When it comes to beer, we’ve hit peak pumpkin. Rather than make another nutmeg-and-cinnamon stout, sour, whatever, many breweries are looking to a different style to channel the season.
“Nothing against pumpkin beers, but it’s one of those styles that people like to buy one of and say they tasted it,” says Bill Beymer, head brewer at Odell Brewing.
Increasingly, American breweries are revisiting a centuries-old autumn stalwart: Märzen lagers. These medium-strength German beers, which range from amber to gold, are smooth and rich in malt. They’re balanced and not overwhelmingly bitter, perfect for repeat consumption alongside sausages on cool nights.
“It’s one of the truest representations of the brewing ingredients,” says Bill Manley, beer ambassador for Sierra Nevada. “It’s beer without adornment.”
The lager originated in Bavaria’s cool alpine caves. Brewers stored the beers there from March (Märzen in German) until fall. Originally earmarked for harvest celebrations, the lagers later became aligned with the bratwursts-and-steins Oktoberfest festivities that run from mid-September to early October.
Märzen, or Oktoberfest lager, as it’s often known, doesn’t rely on tons of tropical, citrusy hops for aroma and flavor. The key is high-quality malt, like the heirloom Steffi variety that Sierra Nevada uses in its collaboration with Germany’s Brauhaus Faust-Miltenberger.
“Having that depth of flavor goes a long way to add complexity,” says Manley. It also contributes to the beers’ seasonal staying power.
“You can drink an Oktoberfest over and over again throughout the season,” says Beymer. “In craft beer, I feel like there’s a trend back to beers that pair with life a little bit better.”
Oktoberfest-Style Beers to Try
Boulevard Brewing Bob’s ’47 Oktoberfest. The amber lager from Kansas City reels you in with the aroma of caramel-topped toast. A peck of spicy bitterness keeps the beer balanced. abv: 5.8%
Revolution Brewing Oktoberfest. Chicago-based Revolution uses German grains and Hallertau Gold hops, grown on a single Bavarian farm, in its toasty-smooth lager. Cans make it perfect for parties. abv: 5.7%
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen. Since 1878, the Bavarians have brewed this glowing-gold Märzen that checks every box. It’s rich, exhibits an earthy bitterness, is evocative of honey-drizzled scones and finishes dry. abv: 5.8% abv
Odell Brewing Co. Oktoberfest. Suited for sunny fall days and nippy nights, this herbal Colorado lager is a marvelous showcase for the fresh-baked biscuit flavor of Munich malts. abv: 6.1%