The Hops: Premature Oktobulation

September, I realized, is a difficult month to recommend beer for. For three weeks it is still
technically summer, so I wanted a beer that was light-bodied and refreshing. It also needed be rather cheap, as long afternoons of tailgating call for coolers packed with relatively affordable brew.

Complicating matters is Oktoberfest. That’s right, Munich’s annual beer drinking and Weisswurst eating extravaganza starts–counter-intuitively–in September. According to its official website, Oktoberfest was moved one month earlier so visitors can enjoy the warmer September nights in the outside beer gardens of “die Wiesen,” the festival’s traditional home. (This year’s edition, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the original, will be held September 18 to October 4.)

To accommodate the ninth month’s complicated beer identity, I developed a short list of criteria for an ideal brew: it needed to be light, refreshing, and relatively cheap, but worthy enough to be served by the lovely Wiesnbedienung in Munich.

Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen is a natural fit for September. It meets all my criteria: As a märzen (pronounced “maert-sen”) it not only honors Oktoberfest, but is a refreshing and flavorful lager to enjoy on a warm Saturday after a Hawkeye win.

The color is a clear, clean caramel leaning toward copper, and it develops a dense, buttery, off-white head that dissipates quickly to leave a spotted lacing and ring around the edge. It smells of sweet and toasted caramel malts and molasses, and also features the classic “barnyard hay” aroma of German lagers and a hint of hop spice. The taste follows the smell, but the hop spice is more prominent: sweet and toasted caramel malts, a little vanilla to go along with the molasses, and a welcoming bite at the finish. Prost!

  • Brewer: Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Munich, Germany.

  • Style: Märzen.

  • Alcohol content: 5.9 percent ABV.

  • Food pairings: Classic Bavarian/Oktoberfest grub such as grilled brats or chicken, potatoes and sauerkraut, and Weisswurst.

  • Where to buy: John’s, New Pioneer and most area HyVee’s have this for $8-9 per six-pack.

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