In short, yes. Oktoberfest beers are indeed lagers, with their origins rooted in Munich’s rich brewing history and German tradition. Munich’s beers are a staple of the iconic event, showcasing Germany’s passion for high-quality, well-crafted lagers.
But there are other beers on offer that aren’t lagers, such as the Doppelbock or Hefeweizen. And even the lagers are highly varied. So that’s what we are going to explore in this article.
As a seasoned Oktoberfest campaigner, I’ve sampled my fair share of Munich’s sweet golden nectar, and now I’ve dived super deep into the topic so you can arrive like a fully-fledged connoisseur. Prost 🍻!
🍺 Understanding Oktoberfest Beers
These beers have a rich history and are strictly regulated to ensure the highest quality. To understand why Oktoberfest beers are lagers, it’s helpful to know what Oktoberfest is all about.
Traditionally, Oktoberfest beers are lagers brewed in the märzen style. Märzen lagers were historically brewed in March, stored in cool cellars during the warm summer months, and then served at Oktoberfest in the fall.
These beers have a distinct amber colour, a malty flavour, and a slightly higher alcohol content compared to other lagers.
In recent years, however, the Oktoberfest beer landscape has evolved. While märzen-style lagers are still common, festbiers have become increasingly popular.
Festbier is a lighter, more golden-coloured lager that is easy to drink and has a mild flavour profile. This style of beer was developed to cater to the changing tastes of festival-goers and has since become a staple of the event.
Another crucial aspect that sets Oktoberfest beers apart is their strict adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law.
This ancient regulation, established in 1516, dictates that only water, barley, hops, and yeast may be used in the production of beer. By adhering to this rule, Oktoberfest traditions are safeguarded, and the beers maintain their unique character and utmost quality.
One term you may come across in relation to Oktoberfest beers is “Oktoberfestbier.” This label is reserved for beers that are brewed within the city limits of Munich and are officially served at the festival.
There are only six breweries that hold this prestigious designation, ensuring a carefully curated selection of beers for attendees.
Overall, Oktoberfest beers encompass a variety of lager styles, with märzen being the most traditional and festbier gaining popularity.
These beers adhere to strict brewing guidelines to maintain their quality and unique character, making them a must-try for any beer enthusiast.
Check out these other Oktoberfest rules that keep the festival true to the original intent of the celebration.
📜 History and Origin
Munich is proud of its beer-producing heritage, with several breweries crafting unique and flavorful German lagers.
The city’s tradition of brewing dates back centuries, resulting in a diverse selection of Munich beers that cater to the discerning tastes of beer enthusiasts. The beers served at Oktoberfest have traditionally been lagers, known for their crisp and clean flavours.
In the early years of Oktoberfest, the beer served was likely a darker lager, similar to modern Munich Dunkels, which often boasted rich malt flavours achieved through the use of crystal and Munich malts.
The noble hop regiment and moderately carbonated water — common ingredients in German beers — created a well-balanced taste with a sweet but not cloying finish.
The classic Oktoberfest beer style is known as Märzen, a type of lager that originated in Bavaria.
Märzenbier, or March beer, got its name because it was brewed in March and then stored in cool cellars during the warm summer months.
This amber lager has a medium to full body and can vary in colour from pale to dark brown. Märzen was the beer traditionally served at Munich’s Oktoberfest for many years.
In recent times, however, Oktoberfest has seen a shift towards a paler, lighter lager known as Festbier.
Although Märzen and Festbier are both lagers, Festbier is brewed to have a slightly lower ABV (alcohol by volume), making it easier to drink in larger quantities. This change reflects the evolving tastes of festival-goers, who increasingly prefer lighter and more accessible beers.
Over time, what Oktoberfest represents evolved into a renowned celebration of German tradition, beer, and food.
💯 Popular Oktoberfest Beers
The Paulaner Hefe Weizen, a German wheat ale, is one of the best Oktoberfest beers. Known for its tangy flavour with a hint of fruit, this unfiltered brew is a popular choice at Munich’s annual festivities.
Located inside Munich’s city limits, Hacker-Pschorr is another major brand featured at Oktoberfest. Known for beautifully balanced and authentic brews, they showcase their commitment to tradition, quality, and flavour in every pour.
Produced by the oldest brewery in Munich, Augustiner beers uphold a reputation of excellence through centuries of tradition. Offering rich, smooth, and hearty flavours, this brewery’s Oktoberfest lineup consists of Märzen lagers and unique seasonal offerings.
Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu beers have an important place in Oktoberfest’s history as one of the mainstay breweries. Known for their internationally acclaimed Oktoberfest Märzen, Spaten delivers amber-coloured brews with a malty sweetness that captures the essence of the fall festival.
Crafting a range of beers that reflect the spirit of Oktoberfest, Hofbrau is an iconic Munich-based brewery. Their Oktoberfest lineup features an inviting choice of full-flavoured lagers complemented by delicate maltiness and satisfying effervescence.
The Lowenbrau brewery’s contributions to Oktoberfest’s beer scene include authentic Märzen-style brews with a balanced blend of bitterness and sweetness. As one of Munich’s most beloved breweries, Lowenbrau offers a versatile array of smooth, refreshing beers that capture the spirit of the season.
🍻 Characteristics of Oktoberfest Beers
Oktoberfest beers are typically characterized by their amber colour and excellent clarity, which creates an inviting and visually appealing presentation.
Some variations of Oktoberfest beers may lean towards a lighter golden colour, while others may exhibit slightly darker hues.
The aroma of Oktoberfest beers often features malty and slightly bready notes, giving off a warm and inviting scent.
Some beers may have subtle caramel or toasty undertones, hinting at the rich flavours to come. Generally, these beers have a subdued hop aroma, allowing the malt profile to be the primary focus.
When it comes to taste, Oktoberfest beers offer a toasty malt flavour with a gentle bitterness.
These beers are often described as full-bodied and malty, with hints of caramel or biscuity notes providing depth to the flavour profile.
While the malt character takes centre stage, a well-balanced Oktoberfest beer will also have a restrained hop presence, preventing the beer from being too sweet.
The mouthfeel of an Oktoberfest beer is typically full-bodied and smooth, with a moderate level of carbonation that adds a refreshing quality to the beer.
Despite the rich flavour and substantial body, Oktoberfest beers remain drinkable, making them suitable for enjoying during the lively and extended Oktoberfest celebrations.
🌾 Key Ingredients
Oktoberfest beers are known for their rich, malty flavours and full-bodied textures. The key ingredients that set them apart are primarily hops, lager yeast, and Munich malt.
To dive into the specifics, let’s explore the essential elements that make up a traditional Oktoberfest beer.
The hop variety used in Oktoberfest beers is crucial to achieving their unique taste profile. Hallertau Mittelfrüh, a German hop variety, is commonly used due to its delicate floral and spicy characteristics, adding depth without overpowering the flavours of the malt.
In some cases, Saaz and Hersbrucker hops might be used as alternatives or complementary additions to the Hallertau Mittelfrüh, enhancing the distinctly European character.
Lager yeast, specifically Saccharomyces pastorianus, is another vital ingredient in the brewing process.
This yeast strain ferments at colder temperatures, resulting in a cleaner and crisper taste that allows the maltiness to shine through. A low-attenuation lager yeast is preferred, as it leaves some residual sweetness and balances the overall flavour profile.
Munich malt, true to its name, originates from Munich, Germany, and is the foundation of the Oktoberfest beer’s recognizable flavour.
This malt imparts a deep, amber colour and contributes a robust, bready taste with subtle notes of caramel and toffee. Additionally, some brewers may introduce small amounts of speciality malts, such as Vienna or Pilsner malt, to add complexity to the malt backbone.
While not a primary ingredient, the presence of fruit-like esters adds a subtle layer of complexity to Oktoberfest beers.
These esters, typically derived from the lager yeast, impart a hint of fruitiness that complements the beer’s overall maltiness.
The unique combination of hops, lager yeast, and Munich malt, along with subtle fruity esters, contribute to the distinct characteristics of Oktoberfest beers.
As a result, craft brewers and enthusiasts alike can enjoy a flavorful and traditional lager with deep-rooted connections to Germany’s brewing heritage.
🌟 Distinct Styles and Variants
While the Märzen lager and Festbiers are the most common beers associated with the Oktoberfest festival, there are several other German beer styles that can be enjoyed during this event.
In this section, we will explore the distinct styles and variants: Helles Lager, Dunkel, Vienna Lager, Doppelbock, and Hefeweizen.
The Helles Lager is a German-style pale lager with a golden colour. It has a lower hop bitterness compared to other lagers, highlighting the delicate malt flavours.
This beer style is characterized by its clean, crisp taste and refreshing finish, making it an enjoyable choice for the Oktoberfest festival.
Dunkel is a German-style dark lager that features a deep copper to dark brown colour. Rich and malty, it showcases Munich malt flavours with notes of caramel, toast, and chocolate.
Dunkels have a moderate hop bitterness to balance the malt sweetness, providing a well-rounded drinking experience.
This style can also be found during the Oktoberfest celebrations, offering a more robust taste for those seeking diversity.
Vienna Lager is a malt-forward amber lager with a beautiful copper colour. Originally developed in 19th-century Austria, this style has become more popular in recent years.
It boasts a balance of toasted and slightly sweet malt flavours, with a subtle hop presence to round out the taste.
Vienna Lager can be an exciting alternative to typical Oktoberfest offerings, adding variety for festival attendees.
The Doppelbock is a stronger and more full-bodied variant of the traditional German Bock beer. It is characterized by its rich, malty profile and higher alcohol content, typically ranging between 7-10% ABV.
With flavours of caramel, toffee, and dark fruit, the Doppelbock is perfect for those seeking a more intense and warming beer experience during the Oktoberfest festival.
Hefeweizen is a German-style wheat beer known for its cloudy appearance and distinctive banana and clove flavour profile, derived from the unique yeast strains used in fermentation.
This unfiltered beer has a light body and high carbonation, providing a refreshing and effervescent drinking experience.
Although not a traditional Oktoberfest beer, Hefeweizen can still be enjoyed during the festivities for those looking to explore different German beer styles.
✌ Pairing Oktoberfest Beers and Food
When it comes to pairing Oktoberfest beers with food, the first thing to remember is that these traditional German beers are mostly lagers.
They are characterized by their malty flavour and medium to full-bodied profile, which complements a wide variety of dishes.
The iconic Bavarian soft pretzels are a must-have when enjoying Oktoberfest beers. These salty, doughy treats pair well with Weissbier, Dunkelweiss, Märzen, and Pilsner, allowing the distinct flavours of each beer to shine through. Don’t forget a generous helping of mustard for dipping!
Another classic food pairing with Oktoberfest beers is sausage. Bratwurst, a popular German sausage made from pork and spices, is a great choice.
The rich, savoury taste of the sausage is greatly complemented by the crisp, malty notes of Oktoberfest lagers. Raise a glass and say “Prost!” as you indulge in this delightful combination at a Wiesn celebration or at home.
If you’re looking for something lighter, a tossed garden salad paired with a Hefeweizen Light is a refreshing option. The beer’s gentle undertones of banana and clove provide a pleasant balance to the crisp vegetables in the salad.
For those with a sweet tooth, try pairing Oktoberfest beers with Liege-style waffles topped with maple syrup and shaved aged Gouda.
The malty character of the beers is adept at palate clearing, allowing you to savour the sweet and savoury flavours of the dish.
To sum it up, Oktoberfest beers, being predominantly malty lagers, can be paired with a wide range of dishes, from salty pretzels to hearty sausages and lighter salads.
Keep in mind that the essential goal is to enhance the flavours of both the food and the beer.
So, experiment with various dishes and beers to find your perfect pairing and enjoy the festive spirit of Oktoberfest with confidence and enthusiasm.