Oktoberfest – which has run in Munich since 1810 – has in 2020 been cancelled for the first time since the Second World War, writers beer author Pete Brown.

But even Coronavirus can’t kill the idea behind the world’s oldest and greatest beer festival: Oktoberfest is now a global phenomenon, inspiring events and beers across every beer loving country. In 2020, it’s possible to capture the spirit of Oktoberfest without leaving your home.   

Getting the right beers is of course crucial. Oktoberfest is different from most beer festivals in that it only serves a narrow range of beers from a limited number of breweries. It’s about drinking beer, not sampling it or exploring it. The six great German brewhouses – Spaten, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, and Hofbräu – are the only breweries that pour their beer at Oktoberfest, and the beers they serve are limited in style.

And the thing you need to know is that, these days, the beer you drink at Oktoberfest is, rather confusingly, not Oktoberfest beer.

 

The original Oktoberfest beers

For its first 60 years, the beer at Oktoberfest would have been Dunkel, Bavarian dark lager. In the 1870s, Gabriel Sedlmayr of the Spaten brewery introduced a new, paler beer style called Märzen. Typically, brewing only took place during cool, winter months, and Märzen is a strong, malty lager traditionally brewed in spring, with a long, slow maturation over the summer, to be drunk in the autumn. The timing was perfect, and Märzen became synonymous with Oktoberfest. Pick up a beer with “Oktoberfest” on the label, and technically, Märzen is the style you’re drinking.

The problem is, if you’re drinking beer by the litre, Märzen – at around 6% ABV – is not the best beer style to ensure a long and happy day of revelry. Over the last second half of the twentieth century, lighter beers in the Munich “Helles” style, developed by Spaten around twenty years after Märzen, gradually displaced Oktoberfest beer from its own festival.

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Tasting four Oktoberfest beers on PerfectDraft

So here are four beers from two of the great Munich brewing houses: Spaten and Löwenbräu. It’s interesting to taste them side-by-side, to appreciate the evolution that happened in the late nineteenth century as rapid advances in brewing technology allowed pale, cool lagers to flourish and eventually take over the world. 

More than that though, while these beers are fine when drunk from the bottle, if you’ve ever had them poured fresh from a PerfectDraft tap, the packaged versions can feel a little anti-climactic. It’s a joy to be able to replicate a draught pour at home, especially as there’s no chance of the real thing this year. 

To complete the experience, just pop some roast chicken, mounds of sausages and giant pretzels on your next grocery order, and look up some proper Oktoberfest playlists on Spotify. You’ll soon be standing on your chair, bellowing out Rosamunde, your tankard carving elegant arcs through the air.   

PerfectDraft Spaten Oktoberfest Starter Bundle

PerfectDraft Oktoberfest beers tasting notes 

Spaten Oktoberfest, 5.9% ABV

The original Märzen, and therefore the template for Oktoberfest beers, is a darker gold than the Helles, a work-in-progress transition from dark beers to pale lagers that became a celebrated style on its own right. It has deeper caramel notes on the nose and a much fuller palate, quite sweet, but still has that dry, clean finish. 

Lowenbrau Oktoberfest, 6.1% ABV

Pours a deep gold, with aromas of bread and hints of hay and peppery spice. The strongest beer here, there’s a detectable alcohol warmth on the palate, which accentuates the sweetness from the malt and creates a lager that’s fuller-bodied than most, while remaining crisp and refreshing on the finish.

Lowenbrau, 5.2% ABV

Lowenbrau have been brewing in Munich since 1310, though the styles they brew have changed a great deal over that time. This is a classic example of the Bavarian Helles that’s smoother and maltier than its pilsner-style cousin further north. The nose is reminiscent of dry crackers with a bready yeast hint. On the palate it’s bready and biscuity, with a slight sweet, fruity hint at the finish.   

Spaten Münchner Hell, 5.2% ABV

The original Helles beer, created by Spaten in 1894, remains a template for what a quality blond lager should be. Shining gold, it pours with a creamy head. The aroma is bready and clean, with a hint of fresh-cut grass. On the palate it’s light and refreshing, a little toasty with a hint of sweetness, and a lovely dry, clean finish