We live our lives by the seasons. For instance, the end of the football season means baseball’s Spring Training is right around the corner. Well, for some people, like Raiders fans, it starts sooner — maybe around Halloween. But there’s always the next sports season to look forward to.
It’s the same with brewing. Since it takes time for your beer to ferment and bottle condition, it’s good to do some advance planning. You might want to beef up the bullpen, as it were, or start looking at some interesting young prospects in the form of experimental recipes. You have to think ahead.
I’ve already shared my recipe for Sunbonnet Lemon Wheat, and that’s a good recipe to make at the end of April, for a Memorial Day cookout, or in early June, to be ready for July 4th.
But there are other seasons, and other appropriate beers, and it’s time to think about … October!
Wait, what?! It isn’t even Opening Day for baseball, and you’re talking about brewing for the playoffs? You bet I am.
Oktoberfest was inaugurated in 1810, to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig Karl August to Therese Charlotte Luise of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Some names, huh? The invitations must have been printed on legal-size stationery.
Even though Ludwig didn’t become king for another 15 years, the idea of an annual festival was a popular one, and it grew in scope throughout the years.
Of course, being German, by the late 19th Century, Oktoberfest had evolved into a beer-drinking festival, which is better than commemorating the numerous toasters and blenders Louie and Terry no doubt received.
Nowadays, there are Oktoberfests across the world, from Arizona to Zambia, because even though they may not be in Germany, everyone loves an excuse to drink beer. Tyrolean hats and lederhosen are optional.
Okay, let’s talk beer
The beer known as Oktoberfest is actually a Märzen, or “March beer,” a lager brewed in spring and conditioned over the summer. In certain areas of Bavaria, a decree from 1553 stipulated that new beer wasn’t allowed to be brewed between April 24 and September 28. Perhaps this was because of the growing season, but also because cellars and ice caves could only go so far in preserving beer in the days before mechanical refrigeration.
For a proper Märzen, traditional German malts are a must, since the style is characterized as a malty amber German lager. Since the ultimate Oktoberfest takes place annually in Munich, Munich malt is the base I prefer.
According to the BJCP style guidelines, the hops should be nearly indistinguishable, with bitterness being moderate, and hop flavor low to nonexistent. There should be just enough hops influence to balance the maltiness and keep the finish from being too sweet. It hardly seems necessary to mention that German noble hops would be the first (if not the only) choice.(
Traditionally, a decoction mash is used to give more depth to the malt profile. Although, with today’s more well-modified malts, decoction may not be worth it in terms of time and effort. Personally, I prefer the BIAB method. Ultimately, it comes down to brewer’s choice.
Lagers are a touchy brew
Most homebrewers, especially those just starting out, primarily brew ales. With the popularity and wide range of Pale Ales and IPAs, we can tailor a recipe to our individual tastes. And the fact that top-fermenting ale yeasts perform well in the mid-60s and even the low 70s makes it a no-brainer.
Lagers are another matter. The bottom-fermenting lager yeasts require lower temperatures, and the caves and cellars of the Alps were a perfect environment. But the Catskills aren’t the Alps, and moving to Europe would make my wife’s commute even tougher, so I need a little help.
Luckily, a dedicated fridge and an exterior thermostat solve that problem. You can maintain whatever temperature you need. It’s even handy for maintaining optimum ale temperatures during the summer.
Another aspect of lager beers is that they need to be stored for an extended period at colder temperatures. Some homebrewers may be reluctant to wait that long for a taste of their beer, but with a secondary carboy, you not only free up your equipment for another batch, but you get the beer off the trub, resulting in a cleaner, clearer product.
My Ottertoberfest recipe
Yes, I call it Ottertoberfest. Hey, I like otters. At any rate, this is my Märzen/Oktoberfest/Ottertoberfest recipe.
Brew Method: All Grain (BIAB)
Style Name: Oktoberfest/Märzen
Boil Time: 90 minutes
Boil volume: 6.75 gallons
Batch size: ~5.5 gallons
8 pounds Munich malt
1.5 pounds Vienna malt
1.25 pounds Pilsner malt
0.5 Oz. Hallertau @ 45 minutes
0.5 Oz. Tettnang @ 45 minutes
0.5 Oz. Hallertau @ 22 minutes
0.5 Oz. Tettnang @ 22 minutes
0.5 Oz. Hallertau @ 7 minutes
0.5 Oz. Tettnang @ 7 minutes
White Labs German Lager Yeast – WLP830
Mash volume: 8 gallons
Mash temperature: 158F
Ferment at 52 degrees. When gravity reading indicates fermentation is 75% complete (3-4 days), raise temperature to high 50s/low 60s for diacetyl rest. After final gravity is reached, return to lager fridge for another week at 52 degrees. Rack to secondary, return to lager fridge, and gradually lower temperature to mid 30s for 4-5 months.
Lovely, lovely lagers
Whoever coined the phrase “Good things come to those who wait” must have been a lager drinker. This smooth, slightly sweet, crystal-clear beer will have you imagining the biergartens of Munich, even if you’re just sitting in your living room. But if you’re going to raise a stein and cheer “Zum Wohl!” with a true Oktoberfest, you better start brewing now. You can worry about sending Ludwig and Therese a Hallmark card in the fall.