Märzenbier – a super drinkable (4-7% ABV), bright copper colored lager brewed with toasted Vienna or Munich malts.
Most people know this beer without realizing it because generally it is called by another name; both are interchangeable and both are named after months. Any guesses? How about if I told you this beer is served at a huge festival in Germany in the fall? There, now you’ve guessed it, Oktoberfestbier! Märzen in German means March, and obviously Oktober is October. The reason the names are interchangeable is due to the fact that the beer is brewed in March and consumed in October. Same beer, two names.
Back in 18th century Germany and Austria, before refrigeration, the brewing season started when the fall weather turned brisk and ended in the last cool days of winter or early spring, usually around March. The brews that were made in fall and early winter could be consumed right away, however, the beers made in March had to be lagered and kept cool until the fall so spoilage would not occur. Cooler temperatures result in cleaner, more-stable beer and spoilage is less likely to occur. Keeping the beer cool during the summer months was not an issue as the areas employing this method were near the Alps and could utilize cold cellars and caves. This method was then termed the Märzen concept.
The first Oktoberfest was held in Munich on October 12, 1810 and the Munich dunkel (a rich, full-body, dark lager that’s not too heavy) was the beer served. By the late 19th century, what was later dubbed the modern Märzen was introduced to festival goers by Josef Sedlmayr, part owner at the time of Spaten-Franziskaner Brauerei which is still brewing today! It all started when Anton Dreher of Vienna was using new technologies to create paler malts to use in his family brewery’s ales. He studied the process of Munich lagering under Gabriel Sedlmayr, Josef’s father, and continued on with Josef when Gabriel passed away. Anton aimed to use his paler malts to create an amber version of the Munich lager. Side note: Munich malts were darker than Vienna malts, however both give a nice toasty character and copper color to beer. By combining the Munich lagering process with the amber Vienna malts, the Vienna lager was born. In 1871, Josef decided to take this Vienna lager recipe and use it as a template for his new Märzenbier. He called it Ur-Märzen meaning original-Märzen, claimed it would be a huge success and made more in March of 1872 to be consumed later that fall. During that year’s Oktoberfest, when the Munich dunkel was running low, Josef decided to start serving his Ur-Märzen and just as he suspected, everyone wanted more. Shortly thereafter, Munich breweries wanted in on the craze and started adopting this recipe, thus the modern Märzen, a lighter version of the old Märzen, became the new staple during Oktoberfest!
Dreher paved the way to the beautiful Märzen/Oktoberfest beer that is enjoyed by so many today by creating amber malts and utilizing the bottom-fermenting lager techniques of Munich breweries. It was his and Josef’s ingenuity that changed the face of the Märzen and created a whole new style! Today, some German breweries have taken to creating an even paler version that is more golden than copper and lack the toasty character that comes with using Vienna and Munich malts. This is common due to the fact that in the 1970’s Oktoberfest became more popular and recipes needed to be changed slightly to appease new clientele. German breweries still brew the original copper, toasty Märzens but mostly for export and not domestic consumption.
Now, before you get all hyped up and calling me crazy in the fact that I’m talking about Oktoberfest when in some places snow hasn’t even melted yet, just remember it’s called Märzenbier….March. See what I did there? So grab a bock and see how many friends you can impress with your newfound beer knowledge!