Today I committed a beer-drinking faux pas tantamount to wearing white shoes after Labor Day: I consumed a Marzen in January. You see, Marzen, often known as Oktoberfest, was developed in response to an embarrassing problem facing German brewers during the Middle Ages: skunky beer. The culprit was heat; during much of the year it was too warm for proper fermentation. As a remedy, those brewing sticklers in Bavaria drafted an ordinance limiting beer brewing to the days between Sept. 29 and April 23.
To ensure an adequately-preserved supply through the summer months, alcohol content was increased and beer was stored in mountain caves. This new style, a malty, aged lager, became known as Marzenbier or “March beer.” As some stories go, barrels used to store Marzen needed to be emptied in time for the brewing season; this mass draining of beer barrels in late September set a precedence for the modern Oktoberfest.
According to that 1553 brewing ordinance, today’s beer, an Oktoberfest from Bloomington, Indiana’s Upland Brewing Co., should be in a cave somewhere in the Bavarian Alps, stored safely for future consumption. Thanks to the miracles of modern refrigeration, however, I was able to enjoy this fairly decent example of one of my favorite beer styles.
Call me dull, but I love a good Oktoberfest. With a perfect balance of malt and hops, combined with a clean finish and nice alcohol kick, Oktoberfest strikes me as a quintessential example of good, hearty beer. So deep is my affection for this style that, when I went on a solo hike this fall that started as a 2-hour jaunt and ended as a 6-hour misguided wandering with no food and little water, all I could think about was making it to the nearest beverage purveyor for a generous serving of Oktoberfest.
As for today’s beer, all the Marzen-banter up to this point was really just an attempt to compensate for the fact that Upland’s Oktoberfest is not particularly interesting. While it embodies all of the requisite Marzen characteristics – rich, malty flavor with a slightly hoppy bitterness on the finish that dissipates quickly – it lacks the savory notes that my favorite Oktoberfests possess. To summarize:
Upland Oktoberfest Lager
|Hops:||Identified only as “rare German” hops|
|Notes:||Classic Marzen – malty, with a hint of hoppy bitterness and a very clean finish.|
|My Take:||Perfectly decent, but I’d choose New Glarus Staghorn or Tyranena Gemuetlichkeit over it any day.|
Wondering where I get my info? I’m a librarian, silly, I know everything. In case you doubt, a few sources:
Beer savant Michael Jackson: http://www.beerhunter.com/documents/19133-000255.html