By Gregg Smith

What is Oktoberfest? Is it a. a party; b. beer; c. festival held each September; d. all of the above. If you played the odds and answered 'd' you're right because all those answers are connected.

The fall brings a special celebration to Germany, a party which honors the 1810 marriage of Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa. The reception they threw for their subjects was such a success that no one wanted to stop and the party continued for 16 days. In 1811 as the couple was contemplating how to mark their first anniversary they could think of no better way than to repeat the merrymaking of their reception. But what type of beer did they drink?

To understand the various things associated with this beer it's necessary to go back to the days before refrigeration. Although the brewers didn't understand why, the beers they made in the summer tended to have undesirable "off" flavors and aromas. To combat this Germany instituted a rule which forbade the production of beer during warmer months. Faced with the prospect of no production the brewers were forced to stockpile a supply large enough to meet summer's demand. Again, the lack of refrigeration required a beer which would keep over several months. Fortunately, the best known preservative of the day was already in their beer - alcohol. Thus, brewers started producing a higher strength beer to carry them through the non-brewing months.

The timing of the wedding is significant because it was at the end of the no-brewing season. So the reception was a good excuse to knock off the stored beer while making room for the new brews. This also accounts for the other name for Oktoberfest beers. "Marzen" is German for March the last month brewing was allowed before the summer break. Ever since, the two names, though different, have been inseparable.

Yet another Oktoberfest curiosity is the date; stranger still, most of the celebration actually takes place in September and it varies from year to year. Here's the reason and the method to calculate when it falls. Remember how the celebration went on for sixteen days? Well, it ended, and still does, on the first Sunday in October; thus the name. To calculate the start you only need to look up that Sunday each year and count backward sixteen days. This will allow you to amaze your friends every year; it only leaves the question of what beers to serve.

Oktoberfest style beers can vary to a certain extent, but all share some common traits. They are full bodied, malty sweet, higher than average in alcohol and low in apparent hops. In its modern version, the fest beers are usually, but not always, golden in color. Flavor and aroma profiles in this full bodied beer both favor malt, there is very little evident hops. Brewers use just enough hops in traditional versions to balance the beer, although there may be the faintest hint of hops in the bouquet. Alcohol levels are at 4.8-5.4% and in a manner of speaking these could be thought of as baby bock beers.

To ensure your celebration of Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa's anniversary is accurate as possible check your local distributor for their line. Try them all, and raise a glass or two to that 1810 wedding.

Gregg Smith


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