Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
Today we’re wrapping up our ABCs of German Lager with a rundown of seasonal and slightly more obscure styles that you may come across, or maybe you’ve seen before but not known what they are. With a brewing tradition as storied and long-reaching as Germany’s there are many regional variations and sub-categories, but for today’s purposes we’re going to look at the ones you’re most likely to run into. Let’s start with perhaps the most famous seasonal beer in the world:
Marzen/Oktoberfest: Yes, the mighty Oktoberfest Lager. The first Oktoberfest was the celebration of the marriage of then-Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810 in Munich. Citizens frolicked and celebrated, but the horse races seen by the royal family were a hit and when it was decided to make them a yearly occurrence the festival tagged along, eventually being scheduled back so that it ended on the first Sunday in October. Marzen (“March”) as we know it today came into existence nearly 300 years before the Prince’s wedding: a 1539 Bavarian brewing law (yes, another one of those) stated that brewing could only take place between late September and late April. Most of these beers were brewed during March for the summer and early autumn months, hence the name. Marzen, with its higher alcohol content than standard Lager and balance of malty notes and easy drinkability, was readily available at the time of the first Oktoberfest and became associated with it to the point that today most people only know it by this newer name, though not every Marzen is an Oktoberfest. Only a handful of breweries within Munich’s city limits are allowed to use the term Oktoberfest for their versions — everyone else opts for everything from Marzen to Fest or Festbier. Personal favorites include the Oktoberfestbier from Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrau, Paulaner, and Augustinerbrau (though this one is tough to find). Weihenstephaner Festbier and Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen (clever name, that) are great as well. My absolute favorite Oktoberfestbier however, is the world-class Bell’s Oktoberfest from Michigan; it never lasts long so jump on it when it’s around. Other great American examples are Heavy Seas Marzen, Schlafly Oktoberfest, Great Lakes Oktoberfest, Victory Festbier, and Avery’s insane 10.03% ABV The Kaiser. Most Marzen-labeled beers are available year-round, while Oktoberfest beers start arriving in early August.
Maibock: Essentially a Helles Lager brewed to the strength of a standard Bock, Maibock are notably lighter in color than a Bock or Doppelbock, with a slightly more intense hop presence. Mostly released in May (the “Mai” in “Maibock”), this style has become associated with many spring festivals and events. Hofbrau and Einbecker are the German versions you’ll likely see the most of here, with many American breweries jumping in on the fun of a stronger style beer that is still easy for most palates to approach. Rouge Dead Guy can be classified as Maibock, and other great examples include Smuttynose Maibock, Victory St. Boisterous, and the now-retired Sierra Nevada Glissade which I was a big fan of. Abita makes two versions: The spring-release Mardi Gras Bock and the year-round, decidedly stronger AndyGator, which holds the proud title of Most Dangerous Beer in America in my book for its combination of great flavor, balanced feel, and 8% ABV. The ‘Gator always leads to trouble, folks — but that’s half the fun.
Eisbock: Staying in for the evening? Want to try something a little heavier than the usual? Pick up an Eisbock: by freezing some of the water in the tank and simply removing it, Eisbocking is a simple way to concentrate body, flavor, and structure in a beer without having to burn more materials. Also, taking some of the water out also bumps the alcohol level considerably — you know, if you’re into that sort of thing. Not many Eisbocks are available here, but luckily the one you’re most likely to see is also in my opinion the best: Schneider Aventinus Eisbock. The legend goes that a keg of Schneider’s Aventinus Doppelbock was headed to the high German mountains during the winter, and when it arrived at its destination it had partially frozen. The resulting beer was such a hit that a mighty call went forth for the brewery to replicate and bottle this happy accident and the rest is history. Aventinus is a great beer to begin with, and not a weak one at that. But the Eisbock process jacks it up to a robust 12% ABV and raises the volume on the depth and complexity of its malts to a level that has to be had to be appreciated. Those looking for an alternative can seek out Kulmbacher’s Reichelbrau, which isn’t always available but very, very good. Handle with care.
Next week we’ll tackle Hefeweizen in its many forms and I’ll likely yell at people for adding fruit to it or for acting too manly to drink Wheat Beer. Have a great Memorial Day, everyone and make sure to take some time to consider the servicemen/women in your life who have left us. Until next time.
Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.