You know that friend you have that no matter how much you stress that they be there at a certain time, is still always late? A month ago I promised you a post on Oktoberfest beer, and here on the last night of October I’m finally following through on my promise. Sorry about that. I am always late, I’m that friend. However, I’m also the friend that will always show up even if I’m so late that the party is over. That’s me; reliable but late!
I have a friend who knows a lot about beer. Not in the frat boy sort of way; this guy really knows his stuff. He makes his own beer, and people even like it — A LOT! I asked him to write up a little post to share with you on the history and style of Oktoberfest beer. He came back to with me a large chunk of the post below So, I want to give a huge thanks to David Thomas for his help with this post. Thanks Dave!
To go with the bit about me being terminally late, the real Oktoberfest ended the first weekend in October — a full month ago! However, Oktoberfest style beer does not stop tasting good October 4th or even November 4th. The styles of beer brewed during the fall go well with the foods we all love to eat during the fall; and not just bratwurst and tailgating fare, but also roast meats, root vegetables and soups. Because beer is so versatile and goes with such a wide range of foods, I also wanted to share with you a few beers that you may want to add to your Autumn meals and holiday celebrations.
Oktoberfest Style Beer
written by David Thomas
Oktoberfest style beer takes its name from the annual Oktoberfest fair in Bavarian city of Munich. The first Oktoberfest took place in 1811 to celebrate a royal marriage and since then beer has been brewed for the festival, giving rise to the name Oktoberfest as a beer style. Oktoberfest beer served at the annual festival in Munich must be brewed within the city limits and traditionally conforms to German purity laws.
Ray Daniels says in Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles that the beer commonly known as Oktoberfest style was an imitation of Viennese lagers, tracing the origins of commercially brewed examples of the style to Vienna and a brewer named Anton Dreher. Dreher revolutionized Viennese lager brewing by combining the light and crisp flavor of lager brewed beers with English style pale roast malt. The quality of Vienna brewed beers starting with his arrival on the brewing scene in 1841 firmly established the Vienna style lager and introduced a new style of lager to Bavaria. His focus on lager style brewing modernized the Viennese brewing industry as lager beer would almost completely replace traditional ale brewed beers by the 1870s.
Vienna produced both Vienna Lager and Vienna Marzen style beers and it is the Marzen style which is most closely related to what we know as Oktoberfest beer. Marzen style beer had been brewed and cellared in the Munich region well before the first Oktoberfest celebration but the amber style shift of the Viennese lager had the most profound effect on the beer that would become synonymous with Oktoberfest. Modern Oktoberfest beers served in Munich are commonly closer to the incredibly popular Pilsner style which today is the dominant style world wide, but our interpretation of Oktoberfest beer is forever tied to the amber colored Viennese lagers.
Oktoberfest Style and Home Brewing
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) maintains style categories which are used for judging at regional and national homebrewing and pro-brewer competitions in North America. BJCP has chosen to combine Marzen and Oktoberfest styles into one sub-category while Vienna Lager remains separate. Both sub-categories compose the style called European Amber Lager.
The home brewer looking to brew a traditional Oktoberfest or Marzen style beer will have no problem finding the ingredients needed at their local homebrew store. Following the Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Law we will use four ingredients in our beer.
- Malt – the Viennese amber character of this lager beer will come from using 50% Munich malt, which is also common to Bock and Dark Lager style beers. It is darker than regular pale malt but light enough to retain it’s diastatic power to convert starches to fermentable sugar on it’s own and it is suitable for use as a base malt. The other 50% of the malt bill should be good quality German Pilsner malt.
- Hops – Traditional noble hops such as Hallertau, Saaz and Tettanger will add the right character to a Oktoberfest style beer.
- Yeast – Both White Labs and Wyeast offer a liquid yeast strain labeled as Oktoberfest or Bavarian lager which will be easy to find. The desirable crisp and clean flavor profile of lager yeast is achieved by fermenting at a much colder temperature than ale yeast can toleration – in the mid to low 50s. This cold temperature slows down the fermenting power of the lager yeast and as such more yeast will be needed. Build a starter to increase the size of your culture or use up to 4 packs or vials of liquid yeast to ensure proper fermentation.
- Water – While most good quality drinking water will be suitable for brewing this style beer if you want to analyze and change your water chemistry you can mimic the brewing water of the Munich region. This water profile has high total alkalinity and has moderately high permanent hardness. It is also known for containing high levels of sulfates.
Use a decoction mash technique if you want to achieve the most authenticity in the flavor profile as possible. Follow good lager brewing practices and when the beer is finished you will want to lager, or store it cold, for several weeks. The stronger the beer you brew the longer you will need to lager it. For instance if you can picture yourself pouring a significant, robust Oktoberfest style beer at 7 or 8% ABV you will want to brew the beer in March or April (must like classic Marzen style beers) and allow it to cold condition for up to six months before serving.
Beer for Autumn and Holidays
As you can see, Dave knows his stuff. If he wants a beer for the Holidays, he can just brew it himself. The rest of us need to find a store with a well-stocked selection of local and international brews as well as employees that know how to help you find what you will like. I am lucky enough to live close to one such store. Bin Ends Wine is a wine and beer store in Quincy (and now Needham) that has a fantastic selection of local beer.
When I knew I wanted to share a post on beers for enjoying in the fall, I knew that I would end up at Bin Ends. They were happy to show me around and share all sorts of knowledge about the beers they stock. Many of which are small, hard to find local brews. I went in expecting to get a list of recommendations for beer that went with fall foods, and what I quickly discovered is that personal taste is what should guide your choice. Before you decide what beer to buy, figure out what you like? For example, do you like beers with sour notes, hoppy beers or beers with flavors added? All have good versions, but finding the one that suits your personal preference is the most important part of choosing a beer.
Some people love flavored beers, like the Harpoon Chocolate Stout pictured above. While many might enjoy drinking this chocolate tinged beer all by itself, others might find it paired well a specific food. Beer pairing, even more than wine, is subjective to personal taste. If you like the flavor of rum, sherry or cherrywood, you may be a huge fan of the Scottish beers from Innis & Gunn. After hearing Jimmy at Bin Ends tell me just how much he (and his father) loved these beers, I even decided to bring one home to try.
Allagash, a brewery in Portland, Maine makes about the best wheat beer I have ever had. However, they also have so many other beers which sound delicious (like one brewed with blood oranges) I think I may have to drive to Portland soon just to see what they are up to.
If you are one of the many that spent the summer enjoying lovely golden-hued wheat beers, then Mayflower Brewing out of Plymouth, MA has a beer that might be perfect for your Autumn table. According to the description on their site, Mayflower’s Autumn Wheat Beer “combines the fruity aroma and bready character of traditional wheat beers with the malty richness of dark ales.”
There are also beers that can take the place of dessert. Dark, rich beers like porters are so full on flavor, that they are like drinking a piece of chocolate cake. With flavors like Mercury Brewing’s (Ipswich, MA) Genghis Pecan-Pecan Pie Porter, you don’t need much else to enjoy after dinner. The Pecan Pie Porter uses brown sugar and roasted pecans to add flavor instead of extracts or flavorings.
I am no beer expert. If you want one of those, find a good local beer shop like Bin Ends. However, there is one thing I know is almost always true, local beer is best! With the huge expansion of local beer producers, most of us have access to far more beer options than ever before. Several years ago I started buying almost all my beer from producers here in New England. Granted, that’s not a hard thing to do with all the amazing producers in our area. Even Sam Adams is produced in a plant only a few miles from my front door. Of course, I do occasionally buy imported beers (like most things, I have a weak spot for anything made in the UK). However, the carbon footprint of imported beers is significant; think about how much energy is wasted shipping heavy liquid-filled glass bottles overseas and across the country. Not only are you supporting your local economy and small businesses when you buy your beer from small local producers, but you are also helping the planet, and that’s just good for everyone. Cheers!