people. The horse races at the wedding celebration were the first form of entertainment which has grown into a fairground amusement park with roller coasters.

While the wedding was on October 13th and 14th they’ve since moved the event forward a few weeks into the last two weeks of September, mostly due to weather. It’s still nice to be drinking outside in a tent in September… October, not so much.

Photo credit to uk:Користувач:Gutsul
Photo credit to uk:Користувач:Gutsul

While Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany attracts around 6 million people each year Oktoberfest Zinzinnati pulls in 500,000, making it the largest one in America and the third largest outside of German. Another fun fact about Cincinnati and Oktoberfest is that we’re home to the world’s largest producer of Oktoberfest beer with Sam Adams.

Märzen vs. Oktoberfest

The Oktoberfest style of beer we think of in America isn’t as historically linked to the event as we might like to believe. According to The Oxford Companion to Beer “In the first 60 or so years the then popular Bavarian Dunkel seems to have dominated the festival.” Dunkel ran out one year and they started pouring an 8% Vienna style lager which was a hit and hung around until World War 1. The strength began to vary after that, finally settling down to around 6%.

Starting in 1990 the beer served at Oktoberfest changed from the reddish-brown strong Vienna lager to a golden and slightly sweet beer. The 2015 BJCP style guidelines recognized this difference and created two styles: Märzen and Festbier.


This is the beer you think of when you think Oktoberfest. This is what was poured at Germany’s Oktoberfest up until the 90s.

Märzen is German for March which is the month this beer is brewed in. In the 1500s, brewers were not allowed to brew between April 23rd and September 29th. They didn’t have refrigeration then so the hot summer months would infect the beers with unwanted microbes. The beers of March were brewed stronger then stored in caves during the summer.

Märzens are malt forward beers focusing on toasty and bready flavors. The hop notes IPA lovers crave should be nearly non-existent. Same goes for the roasted malts you’d get out of a stout. These are beers meant to showcase malt, nothing else. Visually we’re looking for a rich coppery amber with great clarity and a strong off-white head. Your tongue gets treated to a smooth medium body and medium carbonation.


This is what’s served at Germany’s Oktoberfest today.

Festbiers falls short of a Märzen but more complex than a Helles. It’s a German lager with stronger malt flavors and light hoping. The toasty malts are still there, but less so than in Märzen. While the malt goes down the hops go up with an increased presence of noble hop notes (floral, herbal, and spicy flavors/aromas). While Märzens are reddish Festbiers are golden.

Why do I keep saying Festbier and not Oktoberfest? The European Union is big on regulations and appellations. Only breweries inside of Munich, Germany are allowed to use the name Oktoberfestbier. Luckily EU regulations don’t apply in America so American craft brewers can call their beers whatever they want.

Favorite Examples of Style

Most breweries in town don’t make an Oktoberfest-style beer, but here are a few locals to try. Rhinegeist Franz is in cans and on draft across most of the city. I haven’t had Franz this year, but remember it being a decent beer last year. Moerlein has Fifth & Vine available in bottles at every grocery store across the area, it’s a good Oktoberfest, but not great. Taft’s Ale House launched their Oktoberfest last week, it’s only available there, but I found it was a very good beer with strong toasted malt flavors and a great finish.

I always think of Sam Adams as quasi-local. They produce more Oktoberfest beer than anyone else in the world and they do most of that here in Cincinnati. This one will be available nearly everywhere in almost any package you could wish. Like most Sam Adams beers, it’s good and stylistically accurate, but not mind-blowing.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest

Further afield is Great Lakes Oktoberfest which in years past has been my favorite example of the style. That changed this year with the release of Sierra Nevada/Brauhaus Riegele’s collaboration Oktoberfest. This beer really knocks it out of the park. Both the Great Lakes and the Sierra Nevada will be available wherever great beer is sold. Venturing back to the fatherland Paulaner Oktoberfest, Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest, and Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen are all top picks.

If you’re looking for a fall seasonal beer that doesn’t involve gourds hit your local better beer store and try a few of the examples above. If you’re looking to try these beers and have a great time in a massive crowd then head downtown September 18th – 20th for Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.

The Bane of Pumpkin Beers

Ed. Note: What follows is a rant by friend & sponsor of the blog Brent Osborn. As always if you’ve got something you want to say then shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com and I’ll check it out. Personally, I abhor pumpkin beers, plus many other writers have already trodden this path. But, since Brent felt like ranting I was happy to post it!

Fall’s just around the corner.

Fall is a wonderful season: leaves changing color, 2015-09-02football games, Reese’s pumpkins, hoodies, fires, and all that good stuff. Yet it’s also a time I dread for one very specific reason: the pumpkin-spice apocalypse. The list of pumpkin-spiced things has grown from run-of-the-mill lattes to include Oreos, gum, and even english muffins. But the worst culprit—the bane of my existence this time of year—is the pumpkin beer. And in case you didn’t notice the endcaps are full of pumpkin beers.

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The Fallacy of Freshness: The PsycHOPathy Vertical

I’ve noticed increased chatter on Facebook groups about the freshness of IPAs. Of course, you should enjoy most styles of beer as fresh as possible because breweries release their beer when they feel it’s ready for you to drink it. However, what I’ve been seeing is the flat-out rejection of IPAs that are only a few weeks old. I decided to set out and see if that rejection is valid. After a year of waiting, a few friends and I sat down for a vertical of MadTree’s PsycHOPathy IPA.

Fresh IPAs

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Phylloxera Aphid: The Bug That Changed The Alcohol World

This is the little bastard that crushed the French wine world but helped bring whiskey to the rest of the world. This is the story of Phylloxera Dactylasphaera vitifoliae.

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Book Review: Modern Homebrew Recipes by Gordon Strong

Modern Homebrew Recipes is the book homebrewers have been waiting for. At least it’s the book that this homebrewer has been waiting for! Click that link to go buy it now or keep reading to find out why I think it’s so great.

Modern Homebrew Recipes by Gordon Strong

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For Real Happiness Buy Experiences, Not Things

I recently discovered a new podcast, You Are Not So Smart, and really enjoyed an episode called Happy Money, focused on money and rewards. Shortly after that I read this article from Scientific American. The takeaway from both is simple: Buying experiences makes us happier than buying things.

Turns out a fair bit of research has been done regarding people’s perceptions of how much they’ll enjoy a thing before and after they buy something. We think we like buying things better because they give us more value, but we get more joy out of experiences. The reason is that we can place an objective value on a thing. “This bottle of Cantillon cost me $25 in 2013. I could probably sell it for $75 to $100 now.” Whereas memories and experiences have a much more subjective value to them. “I had an amazing time at that bottle share last month.” What is an “amazing time?” How much is it worth? Despite this, we pull more happiness out of the experience than the possession of material goods.

The study showed that this effect of enjoying experiences more than things increases with delayed satisfaction. That is when we buy a thing and pay for it now with the plan of experiencing it later we will enjoy it even more than if we bought it and enjoyed it immediately.

Continue reading For Real Happiness Buy Experiences, Not Things

Learning About Beer: Labels with LemonGrenade Creative

The name Thommy Long, or the name of his company LemonGrenade Creative, may not be well-known in Cincinnati beer circles, but it should be. Thommy and his team at LemonGrenade are responsible for more local brewery labels and artwork than any other company. I recently sat down with him to talk about designing beer labels.

Lemon Grenade Creative

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