As summer turns to autumn (well, a hotter version of autumn that we call fall in Florida), preferences go from pilsners and weissbier to something a little more bold… a little more German. As we celebrate the first day of the beeriest time of the year, the search for brews that warm us up, just as the temperature begins to fall slightly, begins. But at ABC, your search for those beloved fall amber lagers known as Oktoberfestbier ends with a pleasant “gulp.”
But first a little history:
Brewing in Germany was once largely performed during the colder months. Farmers, busy in the fields during the heat of the summer, would brew during their down time. And it didn’t escape their attention that beer brewed in the summer was more prone to spoilage. They couldn’t have known that strains of wild yeast and bacteria were more active in warm temperatures, but they could taste the evidence for themselves without ever looking under a microscope, and so avoided summer brewing. In fact, in 1553 the Bavarian ruler Duke Albrecht V issued a decree forbidding brewing between April 23 and September 29.
During the month of March, as the brewing season was winding down, brewers would gather up their remaining stores of malt and hops to brew the final batches of the year. These beers would eventually come to be known as Märzenbier, German for “March beer.”
The invention of refrigeration was still a few hundred years in the future, so Bavarian brewers began storing, or lagering, their beer during the summer in caves dug into hillsides and packed with ice. With cooler fermentation and cold conditioning, they were unwittingly creating the ideal conditions for new strains of yeast to thrive, which produced crisper beers that had fewer fermentation flavor and aroma by-products. Lager brewing therefore spread throughout Bavaria and the region was renowned for their innovative and refined new beers.
Once summer gave way to fall, barrels of Märzen would be procured from the caves and tapped in celebration of harvest and the conclusion of the growing season. One such celebration was particularly extravagant – the wedding of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese in Munich on October 12, 1810, encompassed a 5-day celebration that included parades, horse racing, feasting and of course, lots of Märzen beer. This was transformed into an annual folk festival known as Oktoberfest, which is still celebrated to this day. The beer served at the early festivals was still a relatively dark lager, but became lighter in appearance as the years went by. These amber Märzen lagers eventually came to be called Oktoberfestbier in the late 19th century, and an even paler version, known simply as Festbier, became the dominant style of the festival beginning in the 1970s.
Look for the above bottles in stores, but first find your store here!