Top 10 Oktoberfest beers



Even if you can't make the trek to Munich this year, you can still enjoy some of the same beers being served across the Atlantic. In fact, three of the breweries featured here are among the six that are allowed to serve beer at the Bavarian Oktoberfest. The Oktoberfest style, also known as Märzen, was originally brewed around March (Märzen derives from März, the German word for March) before modern refrigeration, when brewing during the summer was problematic due to high temperatures that could result in bacterial infections. The beer was lagered (kept in cold storage) over the hotter months and brewed at a slightly higher gravity (or alcohol content) to help it maintain stability against the summer heat. This German lager style tends to be full-bodied, malty, toasty, dark copper-hued, with just enough hops to balance the malty sweetness and a slightly higher alcohol content (5-6 per cent ABV rather than the standard 4 per cent). While sweet malt is the dominant flavor, some American versions of the style impart a stronger hop presence. 

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
Brauerei Aying 
Aying, Germany
Märzen / Oktoberfest
5.8 per cent ABV

Price: $3.29 (16.9 oz.)

The Ayinger Brewery, founded in 1878 and located in the Bavarian village of Aying, is no stranger to brewing medals. It regularly brings home gold medals from the World Beer Championships and its Oktober Fest-Märzen is one of the most medaled and highly respected Märzens in the world. It pours with a golden color tinted with amber and a nose of floral hops balanced with slightly sweet malt. Flavors of caramel and nutty malt form the backbone and it's balanced with just enough hops to prevent it from coming off as too sweet. Its medium body and moderate alcohol (5.6 per cent ABV) is not overpowering, making this an easy drinking beer that will pair nicely with roasted chicken, fish, sausage or sauerkraut. 

Bell's Oktoberfest
Bell's Brewery
Galesburg, Michigan
Märzen / Oktoberfest
5.5 per cent ABV

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Price: $9.99 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Founded by Larry Bell in Kalamazoo, Michigan, this respected craft brewery has been churning out a variety of beer styles since 1985. This 5.5 per cent ABV product is light on the hops, with medium body and an aroma of bread-like freshness. The Oktoberfest lager pours bright orange, reminding us of the colors of fallen leaves in the fall. Typical Oktoberfest flavors of caramel and malt dominate. Without a lingering aftertaste, it's easy drinking, so you may find your beer disappearing quickly. Pair it with grilled or braised poultry, sausages or pizza.

Heavy Seas Märzen
Clipper City Brewing Company
Halethorpe, Maryland
Märzen / Oktoberfest
5.25 per cent ABV

Price: $9.99 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

In 1989, Hugh Sisson opened Sisson's, the first brewpub in Maryland, which grew exponentially and transformed into the Clipper City Brewing Company in 1994. The nautical-themed brewery has scored big with this offering, capturing seven medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup from 2006 to 2012. Typical for a Märzen, it pours a copper orange color and is well balanced with just enough Noble hops to allow the Crystal, Vienna and Munich malts to dominate with flavors of caramel and toasted bread. Pair it with pizza with buffalo sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni and salami.

Lakefront Oktoberfest
Lakefront Brewery
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Märzen / Oktoberfest
5.7 per cent ABV

Price: $8.99 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

German culture is strong in Wisconsin (the home of Lakefront Brewery), where many Germans immigrated to in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Just as strong is the Wisconsinites' appreciation for good beer. Upon pouring you'll notice a light copper hue and an aroma of toasted malt. Like its German counterparts, subtle flavors of toffee sweetness and earthy nuttiness shine through. Since Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state, consider pairing with gourmet cheeses produced in the cheese capital of the U.S.

Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest
Hacker-Pschorr Bräu GmbH 
Munich, Germany 
Märzen / Oktoberfest 
5.8 per cent ABV

Price: $9.99 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Hacker-Pschorr is one of Bavaria's pre-eminent breweries, having been in existence since the fifteenth century, and one of the breweries commissioned to brew beer at the original Oktoberfest in 1810. It's one of only six Munich breweries that are allowed to serve beer at the Munich Oktoberfest and the brewery claims its Oktoberfest lager is similar to the brew introduced at the first Oktoberfest. This traditional version utilizes natural spring water, dark- and light-colored malt from two-row Bavarian summer barley, a traditional Hacker-Pschorr centuries-old exclusive yeast strain and Noble Hallertau hops. Amber color, rich and clean toasted malt flavors, a sweet hop aroma and strong carbonation are descriptors of this brew, and at 185 calories per serving, it's nearly a light-calorie beer. Try it with sausages, pork chops or summer salads.

Hofbräu Oktoberfest
Staatliches Hofbräuhaus 
Munich, Germany 
Märzen / Oktoberfest 
6.3 per cent ABV

Price: $8.40 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Founded in 1589, the Staatliches Hofbräu brewery in Munich began as a court-owned enterprise run by a duke. The brewery hosts the largest tent at the Oktoberfest festival in Munich and is one of only six breweries permitted to serve its beer. Hofbräu imports beer from the same batches that are served at its tent, so you can enjoy the same beverage as the throngs at Oktoberfest. This version is very easy-drinking, with crisp flavor and a bit of sweetness. Not exactly the typical Oktoberfest brew, the hops are a bit more prevalent, the alcohol content is slightly higher (6.3 per cent ABV) and the appearance is a shade paler than the traditional beers of this style. Light caramel and malt flavors add to Hofbräu Oktoberfest's fine balance. This authentic Munich brew will taste best when accompanied by Bavarian traditional food such as bratwurst and Wiener schnitzel.

Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen
Paulaner Brauerei GmbH & Co. KG 
Munich, Germany 
Märzen / Oktoberfest
6 per cent ABV

Price: $9.50 for a six-pack of 11.2 oz. bottles

Paulaner happens to be one of only six Munich breweries allowed to serve beer at the Munich Oktoberfest, so if you can't make it to the German festival in person, the next best thing is to drink Paulaner's Oktoberfest Märzen. The brewery was founded by Minim friars in 1634, and they named it in honor of the patron saint of their own order, Saint Francis of Paola. Monks did the brewing until the early 19th century, after which operations were turned over to a non-religious brewmaster. Characteristic to the style, this 5.8 per cent ABV Märzen is amber-hued with a full malt aroma. There's something to be said for a beer that pours with a thick, creamy, foamy froth. The taste offers a decidedly nutty light roast with an emphasis on malt sweetness that's smooth and well balanced with subtle, but noticeable hop flavor. Good accompaniments to this brew include roast pork, roast chicken or spicy dishes.

Left Hand Märzen
Left Hand Brewing Company
Longmont, Colorado
Märzen / Oktoberfest 
6.6 per cent ABV

Price: $9.99 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

The Colorado-based brewery begins brewing this Märzen in the spring and after cellaring through the summer, it's ready to be enjoyed in the first month of fall, just in time for the Oktoberfest season. Head Brewer Ro Guenzel is well prepared for brewing German-style beer, having worked for the Kaltenberg brewery in Bavaria before joining Left Hand in 2004. He has developed a complex, balanced lager with biscuity, rich bready malt flavor, thanks to a generous combination of Vienna and Munich malts. The label artwork merges traditional German elements of a blue and white checkered pattern, lions (a symbol of the state of Bavaria) and a gold ring signifying the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, for whom the Oktoberfest was first celebrated. Like many other American craft breweries, Left Hand is minimizing its carbon footprint by recapturing potential lost energy from its boiler flash steam recovery system, generating power through solar arrays and recycling spent grain, paper and plastic to minimize the amount of material going to the landfill. Pairing with a light chicken dish, such as a grilled chicken sandwich, salad or pasta will add some complexity.

Magic Hat Hex 
Magic Hat Brewing Company
South Burlington, Vermont 
American Amber / Red Ale 
5.4 per cent ABV

Price: $9.99 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Unlike most Oktoberfest lagers, this version uses a German ale yeast (instead of lager yeast), and while its light amber hue and caramel aroma is standard for a Märzen, additions of Cherry Wood Smoked Malt lend to a thin layer of smokiness. A decent bittering aftertaste at the end derived from Apollo and Hallertauer hops make it a bit fuller than some of the others of the style. Its uniqueness gives credence to the brewery's "Ourtoberfest" style name. The name and label artwork that depicts strange creatures sitting at a picnic table enjoying this beer suggest a merging of Oktoberfest and Halloween celebrations. Pair this brew with hearty beef stew; or even cook with it. Visit the Magic Hat Brewery on your next Vermont vacation.

Weihenstephaner Festbier
Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
Freising, Germany
Märzen / Oktoberfest 
5.8 per cent ABV
$12.99 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Located just north of Munich, the birthplace of Oktoberfest, the Weihenstephan Brewery is no novice to brewing, with roots in beer-making going back to the year 768. Weihenstephan became licensed in 1040 and is recognized as the world's oldest working brewery. Its Festbier is a true German brew, with malt and Noble hops from the Hallertau region in Bavaria. The result is a full, rich-bodied, mildly hopped seasonal lager. Crisp and refreshing, its appearance of a deep gold color is a bit lighter than most Oktoberfest lagers, but otherwise its full carbonation, 5.8 per cent ABV and 26 IBUs (International Bittering Units) make it a perfect fit for the style. Hearty foods such as roasts, poultry, game and cheeses will complement the carbonation and maltiness of this brew.


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