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Oktoberfest – A Wedding Anniversary, a Festival, and a Beer Style

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If you’re reading this, that means you have at least a passing interest in beer. And, that being the case, you’ve heard of the greatest annual beer festival on the planet, Oktoberfest. You might have also noticed a beer for sale at your local good beer store called Oktoberfest. Not only is it a festival but it's a beer style, too. Here's how it happened.

The Festival

Back in 1810, Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese. The union of Bavarian royalty 199 years ago would have long ago been forgotten by most of the world but for the annual festival that grew from that year’s nuptials. In October, the Prince invited the citizens of Munich out to the Theresienwiese, Therese's Meadow, for some horse racing and general partying to celebrate his new bride.

The party was so much fun that almost every year since the city has held the festival. It's come to be known as Oktoberfest or, die Wiesn by locals who still remember that original meadow. After a few years of putting up with the usually soggy and always cold Bavarian Octobers, the planners moved the beginning of the festival forward to the end of September but the name had already stuck.

These days the huge festival lasts just over two weeks and attracts people from all over the world. It features carnival rides, parades, wine, food and, of course, gallons and gallons of good Bavarian beer.

The Beer

But it’s not just any Bavarian beer. Six breweries from Munich, Augustiner, Paulaner, Spaten, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, and Hofbräu, specially brew a lager for the event. This beer is brewed exclusively to be served in the massive tents that each of the breweries erects. The breweries also produce a darker lager that is bottled and distributed world-wide. This is the beer style known as Oktoberfest.

But for the first seventy years of the festival, the breweries weren't brewing Oktoberfest beer for Oktoberfest. It hadn't been invented yet. That fell to Josef Sedlmayr, the head brewer at Spaten. In March of 1872, he brewed the first batch of Oktoberfest, also called Märzen, the German word for March. After months of lagering in cold storage, the wonderful beer was a big hit with the people at Oktoberfest and the new style was born.

In recent years the trend among German beer drinkers to lighter beers convinced the Munich brewers to switch to a paler malt which produced a lighter colored beer. But the original Oktoberfest style remained in demand so some of the breweries began to bottle it and now ship it all over the world.

Which brings us to three lovely beers that are easily found at most good beer stores. Spaten, Paulaner, and Hofbrau Oktoberfest-style lagers are all great beers and perfect to enjoy with the slowly cooling weather of early autumn. And if you want to sing Ein Prosit while drinking them, who's to stop you?

All three are made from basically the same recipe. Brewers use lots of a roasted malted barley called Munich malt. This grain contributes the wonderful brown color and nutty sweetness to the beer. They also use noble Bavarian hops to balance the sweetness for a perfectly drinkable lager. All breweries use different proportions of the dark malt, barley and hops so each Oktoberfest beer is different.

Paulaner's and Spaten's bottled Oktoberfest most resembles the original darker lager. They are rich and nutty in flavor with lots of wonderful malty aroma. Paulaner's is slightly sweeter with Spaten's boasting plenty of balancing bitterness from the hops. Hofbrau's bottled Oktoberfest beer most resembles what is actually served at the festival. It is lighter in color than the other two with a light, almost fruity sweet flavor. All three are delicious lagers; the fun comes in finding your favorite.

So, if you love beer, which I know you do because you've read this far, then you're going to love Oktoberfest. Now that you know the story of how the beer came to be you can tell your friends all about it, preferably over a few cold Märzens. Ein Prosit!
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