Beer Style 6A: Märzen
Oktoberfest – one of the biggest beer celebrations on the planet. If you’ve ever attended an authentic one, chances are you’ve tried the Märzen style of beer.
As you can imagine, when this style was developed around the 16th century, brewing beer during the summer months was near impossible. There was no pasteurisation, jacketed fermenters, or sterile filtering. Brewing when it was hot almost guaranteed a bacterial infection – though the science at the time was a long way from knowing why.
So the brewing season started at the beginning of autumn and ended with the coming of spring. Do you know what month marks the start of spring in the northern hemisphere? March! Do you know what March is in German? März!
These beers, fermented before the heat waves started, were then whisked into cellars to wait out the summer months. Once the heat lifted, they were unleashed at the celebration known as Oktoberfest!
This amber lager is really something special. And while there are breweries who produce it year-round, there’s something about enjoying a pint when the leaves are changing and air is cool – it just feels right. For those of us in South Africa, that can mean switching the months around a bit!
If you’re wondering what to expect, Märzen delivers a superbly malty, bready, smooth, medium bodied beer that looks nothing short of stunning in the glass. There are one or two examples of locally produced Märzen available in SA, and if you check with your German specialty shops, they will sometimes also stock Paulaner Oktoberfest.
Let’s check out the vital stats on this beer, straight from the BJCP Style Guidelines.
Overall Impression: An elegant, malty German amber lager with a clean, rich, toasty and bready malt flavor, restrained bitterness, and a dry finish that encourages another drink. The overall malt impression is soft, elegant, and complex, with a rich aftertaste that is never cloying or heavy.
Aroma: Moderate intensity aroma of German malt, typically rich, bready, somewhat toasty, with light bread crust notes. Clean lager fermentation character. No hop aroma. Caramel, dry-biscuity, or roasted malt aromas inappropriate. Very light alcohol might be detected, but should never be sharp. Clean, elegant malt richness should be the primary aroma.
Appearance: Amber-orange to deep reddish-copper color; should not be golden. Bright clarity, with persistent, off-white foam stand.
Flavor: Initial malt flavor often suggests sweetness, but finish is moderately-dry to dry. Distinctive and complex maltiness often includes a bready, toasty aspect. Hop bitterness is moderate, and the hop flavor is low to none (German types: complex, floral, herbal, or spicy). Hops provide sufficient balance that the malty palate and finish do not seem sweet. The aftertaste is malty, with the same elegant, rich malt flavors lingering. Noticeable caramel, biscuit, or roasted flavors are inappropriate. Clean lager fermentation profile.
Mouthfeel: Medium body, with a smooth, creamy texture that often suggests a fuller mouthfeel. Medium carbonation. Fully attenuated, without a sweet or cloying impression. May be slightly warming, but the strength should be relatively hidden.
Comments: Modern domestic German Oktoberfest versions are golden – see the Festbier style for this version. Export German versions (to the United States, at least) are typically orange-amber in color, have a distinctive toasty malt character, and are most often labeled Oktoberfest. American craft versions of Oktoberfest are generally based on this style, and most Americans will recognize this beer as Oktoberfest. Historic versions of the beer tended to be darker, towards the brown color range, but there have been many ‘shades’ of Märzen (when the name is used as a strength); this style description specifically refers to the stronger amber lager version. The modern Festbier can be thought of as a pale Märzen by these terms.
History: As the name suggests, brewed as a stronger “March beer” in March and lagered in cold caves over the summer. Modern versions trace back to the lager developed by Spaten in 1841, contemporaneous to the development of Vienna lager. However, the Märzen name is much older than 1841; the early ones were dark brown, and in Austria the name implied a strength band (14 °P) rather than a style. The German amber lager version (in the Viennese style of the time) was first served at Oktoberfest in 1872, a tradition that lasted until 1990 when the golden Festbier was adopted as the standard festival beer.
Characteristic Ingredients: Grist varies, although traditional German versions emphasized Munich malt. The notion of elegance is derived from the finest quality ingredients, particularly the base malts. A decoction mash was traditionally used to develop the rich malt profile.
Style Comparison: Not as strong and rich as a Dunkles Bock. More malt depth and richness than a Festbier, with a heavier body and slightly less hops. Less hoppy and equally malty as a Czech Amber Lager.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.054 – 1.060
IBUs: 18 – 24 FG: 1.010 – 1.014
SRM: 8 – 17 ABV: 5.8 – 6.3%
Commercial Examples: Buergerliches Ur-Saalfelder, Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest, Paulaner Oktoberfest, Weltenburg Kloster Anno 1050
Tags: standard-strength, amber-color, bottom-fermented, lagered, central-europe, traditional-style, amber-lager-family, malty