When summer starts winding down and we move into fall (my favorite season), it means a lot of different things to different people. Football! Pumpkin spice lattés!
But for me, fall means one thing: Märzen!
Märzen, or more correctly märzenbier, is the style of beer that is most commonly associated with Oktoberfest in America. This is the auburn-colored lager that is enjoyed in large dimpled steins by folks in lederhosen and dirndls as they reenact Germany's favorite party.
Ironically märzenbier translates from German as "March beer," but there is a good reason why. In the mid-1500s, Duke Albrecht V, the ruler of Bavaria, noticed that all the beer made during the hotter summer months tended to spoil quickly and Germans have always taken the quality of their beer very seriously. So the Duke decreed in 1553 that no brewing was allowed between April 23 to September 29. This meant that the brewers at the time had to work overtime in March to get plenty of beer brewed and stored to make it to fall.
Now those original märzenbiers were likely not too similar to what we now think of as märzen. The current take on the style was officially fixed in 1841 by the Spaten Brewery in Munich when they rolled out their märzenbier for that year's Oktoberfest party. The marketing department at Spaten was clever enough to start branding their märzen as Oktoberfestbier, and this style of beer became synonymous with the yearly festivities.
So now the question remains, what exactly makes a beer a märzenbier? Well for that I am going to quote the BJCP 2015 guidelines directly because they have summed it up perfectly:
An elegant, malty German amber lager with a clean, rich, toasty and bready malt flavor, restrained bitterness, and a dry finish that encourages another drink.
I am pretty sure I could not have described this beer style as succinctly as that.
What really gives these beers that signature color and flavor is the usage of Munich and Vienna malt. In the late 1830s, Spaten developed a technique to create malt using indirect heat as opposed to direct heat, which was revolutionary at the time. This technique was also being developed outside of Vienna at the same time and these two malts make up a large part of the grain bill of märzenbiers today. This malting technique causes the famous Maillard reaction which creates melanoidins, that in turn give these beers their deep color and malty-sweet aromas. So now that we know a little bit about what a märzen is, let's get on with this review of COOP's seasonal Oktoberfest offering.
COOP's Oktoberfest clocks in at a modest 5.6 percent ABV, which is just a hair under the BJCP guidelines. Really this is OK, because these beers are meant to be consumed in large quantities over a long period of time and you don't want the crowd getting too unruly. This beer comes in at 20 IBUs, which is in the middle of the BJCP guidelines, and gives the beer a reserved bitterness, increasing the drinkability. COOP also lists the SRM (Standard Reference Method) of the beer as 16. This is a measure of the color of the beer, and 16 equates to a deep amber color.
Aroma and Appearance
The nose on this beer opens up with a sweet, malty aroma, rich with notes of caramel and mild fruitiness. It lets you know immediately it is a märzen. The head on the beer is slightly off white and does not have a lot of retention or lacing on the side of the glass. The color of the beer is distinctly amber and there is a good amount of clarity.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
This beer greets your taste buds with a somewhat bready and toasty flavor that is not as sweet as the aroma would imply, but still lets you know it’s a malt-forward beer. The bitterness is definitely held in check, and only serves as a balance to keep the beer from being overly cloying. The body of the beer is medium and there is almost a creamy texture that doesn't weigh this beer down. The beer finishes nice and crisp and certainly leaves your palate wanting another sip of this fine fall beverage.
In case I didn't make it clear enough, I am an absolute fan of this style. When those Oktoberfest bottles and cans start hitting the liquor store shelves, I am ecstatic about the coming drop in temperature and all the fun that comes with fall. I am a very seasonal drinker and there is something that just feels so right about pouring a nice märzenbier into my favorite stein, as if that simple act breaks the hold of the Oklahoma summer heat. COOP gives us an excellent example of the märzen style and it definitely puts me in the mood for brats, pretzels, and doing the chicken dance.