The Beers of Fall
The first Oktoberfest took place in 1810 and was actually a wedding reception for Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa. This was a far larger party than any reception you’ve probably ever been to though, as it lasted for three days! The association of this festival with beer didn’t happen until 1818, however.
Over time this epic party was celebrated every year, slowly transitioning into the festival we know and love today. The official Oktoberfest is held in Munich and runs for 16 days, ending on the first Sunday in October. Count back 16 days from that day and you have the opening day of Oktoberfest each year.
Back in the days before refrigeration was common, it was nearly impossible to brew beer correctly in the summer months. Brewing when it was this hot led to off-flavors and made for a breeding ground of bad bacteria. This meant that the springtime was the last chance to brew beer until the cooler fall months. This meant that the last beers were traditionally brewed in March, or as the Bavarians called it, Märzen.
These March-brewed beers were kept in cold storage underground in caves, called lagering, through the summer and into the fall when they would fully mature and be ready for drinking. The grains and hops used in these beers, along with the lagering process, gave them a rich, toasty character and the beers themselves were often dark copper in color with a medium level of alcohol, usually around 4-6% ABV.
What is Oktoberfest?
With all this talk about Oktoberfest beers, you might be wondering what exactly Oktoberfest is. Oktoberfest is known as one of, if not the largest and most notable beer festivals in the world. The original Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Princess Theresa and Prince Ludwig and the party literally lasted for days!
Oktoberfest always starts on a Saturday and ends on the first Sunday in October, lasting for 16 days. To figure out when Oktoberfest starts, just count back 16 days from the first Sunday in October and you have the Saturday that the festival begins.
There’s a reason you think of the traditional German foods like sausage, pretzels, and wiener schnitzel when you think of Oktoberfest, and that’s because these foods pair perfectly with Oktoberfest beers. Traditional German fare is perfect to eat with your mug of beer, but that’s far from your only choice when getting to that beer-food nirvana.
Instead of traditional German food try some grilled steaks or pork with your Oktoberfest brew. Not of the meat eating variety? These beers actually pair very well with foods that use tomato sauce like a spicy pasta or a good wood-fired pizza. The yeasty crust brings out the malty taste of the beer while the slight sweetness cuts even the most acidic of sauces.
Want something even more exotic? Try some Mexican favorites like tacos and tostadas for an interesting combination that works surprisingly well. While this pairing sounds like something from the age of airliners that brought these two continents together, Mexico was actually part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for a short period of time, and those Germans and Austrians brought their beer to Mexico with them, so these pairings actually have a solid history behind them, too.
While technically Oktoberfest-style beers are brewed within the walls of Munich, the beers listed here are great regardless of where they’re brewed. And to keep things fresh, we’re looking at more than just Oktoberfest-style beers, too. We have some harvest beers to get that fresh hop flavor you love.
Victory Brewing Festbier – This is Victory’s version of an Oktoberfest Märzen, using German malts as well as hops, this subtly sweet brew offers a delicate malt nose as well as a full body that makes it a great version of this traditional style. Keeping with the style, this beer comes in at 5.6% ABV and is available August through October.
Tröegs Independent Brewery Hop Knife – Hop Knife Harvest Ale recognizes the meticulous, time-honored tradition of hand-harvesting hops at the peak of maturity. Troegs HopCyclone process creates an inward spiral of hop dispersal during fermentation, releasing a bounty of citrus, resin and tropical aromas. 6.2% ABV
East End Brewing Company Big Hop Harvest – There’s fresh, then there’s Big Hop Harvest fresh. This IPA starts its life just like any other batch of East End Brewing’s Big Hop IPA and gets so much better from there. Big Hop Harvest gets more malt, more hops, and more ABV. Hops are driven from the farm they’re grown on and added to the beer the same day they’re picked, making Big Hop Harvest just about the freshest beer you’ll get all year.
Hacker-Pschorr Brewery Oktoberfest – When you’re having an Oktoberfest-style beer, you might as well make it a true Oktoberfest brew, which Hacker-Pschorr’s version definitely is. This beer is brewed in Munich for the annual Oktoberfest celebration and features a malt body that’s complimented by a slight hoppy note in the finish. 5.8% ABV
Original Oktoberfest Märzen is full-bodied and flavorful with an amber color and a creamy white head, everything you’d expect from a true Oktoberfest beer. At 5.8% ABV, it’s the perfect combination of taste and level of alcohol to let you enjoy as many as you’d like.
The best part about Hacker-Pschorr’s Original Oktoberfest is that you can get your hands on one without heading to Munich thanks to the Sharp Edge Bistro in Sewickley. While you can pick this beer up at a variety of locations around the Pittsburgh area, it will be one of the featured beers at this year’s Sewickley Oktoberfest.
Along with the Original Oktoberfest, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse is a traditional Weissbier that is a soft, sparkling beer with an aromatic yet mild character. This beer has an intense gold yellow color and a creamy white head. The German Weisse yeast used in this beer give it fruity citrus notes with just a hint of acidity. Brewer’s wheat from the Champagne Region is paired with certified Hallertau hops to give a truly unique experience.
Stoudt’s Brewery Oktoberfest – This medium-bodied amber beer elegantly combines a touch of malty sweetness with a pleasingly subtle aromatic hop character. 5% ABV
Bell’s Brewery Best Brown Ale – When it comes to fall beers it’s hard to find one that’s more universally loved that Bell’s Brewery Best Brown Ale. With hints of caramel and cocoa, this well-balanced beer has a deep malt body that’s balanced out nicely by the generous use of American hops. 5.8% ABV
Schell’s Oktoberfest – With its bright copper-orange color, it is quite symbolic of the autumnal shift of the season. A slightly higher strength, and warm malt body make it the perfect companion for the crisp fall weather in Minnesota. The use of Munich and Vienna malts give the beer its toasty malt backbone, and melanoidin-rich flavor and aroma. It has a soft malt sweetness, pleasant mouthfeel and a slight spiciness. Hop character is subdued, as the malt takes center stage with this beer. 5.5% ABV