In 1810, the first Oktoberfest turned into a 16-day party celebrating Bavaria's Prince Ludwig's October 12 marriage to Princess Therese. The party was such a success, they decided to repeat the event every year thereafter. Oktoberfest has turned into one of the biggest and best known outdoor festivals. The Germans moved the start date into September in order to take advantage of better weather. This year's official opening is noon on Saturday, September 22. The beer that will be poured in staggering quantities will be a Marzen—named for the month of March when, historically, it was brewed, then left to age or "lager" in cool mountain caves. Back in the day, March was the last month you could still produce the cold-loving, bottom-fermented beer preferred in Bavaria. Modern refrigeration has changed all that, but Oktoberfest lagers retain the copper red color and malt-driven style of the original. Here are my three favorites to date:
Ayinger Oktober Fest Marzen
This beer has a bright golden color with a creamy head and persistent effervescence. It's beautifully balanced with spicy, citrusy hops and lightly toasted malt, and offers a complex array of flavors including apple, caramel and toast. The finish is long and smooth with a nice hint of lemon zest. This is an outstanding example of the style.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen
The beer is bright amber with a reddish hue, and has soft aromas of wheat and malt. It's clean and refreshing, with very soft hops playing against light, fairly dry malt. The subtle but long-lived carbonation allows for easy drinking that doesn't fill you up. Definitely a crowd pleaser.
Spaten Oktoberfest Marzen
This beer pours a bright copper color with a creamy head that fades into a thin coating after a minute or two. A scent of sweet malt dominates, with just a light kiss of hops coming through. The taste is smooth and balanced, and is nicely carbonated with grainy malt and soft hops. It's on the dry side of the flavor spectrum, which makes for a very refreshing, quaffable Marzen.