Oktoberfest just wouldn’t be the same without that amber-colored, malty beer we’ve come to know and love, but what is it that makes an Oktoberfest, well, an Oktoberfest? Technically, an authentic Oktoberfest is brewed only within the city limits of Munich, Germany, where the style began. The beer we know as Oktoberfest today came out of spring brews about half a millennium ago, which were put aside in ice-filled caves for summer consumption. These beers, called March beers or märzen, were strong spring brews that were usually finished off in October, when fresh beers made with the recently harvested grain and hops needed the cask space. Citizens would throw a party to celebrate the harvest season, the making of new beer and associated gifts of prosperity, as an early precursor to the Oktoberfest parties (including ours!) celebrated all over the world today.
Those first Oktoberfest beers were full-bodied and malty, usually amber in color. They came in at about 5-6 percent ABV, and often improved with age as the hops mellowed out. The beer was probably best in the fall, when the people of the Middle Ages had to finish it off to make room for the next season’s batch.
The style that we know as Oktoberfest today underwent several changes through the ages, as brewing and storage techniques advanced. With the advent of scientific brewing methods, including filtration and especially refrigeration, the Bavarians were able to make beers all season long, not just in the spring. Since they no longer had to mass-produce it, they also didn’t have to make it just in March, and they began to be served as more of a special-occasion brew.
In the mid- 1840’s, two brewmasters named Gabriel Sedlmayr and Anton Dreher, of Spaten Brewery and Dreher Brewery, respectively, introduced a lighter-colored grain with the addition of Vienna Malt to the grist. What characterized the style was an emphasis on multiple steps of decoction, cartelized malts and some nutty sweetness, relatively long wort boils and relatively long layering periods, to mellow it all out. Today, Oktoberfest beers that bear the Märzen-Oktoberfest label (or just Oktoberfest) may have been lagered for about 12-16 weeks.
At Resurgence Brewing Company, our Oktoberfest is characterized by a perfect balance between malt sweetness and soft bitterness, with an aroma of toast and biscuit that follows through with a caramel, breadcrumb taste. It’s a 5.5 percent ABV, so it falls right in the middle of our beers on tap, in terms of strength. At our Oktoberfest party on Saturday, we will also be tapping the WNY Oktoberfest and WNY Hoptoberfest, made with grain and hops from local purveyors, including New York Craft Malt in Batavia and High Bines in Sanborn. We will be offering those local selections alongside our regular Oktoberfest, so you can taste what a difference local ingredients make.
At Resurgence Brewing Company, we like to experiment with the styles and flavors we can create in our beer, but we also strive to make clean, authentic beers for the style under which they fall. We think our Oktoberfest stands up well to the best on the market and would put it up against those cask-aged Middle Age märzen beers if we had the chance. Stop in and celebrate fall with us at our Oktoberfest party on Saturday, and see what the style is all about, here at your local West Side taproom.