A beginner's guide to Märzen (or Oktoberfest) beer?

Have you been wondering what on earth a Märzen style beer is?

Marzen Oktoberfest craft beer in a glass

We certainly have, so we set out to find out all about this style of beer. Here’s what we discovered.

Märzen literally means “March”, or more specifically a German beer brewed in March. Oktoberfest, as you are no doubt aware, is the huge German beer festival held every autumn. Although interestingly usually in September, rather than October as the name would suggest.

So a Märzen (or Oktoberfest) style beer is one that is brewed at the end of winter (March in the northern hemisphere) for consumption months later at Oktoberfest.

Before there was refrigeration or sophisticated brewing equipment, making and storing beer over summer was a risky business. Once spring arrived wild yeasts made it harder to control fermentation. Warmer temperatures over summer could also spoil beers that had already been made. So German brewers basically took a sabbatical from about March through to September. Brewing stopped and the March beers (Märzens) were stored in cold caves. They lasted just long enough to be enjoyed through until September when Germans celebrate with gleeful mass consumption of the remaining beer, as well as the start of the new brewing season in the colder months.

Luckily these days you don’t need to wait to enjoy a Märzen. Although some breweries promote them as a seasonal offering, we reckon their versatility means they are great all year around.

Okay, but what does it taste like?

Märzens have a sweet, lightly-toasted maltiness, sometimes with a little hint of caramel. Hop flavours and aromas are usually very subtle. Not too dissimilar to a Vienna Lager we reckon. In fact Märzens, Oktoberfest beers, and Vienna Lagers are often collectively thought of as belonging to the same small family of European, amber lagers. As the title suggests these beers are red, amber, or copper in colour.

Marzen Oktoberfest craft beer and food

But wait, there’s more

As well as common characteristics Vienna Lagers and Märzens also share a common history. Read about the intriguing scullduggery that links these two beers styles together.

Similar to a Vienna Lager, the maltiness of a Märzen pairs well with grilled, or roasted meats. The toasty flavours these methods of cooking bring out perfectly complement the malt-forward flavour of a Märzen. Or, for the full Oktoberfest experience, pair with traditional accompaniments such as soft pretzels, crumbed pork schnitzel, or a selection of German sausages (with sauerkraut of course!)