While there's still some time before the Oktoberfest parties begin, the namesake beers are already landing on store shelves. Here's what you need to know about autumn's most iconic beer style.
While there have been a variety of different types of beer brewed for the official Munich Oktoberfest throughout the festival's 200 years, the beers made by American craft brewers and labeled as Oktoberfest are commonly variations of the märzenbier style.
Meaning "March beer" in German, the märzen is an amber-colored lager that balances caramel malt sweetness with a zippy noble hop bitterness. The brews usually have a hefty body but a clean finish that keeps them easy-drinking. The style is so named as it was historically the last beer made during the German brewing season that ended in March -- before the warm summer months made it difficult to control fermenting beer. The March beers were formulated to use up the last of the year's crop of hops and malt, and the results were rich and robust.
There is no shortage of craft-brewed Marzens and Oktoberfest-style beers around this time of year. Angel City Brewery has introduced one this year, and Golden Road Brewing is teaming with Lazy Dog Restaurants on a collaboration Oktoberfestbier. Redland's Hangar 24 Brewery makes a well-regarded version each year, and Firestone Walker Brewing is bottling their previously draft-only favorite Oaktoberfest for the first time this fall.
During Munich's early Oktoberfest celebrations the beer that was probably being served to the revelers was the dark lager that the Bavarian capital was known for: the Munich dunkel. Perhaps the original lager beer, dunkels are a rare breed these days, and only a few American craft breweries make the malty brown beers. The best examples have a richness and complex malt character that is tinged with roasty bitterness; try the classic German Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel or the 25th Anniversary offering from Gordon Biersch - Dunkels.
After Germany's reunification in 1990, the beer filling steins in the official Munich biergartens has become more of a golden lager with a lighter body and dryer, less-bitter finish. It's a beer formulated to be easy drinking when sitting in a tent with thousands of other revelers. The amber-hued version is still the most popular version of the Oktoberfest lager with American brewers, and there are few better beers to pair with giant soft Bavarian pretzels, sausages and schnitzel.