Märzen and Octoberfest: A Brief History
Märzen-style beers, as we know them today, entered the historic stage at a time when Europe was enthralled by industrialization. Inspired post-Scientific-Revolution thinkers explored foreign lands, historic records, and local traditions to develop new solutions and methods for just about everything. Today’s Märzen lager owes its existence to this moment of fervor and ingenuity.
For centuries, Bavarians brewed the year’s tastiest lagers through the cold months of winter in which the conditions (notably, cold temperatures) for producing lagers were at their peak. As the summer months approached, brewers found that their beers developed unpleasant flavors resulting from infections nourished by warmer temperatures. March happened to be the last month of the cold season that allowed for brewing a clean and enduring “Märzen” lager, so brewers worked around the clock in March, and kept their beer cool in caves and cellars to make sure people remained joyously hydrated through summer. With autumn’s arrival, brewers needed empty barrels to prepare for the next brewing season. What better way to celebrate the end of summer, the year’s barley harvest, and the impending cold, lager-brewing season than by throwing a festival to consume the last of the summer’s beer (the Märzen lager)? And so, Märzen and Octoberfest became inextricably linked.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs Gabriel Sedlmayr and Anton Dreher adopted an alternative malting method used in Great Britain that applied indirect heat to the barley, allowing for some sugars to caramelize without overly roasting the kernel. In 1841, Sedlmayr and Dreher added this new form of pale malt to the Märzen grist. The resulting lighter-hued, but malty lager was so well received that the trend quickly led to the production of the first blond lager – the Pilsner – in 1842.
Of Märzen Beer, Pork, and all Manner of Tasty Things
Märzen beers typically range in color from dark gold to amber. This medium-bodied malty-style lager expresses soft toasted flavor notes with minimal (or no) noble hop flavors. While Märzens should impart a slight malty sweetness, they should also have a fairly dry finish with mild bitterness. Duck-Rabbit’s Märzen, dark gold in color with crisp yet definitively malty flavors, tends towards the lower end of the ABV spectrum typically attributed to Octoberfest beers, at 4.6%. As such, its inviting nature is ideal and enduring for end-of-summer celebrations!
As a clean, subtle, and invitingly delicious lager, the Duck-Rabbit Märzen is a perfect beer to enjoy with many late-summer and early-fall culinary favorites. Its nuances, however, could get lost on the pallet if paired with intensely flavored and heavily spiced foods. Instead, consider its soft and complex characteristics and find foods that might have the same sort of appeal. For a simple starter, you can play with Märzen’s slightly toasted flavors by trying cream cheese or a soft goat cheese on rye bread, finished with fresh chives and a little bit of chopped parsley. Add some cold cut ham for that touch of sweetness to balance the delicate caramel notes in the glass! Interested in spending as much quality time with the grill before winter sets in? Fear not… Märzen’s subtle but malt-forward flavors combine happily with grilled chicken and pork.
Did I mention sausages?! Pork and autumn-like spices that bring out sweet and savory flavors, such as nutmeg, mace, and sage, would help to elicit more of Märzen’s malty characteristics. These flavors are prevalent in bierwurst, bratwurst, Nürnberger bratwurst, Weisswurst, English bangers, and boerewors sausage types. Moreover, for fans of Eastern North Carolina style barbecue (and who isn’t?), Märzen pairs beautifully with the complex, but subtle variety of flavors in the pork that result from its intensive preparation.
At the end of the day, Märzen is delicious in any situation. Enjoy it while you can, and have a fun and festive yet safe transition into fall.
This blog entry refers to the following sources:
Beer Judge Certification Program, Inc., “Category 3 – European Amber Lager.” 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines. Beer Judge Certification Program, Inc. website, http://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/style03.php. 2014.
German Beer Institute., “Märzen.” Beer Styles, the German Beer Portal for North America, German beer Institute website, http://www.germanbeerinstitute.com/M%E4rzen.html. 2006.
German Beer Institute., “Oktoberfestbier.” Beer Styles, the German Beer Portal for North America, German beer Institute website, http://www.germanbeerinstitute.com/Oktoberfestbier.html. 2006.