The Oktoberfest/Marzen style was probably first brewed to celebrate a royal wedding in the early 1800s. The Festival beer or Festbier was originally a Vienna style beer brewed to a higher gravity. What is interesting is that this style is actually brewed in March, not October. This was more out of necessity rather than the desire to celebrate October.
According to the German Beer Institute: “About half a millennium ago, brewers in Bavaria had difficulty controlling the quality of their brews in the summer, and they didn’t have a clue why their beers often tasted sour and medicinal during the hot season. However, they had learned from experience that beers brewed roughly between early October and the end of March tended to taste clean and appetizing. Nowadays, of course, we understand that, in the foothills of the Alps, it got much too cold in the fall and winter for most airborne microbes to survive and spoil the brew. So the Bavarian brewers resorted to a simple but effective strategy that ensured a drinkable beer supply for the summer. They worked overtime in their brewhouses in late winter to make plenty of potent and well-hopped “March” beer, Märzen-Bier in German. Its color was deep amber to copper and its alcohol content probably somewhere between 5 and 6%. These beers were full-bodied with a malt-accented finish.
To keep these Märzen beers fresh during the summer months, they were stored in casks in cool cellars and mountain caves, some filled with ice from the previous winter. The beers were released gradually starting in late spring or early summer. The high alcohol and hop content served as preservatives and the ideal storage conditions ensured that this beer kept well and actually matured and improved as summer turned into fall. It probably became especially good near the end, when the hops would have mellowed out and the brew’s malty character would have come fully to the fore. By October however, after the year’s grain harvest, the last of the Märzen beers had to be consumed so that the precious casks could receive the new brewing season’s fresh delectables. Now, combine the pressure on those poor medieval souls to vacate the needed cooperage in a hurry with their innate propensity for having a jolly good time, and the concept of an Oktoberfest emerges almost automatically—as does the name by which this Märzenbier is most commonly known: Oktoberfestbeer.”
2008 BJCP Style Guideline
Smooth, clean, and rather rich, with a depth of malt character. This is one of the classic malty styles, with a maltiness that is often described as soft, complex, and elegant but never cloying. Origin is credited to Gabriel Sedlmayr, based on an adaptation of the Vienna style developed by Anton Dreher around 1840, shortly after lager yeast was first isolated. Typically brewed in the spring, signaling the end of the traditional brewing season and stored in cold caves or cellars during the warm summer months. Served in autumn amidst traditional celebrations. Domestic German versions tend to be golden, like a strong Pils-dominated Helles. Export German versions are typically orange-amber in color, and have a distinctive toasty malt character. German beer tax law limits the OG of the style at 14°P since it is a vollbier, although American versions can be stronger. “Fest” type beers are special occasion beers that are usually stronger than their everyday counterparts.
Aroma: Rich German malt aroma (of Vienna and/or Munich malt). A light to moderate toasted malt aroma is often present. Clean lager aroma with no fruity esters or diacetyl. No hop aroma. Caramel aroma is inappropriate.
Grist varies, although German Vienna malt is often the backbone of the grain bill, with some Munich malt, Pils malt, and possibly some crystal malt. All malt should derive from the finest quality two-row barley. Continental hops, especially noble varieties, are most authentic.
Paulaner Oktoberfest, Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen, Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest, Hofbräu Oktoberfest, Victory Festbier, Great Lakes Oktoberfest, Spaten Oktoberfest, Capital Oktoberfest, Gordon Biersch Märzen, Goose Island Oktoberfest, Samuel Adams Oktoberfest