How To Brew Festbier

by Steve Thanos | Updated: June 19, 2020

Looking for something different, yet traditional for your next Oktoberfest party? Look no further than to the German Festbier.

Even though many think the darker, more malt forward Märzen style is what is served, the Festbier has been the main focus of current Munich Oktoberfest parties.

As many beer aficionados already know, the whole Oktoberfest celebrations all started with the marriage between Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810.

After the great success of that marriage party, these festivities became an annual tradition. Talk about a rad anniversary party!

The first years of this festival probably saw a beer closely resembling a Munich Dunkel.

Since at this time much of Europe was all things pale lagers, the head brewer at Franziskaner, Gabriel Sedimayr, in 1872 decided to take advantage of these changing times. He brewed an amber lager, which was based on a Viennese recipe.

It was called Ur – Märzen, or “original Märzen. Like always, other breweries learned of this and began to replicate it. This is how we know Märzen as today.

Slow Change

It would be 100 years until the beer actually changed for Oktoberfest. Due to the original Märzen being such a filling beer for festivals, the Festbier was introduced as the beer for Oktoberfest.

Twenty years later around the 1990s, Festbiers were poured at Oktoberfest.

Another reason Festbiers were the answers for these annual fests is money. Brewers wanted to serve beer that people would continuously order. With an easy drinking Festbier, patrons of these fests are more likely to drink multiple steins as opposed to just one or two Märzen.

Festbier Style Profile

Appearance: 

Deep gold or rich yellow with amazing clarity and white foam.

Aroma:

Sweet and moderate maltiness. Malt character is reminiscent of toast and dough and should not contain malt aromas of caramel, biscuit, or darkened toast. low hoppy aromas with herbal, spicy, or floral notes; clean yeast

Flavor: 

Moderate to high maltiness with a sweet doughy taste; moderate bitterness but balanced and crisp; low to moderate hop flavors.

Mouthfeel: 

Medium, smooth, creamy body; moderate carbonation; low alcohol warmth.

Taste: 

Medium to moderately high malt flavor. Presence of Pilsner malt should be detected; soft sweetness of bread dough and hints of light toast. Hop bitterness and flavor should be medium to low.

Bitterness should bring slight balancing to the malt, while flavor is spicy, herbal, or floral. Clean lager character.

Food Pairing:

Bratwursts and Bavarian pretzels are a good starting point when considering food pairings. Also pairs well with pizza, BBQ, grilled chicken, battered fish, and roasted meats.

Also, Gouda and Emmental cheeses go well with a Festbier.

Tips for Brewing your own Festbier

Grain:

Seek out a good quality German Pilsner malt. A floor malted pilsner malt would be a good choice. Floor malted grains are slightly less modified, but it retains more protein, maltier flavor, and lighter in color.

Weyermann and Bestmaltz are two quality floor malted pilsner malts that are readily available for homebrewers. Munich and/or Vienna malt will deepen the malt flavor.

Since you are only looking for an SRM range of 4-7, keep the additions of Munich and Vienna to a minimum.

Hops:

Like any good German beer, Noble hops are the tradition. Tettnang, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Spalt, or Saaz are your choices here. German Magnum is a nice substitution if the above are not available, especially as a bittering hop.

Liberty or Willamette would be good American hops to use as well. Hop flavor is more important than aroma in a Festbier. Keep both flavor and aroma hops low.

Yeast:

  • Wyeast: Bohemian Lager (2124), Oktoberfest Lager (2633), Munich lager (2308)
  • White Labs: German Bock Lager (WLP833), Southern German Lager(WLP838)
  • Imperial Yeast: Harvest L17
  • Dry Yeast: Saflager 34/70, Saflager S-23

Mash:

Since German malts and floor malting are typically under-modified compared to UK and US malts, a decoction mash is suggested. It can also be argued that a step mash is the way to go. Take a look at decoction mash here.

Fermentation:

Ferment at 50°F (10°C) or whatever your yeast manufacturer suggests until your final gravity is reached. It is a good idea to increase the temperature by about ten degrees at the end of fermentation to assist in diacetyl cleanup.

Once the beer completes fermentation and after the diacetyl rest, you may want to cold crash it to 35°F (2°C) for about 4 weeks to improve clarity.

Festbier By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 4-7 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.054 – 1.057
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.012
  • IBU Range: 18-25
  • ABV Range: 5.8 – 6.3%

Martin Keen’s Homebrew Festbier Recipe:

Grain

  • 9 lbs 8.0 oz Pilsner; German
  • 1 lbs 8.0 oz Munich Type I
  • 8.0 oz Victory Malt

Hops

  • 1.50 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 60.0 min
  • 1.50 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 5.0 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg Munich Lager (Wyeast Labs #2308)
How To Brew Festbier Homebrew Challenge 1

Transcript: I’m Martin Keen taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beer styles.

I’m standing out here in the pouring rain as the outer bands of hurricane Dorian pass overhead. So what better day to come inside in the dry and think about brewing a beer that reminds me of autumnal evenings.

It’s time to brew German Festbier.

Ingredients? Well, this is a German lager at its heart. So the base malt is German Pilsner. I’m using nine and a half pounds of that. For the specialty malts, I’ve just got two, I’ve got Munich type I, or light Munich and I have one and a half pounds of that.

And then on top of that, I have eight ounces of victory molt, and this should get the beer, a light color, which is what we’re looking for with a Fesbier, but also a little bit of a bready texture too.

I’m going to mash in at 152 Fahrenheit for about an hour. We’ve been looking to get ultimately a beer in the range of about 1.057

How To Brew Festbier Homebrew Challenge 4

So Festbier. You’re probably thinking october fest, right? You’d be right. This is the sort of beer that is served in Munich for Oktoberfest.

But if you’re from the U S in particular, it might not be the best style that you’re expecting that kind of Amber colored Oktoberfest beer that’s sold in the U S is not what Festbier is.

The reason for that is basically changing tastes that people are drinking these one liter steins of beer, and the lighter straw colored beer has proven to be a lot more popular than the sort of traditional Oktoberfest beer.

So you go to Munich Oktoberfest now, it’s very likely you’re going to see Festbier as being the most popular drink, rather than the more traditional Oktoberfest beer, the Märzen style beer, or that perhaps we’re used to here in the U S.

Now I’ve never been to Oktoberfest in Munich, but I haven’t been to volts Fest in Stuttgart. And it is just a fantastic time. You have all of these huge beer tents, beer tents, separated by brewery. Um, and that’s combined with like all the stuff you’d find at a fair of like amusement rides.

So you have this really quite unfortunate combination of drinking, a bunch of beer, going on the rides, getting spun around. And then, well, I can tell you firsthand wasn’t good.

How To Brew Festbier Homebrew Challenge 5

While I’m draining from my mash, turn into my boil kettle it’s time to talk about hops. There’s a single hop I’m using with traditions at Hallertau Mittelfrüh, and I am using first of all, 1.5 ounces in at 60 minutes.

And I’m aiming to get to an IBU about 20 for this beer. Then with five minutes left. So same again, another 1.5 ounces. And that should give that beautiful floral or slightly fruity aroma to the beer, delicious.

That complete’s brew day. Everything has gone pretty much to plan. So I ended up with a final gravity of 1.057, which is right on the money. What is not right on the money as usual is the fact that I could not call this anywhere near to lagering temperatures. I want to get down to 50 or 55 Fahrenheit. I’m at like 90 Fahrenheit.

Now I’m trying something a little bit different now to call that wort. So I ran my immersion chiller, as long as I could go back down to 90 I’ve now put it in my chest freezer. And normally what I do is I set it to about the temperature I want it to be at.

And then I kind of wait overnight this time I’m being a bit more aggressive. I said, it’s two 10 Fahrenheit. So that’s pretty cold. We should hopefully speed things along. I just need to be careful not to, uh, to freeze my beer, but who would do that anyway?

When that does get cold enough, it’s time for the yeast. I’m using a Munich lager. That’s a Wyeast 2308. This is the remains of the starter. And I’ll pitch this when it’s cooled down.

How To Brew Festbier Homebrew Challenge 7

So I’m here with Brian to taste the festival, which came out at 6.7%. Brian is star of my most popular video ever, where we, we did the $300 or $3,000, see which best. And it turns out that no matter how much you spend on the best system, you can still screw it up. We’ll all be as good too. Is everything I learned. Oh, beers. We might bet. Alright, so yeah.

So this is Festbier. We put it in some sort of festive glasses. Let’s have a look at what you think of the appearance. Yeah. So compared to like, to me, when I think Oktoberfest, I think of the and style here, and this is definitely a very different, yeah. Yeah. Carbonation looks good. Lots of bubbles. Yep. Alright. Let’s see the smell. So I think like most of the German lagers I brew does not a lot of hop aroma.

No, almost no aroma that I can smell, but it’s a little bit, smell a little, just a little bit of sweetness out of it. You smell that. Yup. Yup. Hmm. That’s very, very good. Now this is a lager taste. You can taste the lager yeast. Yes.

It’s got a lot of flavor to it that definitive lager finish is why it was what I noticed from it. Right. I really think it’s German lagers yeast but you can absolutely. You can pick it out anywhere. Yeah.

Well, I guess so I guess the question is how many liters of this could you drink in a, in a tent in October or in September when they do this? That’s the wrong size? The full, the full litre. One sec. All right. So when you get done with your pint, well, we’ll give you a proper one. Wow.

And here we go. Now we’re talking now we’re talking to official October Fest, drinking vessels. That’s right. Well, I’m glad you like it. No, that’s great. Cheers.

Yeah. I was like, where’s this wall on his house. I don’t remember any brick wall. Yep. Yeah. That’s sorta, that’s a rock.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.