It may have been 80 degrees outside the Paste office on our Oktoberfest beer-tasting this year, but it still feels like the unofficial beginning of fall. I’ve really grown to love this style of beer and would happily drink all 30 of the Märzen-style beers we’ve tried over the last two years. But this list highlights the best of those.
The Märzen is a style that originated in Bavaria a half-century ago and is still celebrated there during Oktoberfest every year. Because lagers were impossible to brew during summer, the beer was brewed in March with higher alcohol by volume (typcially 5-6%) to keep through the warmer months.
Today, brewing lagers doesn’t always make the best financial sense for craft brewers. Lager yeast takes longer to ferment and clarify than ales, and it needs to be kept at lower temperatures, jacking up electric bills. Furthermore, the corn-based mass-produced beer companies have given the style a low-quality reputation compared to ales.
But these 20 breweries have given us flavorful, delicious Märzen lagers to look forward to every fall. And special thanks to our guest judges: Greg Best, Greg Bowman, Reid Ramsey and Nick Purdy.
City: Los Angeles
Perfect For: Spending an October day by the pool.
The Verdict: With a good malty nose and full mouthfeel, this LA beer is made with Hallertau hops and an array of malts. It borders on cloyingly sweet, though, with a caramel/toffee finish.
Perfect For: Boiling some brats.
The Verdict: Loaded with fall spice, the malty backbone has a sweet maple syrup flavor and noticeable Noble hops for a flavorful approach to the Märzen style.
City: Lawrence, Kan.
Perfect For: The last barbecue before the weather gets too cold.
The Verdict: Malty sweet on the front end with a nice bitter finish thanks to Perle and Hersbrucker hops, this is a solid take on the Märzen style, and it’s been around since 1989.
City: Freising, Germany
Perfect For: Rewarding yourself after a long fall run.
The Verdict: The lightest in color of all the beers we tasted, Weihenstephaner’s Oktoberfest beer is very bready and yeasty, unsurprising for a brewery known for its Hefe Weissbier.
City: Milwaukee, Wisc.
Perfect For: A Northwoods fish boil.
The Verdict: Clean and crisp with a light body and light caramel flavors, this Oktoberfest goes down easy.
Brewery: Paulaner Brauerei
City: Munich, Germany
Perfect For: Raking leaves. In lederhosen.
The Verdict: Sure the beer is tasty, but look at that can! First, it’s enormous. Also, here’s to truth in advertising—drink enough of these and you’ll look like those three portly men on the front. And by that I mean happy. This lager has a hint of citrus for a more early-fall feel and goes down easy.
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Perfect For: Drinking better beer at a rock show.
The Verdict: Several tasters agreed that this one tastes most fall-like. A great example of the style.
City: New Glarus, WI
Perfect For: Going flannel-shopping in Door County.
The Verdict: A big, biscuit and bready amber lager that remains fairly crisp and drinkable despite a higher ABV than many of the other entries. Not too sweet, although it does have a full mouthfeel and some prominent toffee-like flavors. A solid beer from a very reliable (although hard to get) brewery.
City: Paso Robles, Calif.
Perfect For: Homesick Germans
The Verdict: When Firestone Walker wants to make an Oktoberfest beer, they import German Hallertau hops and Pilsner and Vienna malts. The result is tasty and very true to style, but when a Firestone Walker beer doesn’t just completely blow us away it seems like a disappointment. The rest of their lineup has just set our expectations sky high.
City: Frederick, Md.
Perfect For: Watching football.
The Verdict: This is a perfectly serviceable Oktoberfest beer. Nicely balanced, good finish. We could happily drink this all day.
City: Bellaire, Mich.
Perfect For: Drinking with smoky brats.
The Verdict: One of the bigger outliers, Noble Chaos was also the most divisive among our judges earning both a first and a last place vote. It tastes as much like a coffee brown as it does a Märzen. That said, I enjoyed its roasty, nutty flavor.
City: Amherst, Wisc.
Perfect For: Washing down the wursts.
The Verdict: German hops and light grain stand out in this Wisconsin tribute to the state’s significant German heritage. Very smooth and very drinkable.
City: Longmont, Colo.
Perfect For: Strapping on those Lederhosen.
The Verdict: Left Hand gave their Märzen a nice hop bite, making it one of the most flavorful of the fall line-up.
City: Erding, Germany
Perfect For: Harvesting
The Verdict: This wheat Oktoberfest lager is so bready and yeasty you could put a tab of butter on it. Hearty but refreshing.
Perfect For: A trip to Munich
The Verdict: Sure, the brewery is owned by inBev—the same company that owns Budweiser, Michelob, Stella Artois, Shock Top and Bass—but don’t discount Spaten’s 700-year history of beer-making just because of corporate maneuvering. It’s a solid Oktoberfest with distinctly German ingredients.
City: Bloomington, Ind.
Perfect For: Those traditional Oktoberfest fish tacos.
The Verdict: On the lighter side of our Oktoberfest tasting, Upland makes up for it with a pleasant citrus nose and just the right touch of hops and spice.
City: Downingtown, Penn.
Perfect For: Throwing your own 16-day-long Oktoberfest party.
The Verdict: Complex for an Oktoberfest with hints of honey, hops and spice—but no one flavor overpowers the others. Still one of the best American märzens we’ve tasted.
Brewery: Brauerei Aying
City: Aying, Germany
Perfect For: Rewarding yourself.
The Verdict: If you can’t get to Munich for Oktoberfest, Ayinger was kind enough to bottle it up for you. Located just southeast of Munich in the town of Aying, the brewery has created a near-perfect Märzen. Crisp and full of flavor, this is fall happiness.
City: St. Louis
Perfect For: Practicing your German vocabulary. Or twisting your tongue.
The Verdict: A very well-balanced example of the style with a drier malt character and notes of toffee and nuts. Crisp and refreshing with just a hint of spice. We could drink this by the enormous stein.
Brewery: Paulaner Brauerei (Schörghuber)
City: Munich, Germany
Perfect For: Pairing with a good schnitzel.
The Verdict: Paulaner’s proprietary yeast adds banana and wheat notes to this Märzen straight from München. There’s not a hint of hops present, but the malty sweetness is just right in this thirst-quenching lager.
Perfect For: When you want a little kick to your Märzen.
The Verdict: The surprise winner comes from Chicago’s Half Acre. Full-bodied with plenty of Noble hops, the bitterness didn’t overpower the hefty malts at its base. This is a beer that reaches across the pond to Germany and just keeps going towards the Czech Republic, recalling a delicious pils. But it retains all the best, easy-drinking qualities of an Oktoberfest.