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Sip & Savor: Märzen

Oct 03, 2011 07:22PM ● By Anonymous
Nearly everyone has heard of Oktoberfest, whether they’re referring to the traditional German festival or a copycat celebration held across the globe. After all, in 2010, 6.4 million visitors drank 7 million liters of beer at the two-week festival in Munich, Germany. But how much do you know about Märzen, the type of beer traditionally served at Oktoberfest?

In German, Märzen means March—perhaps a strange name for a beer served in the autumn months. However, it has origins in 16thcentury Bavaria, where there was a brewing ordinance that beer could only be brewed between October and April. This was before refrigeration, so the beer was brewed until March, when it was then stored, aged, and drunk throughout the summer. The batches of brew were finished up during Oktoberfest, making room for the brewers to make more beer.

To make the beer last through the summer, it was crafted at a higher alcohol and hops content. For this reason, Märzen or Oktoberfestbier is typically darker and stronger than other beers, and contains anywhere from 5 to 6.2 percent alcohol by volume.

The Germans take their beer seriously. Many breweries still adhere to the Bavarian Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot, though it is technically no longer an actual law. Established in 1516, the law strictly regulated the ingredients in beer to water, barley, and hops. Where’s the yeast, a necessary ingredient in beer? At the time, there was no real knowledge of microorganisms, including yeast, so it wasn’t known or considered to be an ingredient. Brewers just took sediment from previous fermentation, and it typically contained the necessary organisms—they just didn’t know it yet. The Purity Law has since been replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law, which allows yeast, wheat malt, and cane sugar in the beer. However, many German brewers still claim to follow Reinheitsgebot as an indicator of the beer’s high quality.

If you’re a traditionalist, you might want to spend the month of October sampling authentic Oktoberfest

beers. Only six breweries, all located in Munich, are allowed to serve at the festival: Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Paulaner, Hofbräu, Hacker-Poschorr, Löwenbräu, and Augustiner. However,

American-made Märzen beers are available, too, including some that are brewed locally. The North American style of Märzen typically is stronger in hops than the German variety, and balanced in bitterness. Brewers in the Czech Republic and Austria also produce their own styles of Märzen.

Locally, Clipper City/Heavy Seas brews a Märzen, which is amber in color with a toasty malt flavor. It pairs well with sausage, pizza, and beef dishes. Flying Dog Brewery produces a Märzen called Dogtoberfest, which is full-bodied and slightly sweet. It’s brewed using 100 percent German ingredients, and pairs with spicy Mexican and Pepperjack cheese, spiced desserts, and, naturally, German food. Finally, Gordon Biersch offers its Märzen year-round, which downplays the hop level in favor of flavors of roasted malted barley and a caramel malt aftertaste. It pairs well with grilled meats, red-sauced pastas, and hearty soups and stews.

Gordon Biersch’s Märzen is entered in this year’s Chesapeake Beer Madness competition, along with 15 other regional beers. Head to to cast your vote and keep celebrating your own personal Oktoberfest all month long.