When you think Oktoberfest beer, you might think, “oh, you mean a Marzen?”
Hmmm, sort of. But it’s not quite right to say that Oktoberfest beers are Marzens.
This flavorful malty brew with its clean bitterness and slight sweetness goes way back to 1810. And quite frankly, it’s different from what you’d taste today.
So, really, what’s a true Oktoberfest beer? You’re about to find out.
What Is a Traditional Oktoberfest Beer?
A traditional Oktoberfest beer is a dark lager brewed with Munich malt. Not to mention, a traditional Oktoberfest beer was much heavier 200 years ago. In other words, if you were served one today, you probably wouldn’t make it to the 3rd day of Oktoberfest.
What’s more, traditional Oktoberfest beers had longer lagering periods. Although they were brewed in March, these beers were lagered up until September.
After 6 months of lagering, you’d get an Oktoberfest beer that’s reached its peak ABV.
What Makes an Oktoberfest Beer Special?
What makes Oktoberfest beer special is its brewing tradition.
As the lore goes, Oktoberfest beers, which were Marzen beers at the time, were first brewed in March. Back in 1533, a law was passed that dictated beer could only be brewed between September 29 and April 23.
Now, because fermentation is harder to do during the summer months, brewers opted to brew from the fall to spring season. Of course, this was before refrigeration was even possible.
As a result, brewers ramped their beer output during March to have enough beer for next fall. These beers (Marzen beers) were then stored to age until September.
Today, breweries adopt the same tradition when brewing an Oktoberfest beer. First, they brew a Marzen during March. Then, it’s aged for about 3 to 4 months which should be around July or August.
This is why you’ll start seeing Oktoberfest beers pop up on shelves around August all the way to September or October.
And it’s also what makes this beer so special. Yes, they’re delicious lagers. But it’s more than just flavor and ABV content. What truly makes these beers so special is a 200-year-long tradition that’s made it a unique offering brewed only once a year.
Are All Oktoberfest Beers the Same?
Not all Oktoberfest beers are the same. If you’re referring to Munich Oktoberfest beers, then yes. In fact, the association of Munich brewers registered Oktoberfest beer as a trademark.
Not to mention, you’re only allowed to serve Munich beers during the Oktoberfest festival. Why is that? To preserve the Munich origin of Oktoberfest beers.
So, if that’s the case, why aren’t all Oktoberfest beers the same?
Mainly because you also have an American version, which in truth, is quite different from its German counterpart. How exactly is it different?
For one, American Oktoberfest beers are much sweeter and don’t have as much hop-malt balance as their German cousins do. And that’s due to the fact American Oktoberfest beers are brewed with more caramel malt.
The result? You get a sweeter and more caramel-like flavor. In addition, the lagering period is much shorter. Traditionally, an Oktoberfest beer is lagered from March until September. The American version, on the other hand, is lagered for roughly 3 to 4 months.
That’s 1 to 2 months shy of the traditional lagering period. Now, does that really make a difference? Yes, it does. And not just in terms of its ABV, but it also isn’t able to achieve the clean, crisp profile of a German lager.
So, there you have it. Not all Oktoberfest beers are the same since American Oktoberfest brews lean more towards a sweeter, friendlier style.
Are All Oktoberfest Beers Marzens?
Oktoberfest beers are Marzens; however, the American brewed versions are mostly amber Marzens. Generally, an Oktoberfest beer is brewed in the style of a German Marzen.
Some might associate an Oktoberfest beer with a Vienna lager. But it’s worth noting that these are two separate beer styles. Compared to a German-style Marzen, it has a lower ABV of 4.5% to 5.5%. It also has a lighter color due to the use of Vienna malt.
Finally, a Vienna lager is more bitter and less malty than a Marzen. Back when Austrian brewer, Anton Dreher, first brewed a Vienna lager, he described it as the new Marzen.
In truth, both are similar; however, each style still has distinct characteristics. Not to mention, while Vienna lagers lean towards Vienna malts, Marzens lean towards Munich malts.
Where Does Oktoberfest Beer Come From?
To understand where Oktoberfest beer comes from, you need to understand the story behind the festival first.
It all goes back to 1810, specifically…
The wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and his wife, Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. However, this was no ordinary wedding. It was a party that lasted for 5 days. Actually, scratch that. It wasn’t a party, but rather a public festival.
This festival was none other than the Oktoberfest festival that you know today. What’s interesting is the festival was held every September 16th and not October. So, what happened next? Well…
This public festival became so popular with Munich locals that it turned into an annual celebration. And here’s the best part. During this annual festival, the beer that was served was none other than the Marzen beer that was fermenting since March.
As the festival’s popularity grew, so did Marzen beer. Because Marzen beer sold so well during this time, it eventually became the festival’s signature beer. And in turn, Marzen became synonymous with the beer you drink every mid-September: Oktoberfest beer.
But wait – because there’s more to this rich history.
In 1872, amber beer was introduced.
It was also during this period when Josef Seldmayr (owner of Spaten Brewery) introduced Vienna lager.
These lagers quickly became popular and sold fast at the festival. And eventually, it wasn’t long before all Oktoberfest breweries mimicked or adopted the same style.
Now, take note. This newfound amber beer was still a Marzen, except it was brewed with air-dried malts and raw grains to create a lighter-colored lager. Back then, the Oktoberfest beers were dark-colored and heavy-bodied.
So, why the shift from darker to lighter colored lagers? Mainly because it was during the 1870s when lighter beers became all the rage. In addition, this was the time brewing technology and styles boomed. As a result, brewers started to share several new variations across countries.
Throughout the 20th century, the majority of the beers served were lighter in color due to the use of paler malts. Wait – does that mean you won’t find a traditional German Oktoberfest beer anymore?
Actually, Munich breweries like Spaten and Paulaner offer the traditional Oktoberfest beer. The best way to get it? Aside from importing the beer, your best bet is tasting it fresh at Munich’s Oktoberfest festival in September.
Who Makes the Original Oktoberfest Beer?
There are only 6 breweries in Munich that make the original Oktoberfest beer:
- Hacker Pschorr
Among all these breweries, Augustiner is the oldest brewery in Munich that was founded in 1328. In contrast, Paulaner is the youngest Munich brewery and served its first beer in 1634.
How Many Oktoberfest Beers Are There?
You’ll find a lot of Oktoberfest beers sold today. Aside from the Big Six (more on this in the next section), other Oktoberfest beers worth mentioning include:
- Founder’s Oktoberfest
- Warsteiner Oktoberfest
- Oachkatzlschwoaf Oktoberfest Lager
- Samuel Adams Octoberfest
- Karl Strauss Oktoberfest
- Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
- Great Divide Hoss Oktoberfest Lager
- Great Lakes Brewing Oktoberfest
- Bell’s Octoberfest Beer
- Jack’s Abby Copper Legend Octoberfest Lager
- Revolution Brewing Oktoberfest Lager
- Summit Brewing Oktoberfest
- Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Oktoberfest
What Are the 6 Oktoberfest Beers?
Ah, yes. The Big Six Oktoberfest beers are brewed by the only six Munich breweries qualified to serve during Oktoberfest.
These 6 beers are the following:
|Big Six Munich Beers||Flavor Profile|
|Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen||A sweet lager with light-toasted malt and a spiced banana & lemon-hop finish.|
|Lowenbrau Oktoberfestbier||Crisp and light body. Has a spicy hop bitterness with a refreshing, sweet finish.|
|Augustiner Oktoberfest Bier||Has a crisp and clean flavor. Flavor profile is caramel, light bready malts, and well-rounded hoppiness.|
|Staatliches Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier||Crisp freshness; Hay, grain, dough, and bitter noble hop flavor|
|Spatenbrau Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Marzen||Mild biscuit-malt flavor with graininess and faint lemon flavor profile. Finishes with a hoppy dryness and grainy flavor.|
|Hacker-Pschorr Brau Original Oktoberfest||Well-balanced maltiness and hoppiness with bitterness and sweetness. The malt is sweet, lightly toasted, and nutty that’s offset by fruity-floral hoppiness.|
Now, you’re probably wondering…
Why only these 6 breweries? Because these are the only breweries that pass the Edict of Purity’s strict standards.
Basically, the Edict of Purity is a 500-year-old law passed on April 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria. The edict states that beer brewed in Bavaria can only use the ingredients:
Wait, does that mean the beer wasn’t fermented? Actually, what Munich brewers would do is collect the fermentation found at the bottom of their previously brewed batch. Then, they would use it when brewing the next batch.
Can You Get Oktoberfest Beer Year-Round or Is It Seasonal?
As tradition goes, Oktoberfest beer is a seasonal beer.
That means you can only get it during the month leading to the Oktoberbest festival and during the festival period.
Planning on heading to Munich? Here’s where you can get the Big Six Oktoberfest beers:
|Big Six Munich Beers||Where to Get during the Oktoberfest festival|
|Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen||Paulaner Festzelt, Kafer tent, Kuffler’s Weinzelt, and Armbrustschützenzelt. Other locations include the butcher Stubn, Munich Knodelei, and Zum Stiftl festival tent.|
|Lowenbrau Oktoberfestbier||Lowenrbau Festival tent, Haxnbraterei, and Schutzen tent|
|Augustiner Oktoberfest Bier||Fischer Vroni, Augustiner Festival tent, and Tradition festival tent. You can also try Wildstuben and the Zur Brwatwurst tent.|
|Staatliches Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier||Zur Schönheitskönigin (Oide Wiesn tent) and Hofbrau tent|
|Spatenbrau Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Marzen||Marstall, Glockle Wirt, Kalbsbraterei, Goldenen and Hahn.|
|Hacker-Pschorr Brau Original Oktoberfest||Herzkasperl Festival tent, Pschorr Festival tent (Braurosl), and Hacker Festival tent. Heimer duck and chicken grill and Fisch Bada also sell Hacker-Pschorr.|
What Color Is Oktoberfest Beer?
An Oktoberfest beer will normally have an amber copper or pale golden color. You can think of its appearance as almost similar to a Helles lager.
However, Oktoberfest beers aren’t judged by their color. Back in the day, these used to be dark lagers. But with the evolution of brewing styles, technology, and the use of paler malts, you get a lighter color.
More often than not, most of the Oktoberfest beers today have a pale golden color. Then again, there are quite a few with the reddish-copper appearance, like Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Light or Dark?
Oktoberfest beers were originally dark lagers when they were first introduced in 1810. Over time, specifically by the 1870s, the color took a lighter turn and had paler appearances.
This was due to the paler malts and raw grains used to brew Marzen beers. By the 20th century, lighter-colored beers became even more common since they became more popular during the late 1800s.
Is Oktoberfest Beer a Lager or an Ale?
Oktoberfest beers are classified as lagers. And it’s quite evident due to the yeast strain used to brew one. To be more specific, the lager yeast strain used is Saccharomyces pastorianus.
It’s worth noting that what separates lagers from ales or vice versa is the yeast strain used. Flavor profiles, appearance, and aromas aren’t enough to truly justify the differences between a lager and ale.
If you want to distinctively differentiate a lager from an ale, here’s how. It all depends on whether the yeast is bottom-fermented or top-fermented. If a strain is bottom-fermented, you can easily say it’s a lager. And that’s because it ferments in cooler temperatures. If the yeast strain is top-fermented, then it’s the opposite. That means it ferments in warmer temperatures.
Now, here’s an interesting thought.
Is there an Oktoberfest beer brewed as an ale? There might be a few homebrewed Oktoberfest ales but you wouldn’t likely find any commercial styles. After all, brewing an Oktoberfest beer as an ale is going against a 200-year tradition. Is that wrong? Not necessarily, especially if you’re brewing it at home. You have total control of what goes into your homebrew, after all.
Is Oktoberfest Beer an Amber?
If you’re referring to the Oktoberfest beers centuries ago, then yes. These beers had a reddish-brown or amber color.
However, fast forward to today and you hardly come by an amber Oktoberfest beer. Not that they’re nonexistent, of course. But the majority of Oktoberfest beers will definitely be golden or pale golden.
Are Oktoberfest Beers Wheat Beers?
Oktoberfest beers may be synonymous with Marzens or Vienna lagers but not wheat beers. To say an Oktoberfest beer is a Hefeweizen is just, well… Not right in any way.
How so? For starters, wheat beers have a strict requirement of using at least 50% wheat as part of the grain bill.
As you’ll find out in the later sections, Oktoberfest beers don’t use wheat to that extent. Not to mention, its main ingredient is a specific malt as well.
Is Oktoberfest Beer an IPA?
Although Oktoberfest beers have a clean hop bitterness, the IBUs are nowhere near an IPA. An IPA will have an average of 50 to 55 IBUs, so as you can tell… its bitterness is alive, kickin’, and strong.
In addition, IPAs have a high hoppy character that sets them apart from other beers. It’s also worth noting that hop aroma and flavor are very low to low in an Oktoberfest beer. Compared to an IPA’s which is high to very high, you can almost taste the difference in floral or citrus hoppiness…literally.
And finally, the biggest reason why Oktoberfest beers aren’t IPAs is that lagers and ales are distinctively different.
Yes – IPAs or India Pale Ales are clearly ales while Oktoberfest beers are golden (previously dark) lagers. If you taste an Oktoberfest beer, the hop bitterness isn’t going to dominate the flavor profile. Instead, you’ll taste a rich maltiness.
On the other hand, if you drink an IPA, you’ll instantly feel the loud and proud bitter kick in your mouth.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Strong?
For a lager, Oktoberfest beers are strong. In fact, it’s roughly 1% shy of an IPA’s ABV. And take note, an IPA is pretty strong in terms of alcohol strength.
Now, other lagers don’t pack this much ABV, and some lean towards smooth or easy-to-drink sessionable beers. In other words, you could drink a 6-pack of these session beers or lagers and still be fine by dinner. However, that also depends on your alcohol tolerance.
Then again, if you plan on having 6 bottles of an Oktoberfest beer, you’re most likely going to get drunk.
What Is the Alcohol Content of Oktoberfest Beer?
The average alcohol content of Oktoberfest beers is around 5.1% to 6%. However, the Big Six Munich Oktoberfest beers are mostly 6%. Hacker-Pschorr has the lowest ABV, coming in at 5.8%.
Hofbrau, on the other hand, has the highest alcohol strength among all, with an ABV of 6.3%. IPAs have an alcohol strength between 6% to 7% on average. So for a lager to have 6.3% in alcohol strength is, without a doubt, strong beer.
It’s also worth mentioning that German beers, in general, are much stronger than American beers. What does that mean exactly, though? In other words, if you drink an American version of Oktoberfest beer, it’ll still be strong. However, it won’t be as strong as a Paulaner, Spaten, or Hofbrau, for example.
Why Is Oktoberfest Beer Stronger?
Oktoberfest beers are stronger because of their lagering period. According to brewing tradition, Oktoberfest beers are brewed in March and then lagered all the way up to September. This allowed the beer to reach its peak ABV by September.
However, that’s not the only reason. Today, Oktoberfest beers are brewed to a higher gravity. And as a result, you get a stronger beer with higher alcohol content. And of course, let’s not forget the German Purity law, which is also known as Reinheitsgebot.
In Munich, every Oktoberfest beer served should have a minimum of 13.5% Stammwurze. That also translates to at least 6% ABV.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Watered Down?
Oktoberfest beers aren’t watered down. These beers have a rich malty flavor and body along with an ABV between 5.1% to 6%. Now, that doesn’t sound like a watered-down beer, does it?
Take note. A true Oktoberfest beer isn’t going to taste diluted. Apart from its malty flavor profile and other flavor notes, true Oktoberfest beers are full-bodied. Not to mention, the traditional Oktoberfest beer 200 years ago was a lot heavier.
What Are the Ingredients in Oktoberfest Beer?
First off, the malt. If you want a true German-style Marzen or Oktoberfest beer, you should source your malt from Germany. Generally, the malt used in Oktoberfest beer is Pilsner or Munich malt. Some grists will have 45% Pilsner malt along with 45% Vienna malt.
Other grain bills will have Pilsner and dark Munich to give the beer an oomph of maltiness flavor and a deep golden color. For example, Munich breweries Paulaner and Hofbrau use Pilsner and Munich as their grist.
Other malts added into the brew might include the following:
- Acidulated malt
- German light crystal
- Melanoidin malt
- German dark crystal malt
- British caramel malt
American styles of Oktoberfest beer might substitute more caramel malt for Munich. As a result, this gives the beer a sweeter, caramel-like flavor. But take note, though, American styles don’t have as much malt-hop balance as German styles do. Overall, an American-style Oktoberfest beer is sweeter and friendlier.
As for the hops, German noble hop varieties are the go-to for this beer style, specifically the following:
- Hallertau Mittelfruh
- German Tradition
What’s important to remember here is that you only need about 1 to 3 oz. (29 to 85 g) of hops in your brew. Why? Because hop flavor, aroma, and bitterness aren’t defining qualities of an Oktoberfest beer. It mostly adds a balance to the maltiness. Ultimately, you’re looking at 18 to 25 IBUs for Oktoberfest beers. Based on experience, Hallertau hops are perfect for brewing an Oktoberfest beer.
Last but not least, the yeast. Since this is a lager, the yeast strain should follow suit as well. And in an Oktoberfest beer’s case, a Bavarian yeast lager strain with low attenuation should get the job done. One good example is Saccharomyces pastorianus. It’s perfect for adding a hint of sweet aroma while bringing out the maltiness in your beer.
As you’ll find out in the later sections, you’ll learn more about how to make an Oktoberfest beer.
Does Oktoberfest Beer Have Spices?
Based on the style guidelines, an Oktoberfest beer doesn’t have any spices added to the brew. And that includes non-grain adjuncts as well.
Now, if you’re thinking about the Oktoberfest beers brewed in Munich, well…
Adding spices or non-grain adjuncts isn’t exactly taken lightly due to their German Purity law. In other words, brewing beer, or Oktoberfest for that matter, should be pure. And that means no creative or adventurous ingredients similar to what you’d find in American beers adding things like peanut butter.
If you taste any spice flavor in your Oktoberfest beer, it’s most likely due to the hops. Yes, German Noble hop varieties impart spicy or floral flavor notes.
Take the Oktoberfest beer of Fort Collins Brewery as an example. This is one beer that has an aromatic spicy character. However, that’s brought about by the hops used, specifically Magnum and Hallertau Mittelfruh.
Overall, you’re not likely to find any spices in an Oktoberfest beer. Because after all, that’s not the kind of beer style it is.
Does Oktoberfest Beer Have Pumpkin?
Oktoberfest beers don’t have any pumpkin ingredients; however, there’s one brewery that uses it by adding pumpkin to the mash.
Parallel 49 Brewing Company offers an Oktoberfest beer that’s also…a pumpkin beer at the same time. It’s called Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest. But here’s what’s interesting about it. The style follows the traditional Oktoberfest lager style, but in the mashing process…pumpkin is added along with pumpkin pie spice in the kettle.
Now, is it the only Oktoberfest beer with pumpkin in it? There may be a few with pumpkin as part of the flavor profile, but mostly, Oktoberfest beers aren’t this adventurous.
What Does Oktoberfest Beer Taste Like?
Oktoberfest beers have a biscuit-like or toasted-bread flavor and aroma profile. It’s a lager that’s rich in malt and balanced well with a clean, hop bitterness. Finally, it should have a slight sweetness to it too.
Are Oktoberfest Beers Malty?
Without a doubt, Oktoberfest beers are rich in malt flavor. And that’s evident from the grist or grain bill used to brew one. As far as tradition goes, most of the common malts used are Pilsner and Munich malts. Some recipes will even use as much as 50% of each in the brew.
Occasionally, light Munich malts are replaced with their darker sibling: dark Munich. Of course, brewers aren’t limited to using solely 50% of Pilsner and Munich for their total grist. Vienna malt is another grain that some recipes will have.
And finally, if the base malts account for 80% of the total grain bill, then…
Brewers can add other malts like CaraMunich, CaraRed, and caramel malts to name a few.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Hoppy?
Oktoberfest beers have hop bitterness as part of their flavor profile, but it’s not exactly a hoppy beer. According to the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Style guidelines, hop aroma and flavor are low to none.
Generally, a beer is defined as hoppy if you can smell, taste, or at the very least, recognize hop characteristics in your beer. With an Oktoberfest, you’re mostly going to get a strong whiff of malt aromas and flavors packed into it.
In addition, the hop bitterness and light hop aroma/flavor is only meant to balance the maltiness of an Oktoberfest beer.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Sweet?
The traditional way of brewing an Oktoberfest beer is such that it gives off a rich malty and sweet flavor. However, it shouldn’t be too sweet that it becomes cloying too.
It’s also important to remember that some hop bitterness is present in an Oktoberfest beer for a reason. In other words, the traditional style of an Oktoberfest beer may be sweet, but it should still have a malt-hop balance.
In fact, this is something you’ll notice with American Oktoberfest beer styles. These beers will be sweeter and slightly miss the malt-hop balance mark. As mentioned earlier, this is mostly due to brewers using more caramel malt in the brew. And in effect, it leads to a sweeter, more caramel-like flavor.
Darker malts can also be used to add sweetness to your brew; however, it also adds color to the overall brew.
Finally, Oktoberfest beer styles should have a drier finish so that it doesn’t end up tasting too sweet.
What Is the Sweetest Oktoberfest Beer?
That depends. Some say the sweetest Oktoberfest beer is Sierra Nevada Brewing Co’s. Others say Shiner Oktoberfest has the sweetest malt flavor. Surprisingly, Weihenstephaner’s Oktoberfest beer is also quite sweet.
What Gives Oktoberfest Beer Its Flavor?
Most of the flavor from an Oktoberfest beer comes from the base malt, which is Munich malt by tradition. However, seeing as how Oktoberfest beer has grown and evolved as a style…
Its flavor can either come from any of the following malts:
In addition, if other malts are added like CaraRed or crystal/caramel malts, then it may add a slight caramel flavor. If you go with a Belgian pale malt as your grist, then you’d get a biscuit-like flavor. Although, Maris Otter has the highest biscuity flavor among most malts.
Now, if you’re looking for the malts used to impart the toasted-bread flavor in an Oktoberfest beer…
These can either be:
- Melanoidin malt
- Dark Munich malts (40 EBC)
As you can see, it mostly depends on the type of malt used to brew an Oktoberfest beer. Since these lagers are malt-dominant, the majority of their flavor profile depends on the grain used and not the hops.
Nevertheless, if you taste a spicy, floral, or herbal flavor note in your beer, that’s going to come from German Noble hops. However, these flavors don’t dominate the beer and only add a slight kick to the flavor profile.
How to Make Oktoberfest Beer
The first thing you have to remember about brewing an Oktoberfest beer is its malt character. In other words, malts take the center stage while hops are simply a supporting role in the brew.
And then, take note of these 2 rules when brewing an Oktoberfest beer:
- The taste shouldn’t be caramel-y.
- It shouldn’t be too sweet, so the beer has to have a dry finish.
Last but not least, any hoppiness or hop flavor/aroma is only for balance. As for the bitterness, it should fall in a moderate range of 18 to 25 IBUs.
So, what are your malt options?
For starters, you don’t need a complicated grain bill to achieve great malt complexity in an Oktoberfest beer. At best, you only need 2 base malts and 1 specialty malt. Most brewers lean towards German Pilsner malt and either Munich or Vienna malt.
However, some even ignore Pilsner and use a combination of Munich and Vienna malts instead. Mainly because good Munich malt is actually enough to give you a good-tasting Oktoberfest beer. Now, here’s the thing though.
Pilsner malt tends to impart a sweeter flavor to your overall brew. If you want an Oktoberfest beer that leans more towards a biscuity or toasted-bread flavor, you’re better off using…
A 50/50 mix of Maris Otter and Munich malt. What’s great about Maris Otter is the biscuity notes it imparts, which is typically expected in an Oktoberfest style. In addition, the more fresh your malt or grains are, the better the flavor profile.
But what about specialty malts, you might ask? You’ve got a ton of options. Most use light caramel malts. Then again, it depends on which base malt route you want to take. For example, if you’re using a Maris Otter-Munich blend, then 1 specialty malt is fine.
A good specialty malt to pair with Maris Otter and Munich is British Medium Crystal malt (45L to 50L). But if you want to take the German Pilsner route, you can pair it with Vienna or Munich malt and the following specialty malts:
- Crystal 10 malt
- Crystal 40 malt
- Victory malt
- Crystal 60 malt
Now, if you find your Oktoberfest to be too sweet, you can add more hops for more bitterness to balance the sweetness. Speaking of which, what are the best hops to use when brewing an Oktoberfest beer? You’ll find out in the next section.
Hops to Use for Oktoberfest Beer
For an Oktoberfest style, it’s always best to use German Noble hop varieties. Saaz, Tettnang, Hersbrucker, and Hallertau are good examples.
Hallertau and Tettnang are classic hop choices for many. But if you’re looking for spicy notes, go with Sterling or Hersbrucker. Finally, remember that hops and bitterness only carry the supporting role and shouldn’t dominate the flavor profile.
As mentioned in the BJCP guidelines of an Oktoberfest beer, the hop flavor and aroma should be low to none.
Yeast for Oktoberfest Beer
Yeast matters – it always does. And for an Oktoberfest, a yeast strain that complements your beer’s malty flavor and has a low attenuation is your best choice. Two good examples are Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast (2206) and White Labs Oktoberfest Lager yeast (WLP820).
However, you aren’t limited to these yeast strains only. Other options include:
- White Labs German Lager yeast (WLP830)
- Wyeast Octoberfest Lager blend yeast (WY2633)
- Omega Oktoberfest (OYL-107)
- RVA Yeast Labs Oktoberfest Lager (RVA-303)
- Fermentis SafLager German Lager Yeast (S-23)
- Fermentis SafLager German Lager Yeast (W-34/70)
Oktoberfest Beer Recipe
There are several Oktoberfest beer recipes you can find online. The recipe as shown below is from Home Brewers Association:
For your malt or grain bill:
- 4 lb. (1.8 kg) Vienna malt
- 5 lb. (1.6 kg) Pilsner malt
- 5 lb. (1.6 kg) Munich malt
- 0.33 lb. (150 g) CaraVienne malt
- 1 lb. (0.5 kg) aromatic Munich 20° L malt
- 1 oz. (28 g) German Tradition
- 1 oz. (28 g) German Tettnanger
Add your German Tradition hops during the 60-minute kettle boil. Then, with 20 minutes left in the boil, add in your Tettnanger hops.
For the yeast strain, any German lager yeast strain will do. For first-timers brewing an Oktoberfest, go with either WLP820 or Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast (2206).
Don’t forget your water profile too. The profile as shown below is what Home Brewers Association recommends for this recipe:
- Mg: 10 ppm
- RA: 0–50 ppm
- Ca: 75–125 ppm
- Cl: 100–150 ppm
- SO4: 50–100 ppm
Note: Your total alkalinity should be 100 to 150.
Once you have all your ingredients ready, follow the steps below:
- Mash at a temperature of 129°F (54°C) for 5 minutes.
- Raise the temperature to 150°F (63°C).
- Maintain the temperature for 30 minutes.
- Do a single decoction mash. Remove 40% of your mash then heat to a temperature of 158 to 162°F (70 to 72°C) for 15 minutes. Bring this to a boil for 5 to 10 minutes then add back to mash.
- Mash out at a temperature of 167°F (75°C) for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Bring to a boil for 60 minutes.
- Add German Tradition hops at the beginning of the 60-minute kettle boil. Then, add Tettnanger hops with 20 minutes left in the boil.
- Optional step: You can add 0.75 tsp. (3 g) of Irish Moss with 15 minutes left in the kettle boil.
- Ferment your beer in a fermenter for 14 to 20 days at a temperature of 52°F (11°C).
- Do a diacetyl rest for 3 days between 57 to 59°F (14 to 15°C)
- Lower the temperature gradually to 48°F (9°C) and maintain for 8 days.
- Lower the temperature again gradually to 33°F (1°C) and maintain for 16 days.
- Keg your beer at 2.5 volumes or 5 (g/L) of CO2. Alternatively, you can bottle condition with corn sugar as your priming agent. 4 oz. (113 g) should be sufficient.
Overall, this Home Brewers Association Oktoberfest recipe should give you a yield of 5 gallons (18.93 L). Other details related to this recipe include:
- ABV: 5.6%
- IBUs: 27
- Original Gravity (OG): 1.055
- Final Gravity (1.013)
This is a good recipe to start with as a first-time homebrewer. However, you’re also free to try other recipes online. In fact, some even use liquid malt extract as the base malt.
Should You Do a Decoction Mash When Brewing an Oktoberfest?
That’s a good question.
As tradition would have it, you should do a decoction mash when brewing an Oktoberfest beer. However, decoction mashes take quite some time to do. How exactly does it work, you might wonder?
Put simply, about 1/3 of your mash is removed and boiled in a separate container. Then, it’s added to your mash again to raise the total temperature. While a portion of your mash is boiling, the rest of your mash is held at a consistent temperature.
But wait – that’s not all.
While you’re boiling a portion of your mash, you also have to continuously stir it to prevent your mash from scorching. Now, every time you remove a portion of your mash, boil it, and add it back is termed as a step.
According to brewing tradition, Oktoberfest beers must go through a 3-step or triple decoction. Back in the day, decoction mashing was a necessary step to release the full flavors locked in grains and malts. In other words, a decoction mash has a significant impact on your beer’s flavor.
Specifically, it allows Maillard reactions and melanoidin creation to take place. The result? Your beer achieves an intense malty flavor, usually in the range of toasty, nutty, and biscuity notes.
So, for an Oktoberfest beer, the intense maltiness is ideal for its style. But then again, performing a decoction mash takes time, endurance, and more effort.
In the end, is it worth doing? That’s completely up to you. As a homebrewer, you’re free to brew beer in any style you want. And if you prefer to do a decoction mash, go wild and do it.
However, if you feel decoction mashing might take up too much of your time and energy, don’t worry. There’s an alternative. Enter Weyermann – a malting company that’s based in Bamberg, Germany. They make a malt that mimics the decoction-driven flavors you would get from a decoction mash.
And that malt is known as Melanoidin malt, which is also sometimes referred to as Super Munich. Why? Because of these 2 aspects:
- It has caramel and rich melanoidin flavors
- Contains the enzymatic qualities found in Munich malt
As a result, adding melanoidin malt to your grist gives your Oktoberfest that malty oomph you love and expect in the style.
How Long Does It Take to Brew an Oktoberfest Beer?
If you include the lagering period of an Oktoberfest beer, it can take up to 3 months at the very least. For instance, fermenting an Oktoberfest beer takes between 2 to 3 weeks.
Normally, after pitching your yeast, you’d start at a cooler temperature of 50°F (10°C) and maintain the temp for 2 days. Then, you’ll have to raise the temperature by about 1°F (0.5°C) for 10 days until it reaches a temperature of 60°F (15.5°C).
From here, some brewers might choose to let the beer sit in the fermenter for another week or 10 days. By this time though, your beer will already have been fermenting for 3 weeks.
After fermentation, of course, you have the diacetyl rest which lasts for about 2 to 3 days. Then, cold-crashing. Is it necessary? The biggest benefit of cold crashing is clearer beer. And not just any clear beer, but rather a beer that’s so clear it sparkles when sunlight hits it.
That might sound a little over the top, but it’s entirely possible with cold crashing. How long does it take, though? About 2 days should be sufficient. Once all that’s done, your beer is ready and prepped for bottling and carbonation.
From here, it also depends: are you priming for carbonation? Or do you plan on force carbonating your keg?
If you’re priming, you’ll have to carbonate your beer first then lager. However, if you’re force carbonating, you can lager your beer than force carbonate after or during the carbonation process.
Overall, if you add the minimum lagering period of 4 weeks, you’re looking at roughly 3 months total.
How Long Is Oktoberfest Beer Lagered?
Traditionally, Oktoberfest beers were brewed in March and then made to lager all the way to September. Technically, that means you’d have to lager your Oktoberfest beer for 6 months. In fact, Summit Brewing lagers their Oktoberfest beer for 4 months.
But what’s the bare minimum for lagering Oktoberfest beers? Well, 3 months is a good practice to follow. However, some might say that 4 weeks or 1 month is enough to get a well-lagered Oktoberfest. Then again, you’re free to try different lagering periods and see which suits your preferences better.
Just make sure your beer isn’t contaminated throughout the entire brewing process. Because if it is, lagering it isn’t going to make much of a change. In other words, you can’t lager a bad beer to make it taste better.
How Long Does Oktoberfest Beer Last?
An Oktoberfest beer should last about 6 months. And by 6 months, that means you still taste the fresh malty flavors in your beer without losing any of its aroma or other notable qualities.
But if you’re asking about how long an Oktoberfest beer would last before its flavor dies, it depends. Since Oktoberfest beers don’t use a lot of hops, you can expect the shelf life to be somewhat longer than say, an IPA.
If you’ve ever tried an Oktoberfest beer that’s aged for a year, you’ll notice the malty flavors are more pronounced. However, it won’t have the same biscuity or toasted malt flavor it used to. Instead, you’ll taste a toffee flavor in your beer.
Does that mean your Oktoberfest beer’s gone bad? Not necessarily, but it’s enough to tell your palate you need to brew a new fresh batch.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Healthy?
Although Oktoberfest beers are characterized by their all-malt grains, they’re also just like every other beer in the world. And that means, there’s still one thing that can put anyone at risk: alcohol.
It’s safe to say that Oktoberfest beers aren’t unhealthy, but at the same time, it’s not healthy either.
True – the main ingredients of beer (barley, yeast, hops, and water) aren’t exactly as deadly as a cheeseburger, but…
That doesn’t mean it’s as nutritional as say, fruits or vegetables. In fact, you’d need to drink large quantities of beer to achieve the same nutritional value you’d get in vegetables.
Not to mention, there’s a reason why the medical advice for beer has always been to drink in moderation. And that’s because heavy beer drinking can lead to health risks like liver disease, weight gain, and cancer.
Ultimately, it depends on your beer intake.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Gluten-Free?
Sad to say, Oktoberfest beers are not gluten-free. For any beer to be considered gluten-free, it needs to use ingredients free of any gluten, such as:
If the beer contains any wheat, rye, or barley, for example, these are all classified as gluten-containing grains. Now, it’s evident that Oktoberfest beers use Munich or Pilsner malt as the base malt, which contain gluten.
Overall, you won’t find any Oktoberfest beers today that are gluten-free.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Vegan?
Not all Oktoberfest beers are vegan; however, there are a few that are qualified for vegan standards. Two examples include Samuel Adams Octoberfest and Great Lakes Oktoberfest.
Take note, though. You’ll find there are a lot more Oktoberfest beers nowadays that are vegan-friendly. You can use the site Barnivore to help you check if it has your favorite beer listed under vegan-friendly.
Does Oktoberfest Beer Have Lactose?
Lactose isn’t the best ingredient to add to an Oktoberfest beer, and for good reason. For one, adding lactose would make your Oktoberfest taste off considering the malt adds sweetness to your beer already.
Second, lactose wouldn’t improve the beer since it would alter the flavor profile, especially its maltiness. If your main purpose is to add lactose for boosting mouthfeel, maltodextrin is a better and safer option.
How Many Calories Are in Oktoberfest Beer?
That depends on which Oktoberfest beer you’re drinking. For example, Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer has 190 calories per bottle. For Spaten Oktoberfest beer, it has 180 calories.
Why do these Oktoberfest beers have varying calorie ranges? Because of the ABV. Put simply, the ABV influences the number of calories in a beer. However, it’s not the only factor.
Pour size contributes to the total number of calories too. Take for example a 12 oz. (355 ml) bottle of beer with 5% ABV compared to a 12 oz. (355 ml) bottle with 6% ABV.
Although both pour sizes are the same, there are more calories in a 6% ABV beer because it has higher alcohol content. Based on a rough estimate, a 12 oz. (355 ml) bottle with 5% ABV has 150 calories while the 6% ABV bottle has 180 calories.
To calculate how many calories your beer has, use this formula:
(ABV x 2.5) x pour size of beer
If you’re drinking a bigger pour size, the calories shoot up even higher. For instance, a 16 oz. (473.2 ml) 5% ABV bottle has 50 more calories than a 12 oz. (355 ml) 5% ABV bottle.
Since Oktoberfest beers have an average ABV of 5% to 6.3%, for a single serving of a 12 oz. (355 ml) bottle, you’re looking at…
An average of 150 to 189 calories. For a 16 oz. (473.2 ml) bottle, though, the average would be 200 to 252 calories.
When Should You Drink Oktoberfest Beer?
Usually, you’ll notice a few Oktoberfest beers hitting beer shelves either in July or August as a sign that Oktoberfest’s near. Now, you could grab one and drink it as soon as you hit home. Or…
You could wait until the Oktoberfest festival. Every year, the festival usually starts around mid-September and ends in early October.
Normally, this would be around from September 16 to October 3. And during that time, you can have all the Oktoberfest beers you want. Sure – drinking a cold Oktoberfest beer at home is great. But a festival? What reason would you have not to go? Even once at least, considering it lasts for 2 weeks.
Not to mention, not all Oktoberfest beers are available on beer shelves. Some of these are only available for a limited time during the festival.
How Do You Drink Oktoberfest Beer?
There are a few important reminders when drinking an Oktoberfest beer, especially for Munich locals. Some of these are:
- When holding your beer, hold the handle with one hand.
- Cheersing beer is mandatory when the song Ein Prosit plays. Wait for the cue: “Oans, zwoa, drei, Gsuffa.” This translates to “One, Two, Three, Drink!”
- After cheersing your beer, touch the table with your glass then drink.
- Always say “Prost!” when cheersing someone at the festival.
- Never chug your beer all at once nor should you drink it out of your shoe.
Take note. Oktoberfest beer in the festival is served by the liter. You read that right. It’s served in a huge mug also known as Maß. And remember, drink your beer holding this liter of beer with 1 hand. Prost!
Who Makes Oktoberfest Beer?
As mentioned previously in this guide…
The Big Six Munich breweries are the only breweries that are allowed to serve beer during Munich’s Oktoberfest festival. However, they’re not the only ones who make Oktoberfest beers. Today, you’ll find a ton of breweries, such as:
- Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
- Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers
- Karl Strauss Brewing Company
- Oachkatzlschwoaf (“O-Katz”) Urban Chestnut Brewing Company
- Brewery Silvaticus Ales & Lagers
- Schilling Brewing Co.
- Brooklyn Brewery
- Bell’s Brewery
- Metropolitan Brewing
And so much more. Truth be told, there are dozens and dozens of breweries today that make Oktoberfest beer.
Aside from checking them out in your local supermarket or convenience store, look for some of them online. There’s no doubt you’ll find a ton more.
What Is the Most Popular Oktoberfest Beer?
Oktoberfest Bier brewed by Paulaner Brewery is the most popular Oktoberfest beer. In fact, it’s the best-selling beer at the Munich Oktoberfest festival.
Now if you’re wondering about the Oktoberfest festival in America, some of the most popular options include:
- Old Zahm Oktoberfest by Market Garden Brewery
- Clawhammer Oktoberfest Marzen by Highland Brewing
- Copper Legend Oktoberfest by Jack Abby’s Craft Lagers
- Oktoberfest Marzen by Wallenpaupack Brewing Co.
- Karbachtoberfest by Karbach Brewing Company
- Victory Festbier Marzen by Victory Brewing Company
What Is the Best Oktoberfest Beer?
With so many great Oktoberfest beers, it’s hard to say that there’s only 1 Oktoberfest beer that takes the trophy home. However, there are several Oktoberfest beers worth trying.
After all, everyone has their own personal preference. And for an Oktoberfest beer, that preference stretches wide. That said, here are some of the best Oktoberfest beers:
|Best Oktoberfest Beers||Brewery|
|Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen||Paulaner|
|Augustiner Oktoberfest Bier||Augustiner|
|Staatliches Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier||Hofbrau|
|Spatenbrau Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Marzen||Spaten|
|Hacker-Pschorr Brau Original Oktoberfest||Hacker-Pschorr|
|Great Divide Hoss Oktoberfest Lager||Great Divide Brewing Company|
|Bell’s Octoberfest Beer||Bell’s Brewery|
|Oachkatzlschwoaf Oktoberfest Lager||Oachkatzlschwoaf (“O-Katz”) Urban Chestnut Brewing Company|
|Sprecher Oktoberfest||Sprecher Brewing Company|
|Warsteiner Oktoberfest||Warsteiner Brauerei|
|Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen||Heller-Trum Brewery|
|Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen||Ayinger Privatbrauerei|
|Summit Brewing Oktoberfest||Summit Brewing Company|
|Revolution Brewing Oktoberfest Lager||Revolution Brewing|
|Boulevard Bob’s 47 Oktoberfest||Boulevard Brewing Co.|
|Copper Legend Oktoberfest||Jack Abby’s Craft Lagers|
|Old Style Oktoberfest||Pabst Brewing Company|
What Is the Best German Oktoberfest Beer?
Without a doubt, you can’t go wrong with the Big Six Munich Oktoberfest beers:
- Lowenbrau Oktoberfestbier
- Augustiner Oktoberfest Bier
- Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen
- Staatliches Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier
- Hacker-Pschorr Brau Original Oktoberfest
- Spatenbrau Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Marzen
Then again, if you’ve already tried the Big Six, you still have a few more options like:
- Wihenstephan Festbier
- Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen
- Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen
Where to Buy Oktoberfest Beer
Where else to buy Oktoberfest beer but the festival itself, right? Mainly because Oktoberfest beers are only brewed once a year to preserve the 200-year tradition of how it’s always been. In effect, these beers are seasonal.
However, there may be a few that are offered year-round. Your best options are online on the following platforms:
Where Can I Buy Altenmunster Oktoberfest Beer?
You can buy Altenmunster Oktoberfest beer online in Bevmo or Drizly. If it’s not available in both stores, your next best option is the official website. From there, you can use their store locator tool to find the closest area in your vicinity that sells Altenmunster.
Finally, it’s worth checking out Untappd as well since you can check the location where people bought their beer.
Where to Buy Spaten Oktoberfest Beer
Finding Spaten Oktoberfest beer isn’t as easy; however, shops like Halftimebeverage and Drizly have a few stocks available.
It’s also worth trying beer finder websites like Taphunter or Beermenus. If you can get a Spaten by driving a few blocks from home, it beats having to wait after ordering it online.
Where Can I Buy Yuengling Oktoberfest Beer?
Target and Totalwine sell Yuengling Oktoberfest beer. In the event both shops run out of stock, your best option is the official Yuengling site. That way, you know you’re also getting a fresher brew and certified authentic quality.
Does Costco Have Oktoberfest Beer?
Back in 2021, Costco released a Hofbrau Oktoberfest 5-liter Mini Keg for a limited period. As for other Oktoberfest beers, Costco sells a few beer brands that produce Oktoberfest beers, such as Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams.
Both of which offer Oktoberfest beers every year. Aside from a Hofbrau Oktoberfest beer, you might even be able to get a Paulaner Oktoberfest beer. However, these sell quite fast. Not to mention, not all Costco stores have them.
If it’s not in the Costco in your area, you should try local stores, World Market, and even cigar shops.
Is Oktoberfest Beer Good?
It goes without saying that Oktoberfest beers are darn good. Not to mention, remarkably drinkable. Is it because of the malt? The toasted bread? The spicy hop notes? Or is it all that put together with the beer’s crisp, dry finish?
Whatever the case, the rich malt flavors in an Oktoberfest beer are so good it’s a recipe that’s lasted for centuries. Now, doesn’t that tell you something? In addition, it’s a beer that’s maintained its quality for 200 years.
And most of all, here’s a fact worth sharing:
Every year, an average of 6.9 million liters (2 million gallons) of Oktoberfest beer is consumed. Put another way, that’s 131,234 kegs which are all consumed in just 2 weeks.
So, is Oktoberfest beer good? The facts and data speak for themselves. And if you’ve tried one, it’d probably leave the same impression as it has on most: it’s damn good.
Then again, it’s a personal preference. Just like when IPAs blew up and caused a major scene, a lot of people loved it. But not everyone enjoyed it either. And that’s because, in the end, the best way to find out is by trying one yourself.
And if you find that it doesn’t suit your palate, don’t worry. There are a ton of more beer styles you’ll come to enjoy.