This script is from our first episode of Beer Notes, which you can listen to at beernotes.org.
Oktoberfest started with the pounding of hooves. This week on Beer Notes, we’re bringing you the history of Oktoberfest and the popular Oktoberfest beers.
In 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The public wedding festivities lasted five days and ended with a horse race. When the horse race was repeated the following year and an agricultural show was added, small beer stands were present to slake the thirst of festival goers. This festival was the inception of Oktoberfest in Munich.
In 1896, the first beer tents and halls appeared and today, Oktoberfest in Munich is a two week celebration starting in late September and continuing through early October. It is attended by approximately six million people each year and has spawned many similar events around the world.
The beer released for Oktoberfest is typically a Marzenbier. Marzen means “March” in German and, historically, this was the last month to brew because the temperatures were cooler. Lower fermentation temperatures resulted in cleaner, more stable beer, and these Marzen beers were produced to not only be consumed immediately, but also to be stored in caves or cold cellars in the Alps until it was time for Fall celebrations.
Originally, Oktoberfest beers were the dunkel biers created by local breweries, but the Marzen underwent a transformation in 1872 when Munich brewer Josef Sedlmayr of the Franziskaner brewery introduced a Vienna-style amber lager to Oktoberfest. It was expensive for the day but sold quickly and was hastily copied by other brewers to become Oktoberfest’s signature brew.
Today, Marzen and Oktoberfest beers are almost synonymous. Two styles of Marzen are usually available for Oktoberfest: A golden version similar to the Munich Helles relying heavily on pilsner malt and the more accessible bright copper-orange style made with the darker Vienna and Munich malts, which contribute the famous toasty and slightly sweet malt flavors and mild spiciness.
Enjoy the fall festival season this year with your favorite Marzen/Oktoberfest beers and relish in their long history of celebration. For Beer Notes, this is Ann McGinnis Hillyer.