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Oktoberfest 101: what to drink and why to drink it

Posted by Allie Smallwood on September 20, 2018

In Beer, Oktoberfest

As summer turns to autumn (well, a less hot version of summer that we call autumn), preferences go from pilsners and weissbier to something a little bolder... a little more German. Oktoberfest officially starts today and we’re polishing our beer steins faster than you can saw Bratwurst.

Celebrating the first day of the beeriest time of the year means you’ll need to locate a few of the amber brews you’ll be prost-ing with. But at ABC, your search for those beloved fall amber lagers known as Oktoberfestbier ends with a pleasant "gulp."

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But first a little history:

Brewing in Germany was once largely performed during the colder months – beer brewed in the summer was prone to spoil. In fact, in 1553 the Bavarian ruler Duke Albrecht V issued a decree forbidding brewing between April 23 and September 29. So, 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.”

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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.

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But there is no need to dive blindly into any ol' bottle of Oktoberfest. We spoke with four of the world’s top-producing Oktoberfest brewers and got a little inside info for you to wash down all the brats and pretzels with. Visit our blog starting tomorrow for interviews with Erdinger Weissbrau, Highland Brewing, Hofbrauhaus and Sam Adams.

We’re kicking off Oktoberfest a bit early tomorrow with the first of the interviews with Erdinger Weissbrau!