O’ zapft ist!

Happy Autumn! And Happy Oktoberfest! O’ zapft ist!

I just happened to have five Bavarian Oktoberfests in my beer fridge, so I decided to post a little review and beer history. Tough job, I know, but someone has to do it, might as well be the Guru…

A quick review: Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It is one of the most famous events in Germany and is the world’s largest fair, with more than 5 million people attending every year. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. The festival is held in an area named the Theresienwiese (field, or meadow, of Therese), often called Wies’n for short, located near Munich’s center. Large quantities of Oktoberfest Bier are consumed, with almost 7 million liters served during the 16 day festival. Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, at a minimum of 12.5% Stammwurze (approximately 6% alcohol) may be served at Oktoberfest. The beer must also be brewed within the city limits of Munich. Beers meeting these criteria may be designated Oktoberfest Bier.

The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer under the criteria are: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner-Bräu, Spatenbräu and Stätlisches Hofbräu-Münich. Oktoberfest Beer is a registered Trademark by the Club of Munich Brewers.

Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Bavaria on October 12,1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n“.

Since 1950, there has been a traditional festival opening: A twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at noon by the Mayor of Munich with the cry “O’ zapft ist!” (“It’s tapped!”) opens the Oktoberfest. The Mayor then gives the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria.

History of the beer style: Also known as a Märzenbier (MARE-tzen-beer, “beer of March”) the style’s origin is credited to Gabriel Sedlmayr, based on an adaptation of the Vienna style developed by Anton Dreher around 1840, shortly after lager yeast was first isolated. It is typically brewed in the spring, signaling the end of the traditional brewing season and is stored in cold caves or cellars during the warm summer months, and served in autumn amidst traditional celebrations.

So – I tasted and formed opinions on the following five brews, not all of which are brewed in Munich (so they don’t qualify for the above list, necessarily), but all of which are German and therefore better representatives of the style (in my opinion) than most North American-brewed versions…

Weihenstephaner – 5.8% abv

  • color: clear straw, reminiscent of a pilsner; thin off-white head
  • nose: pretzels, graham crackers
  • flavor: thin, off-sweet, nice hop bitterness better suited to a Pilsner – not much of an O-fest…
  • overall: 3/5 – very tasty beer, but not well-suited for the category

Erdinger – 5.7% abv

  • color: slightly hazy straw to gold, thick white head
  • nose: pears/apricots, sweet – a little corn (diacteyl)
  • flavor: bread, malt, again diacetyl (caramel corn)
  • overall: 3.5/5 – not malty enough, too superficially sweet and affected by the diacetyl

Warsteiner – 5.9% abv

  • color: crystal clear deep gold, perfect off-white head
  • nose: malt, crackers, piney hops
  • flavor: rich, burnt sugar/caramel, malty
  • overall: 4/5 – from a brewery best known for an outstanding Pilsner, this is a very credible and well-made Märzen. Lovely to look at and eminently drinkable

Paulaner – 5.8% abv

  • color: reddish amber, thinnish white head
  • nose: floral hops, toasted malt, toffee
  • flavor: rich malty up front, dried fruit/raisins, some red wine-like tannins and tartness
  • overall: 4/5 – very much a classic example, well-rounded and complex

Spaten – 5.9% abv

  • color: amber, totally clear & bright, light off-white head
  • nose: malt, mild hops, pipe tobacco?
  • flavor: balanced – malt and hops take turns on the tongue, great sweetness and very pleasant bitterness
  • overall: 4.5/5

Ironically, the one of the five packaged in a green bottle came across as the freshest. There was not one I would dump down the sink, but clearly the beers brewed in Munich remain the best examples. Prost!

For more information about the Märzen/Oktoberfest style, or ideas on how to brew your own, I recommend (with a large grain of salt) George Fix’s Vienna/Märzen/Oktoberfest in the AHA Classic Style series. Whenever I am seeking information on a style, a brewery, a brewing region, I usually start with Michael Jackson’s “Beer Companion” or “New World Guide to Beer” When brewing or tasting the style, I always refer to the BJCP Style Guidelines, even if I don’t always follow them…

Lessons Learned

For the second year in a row, I donated a brewing session to a charity auction at the Vermont Law School, sponsored by the Women’s Law Group. This year’s winners, Susan and Kayvon, braved the muddy back roads and joined me this morning to brew a nicely-timed Smoked Maple Märzen, which I will be rolling out as my Oktoberfest in the fall. Susan has brewed before, at the extract and steeping grains level; Kayvon is new to brewing but I think he caught the bug this morning… Great conversation ranging from beer to politics to chickens and cats. It was a pleasure to have them on hand to brew. And I got a delicious chocolate-pecan pie out of the deal!

This was the second brew made with some of the grains I smoked a few weeks ago. Although I was using maple sap, the grains were actually smoked over oak, so I am mixing woods…. The weather has already turned too warm for much more sap to run, I fear, but I have enough sap in storage for the three beers and the mead I will brew with it. I may not be able to make any syrup this year, but I have my priorities!

Märzen/Oktoberfest 2012

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 6 gallons fresh raw maple sap, boiled down to 14 quarts
  • 2 lbs. oak-smoked Munich malt
  • 7-1/2 lbs. pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. 60°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Tettnanger hop pellets (@3.5% aa)
  • White Labs German Bock yeast (WLP830)
  • 1 cup maple syrup (for priming)

Procedure:

Crush the grains. Heat condensed sap to 166°F. Dough in and hold mash at 155°F for 60 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 24 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 oz. Perle hops. Boil 30 minutes, add Tettnanger hops. Boil 15 minutes, add remaining 1/2 oz. of Perle hops. Boil 15 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 70°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour wort into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager cool (45°F) for three months (!). Prime with maple syrup, bottle and condition cool for at least two months.

OG:1070

IBU’s: 30.4

Notes on maple: I have the luxury of being able to tap my own trees and get fresh sap. If you don’t you can approximate the sap for the mash by adding about a pint of maple syrup to 14 quarts of water. The warning I always repeat at this stage: use REAL maple syrup (preferably from Vermont, of course), not the 2% maple flavored corn syrup!

Notes on yeast: I reused the yeast culture from the Doppelbock I brewed in December, built up to a quart of slurry. This is reputed to be the yeast used by Ayinger, who make a fantastic Märzen…

Another note: You too can arrange a brewing session with the Guru – see the link on the home page for info about how to hire me to teach you to brew, or lead a beer tasting session!

More info on Oktoberfest-style beers: see the book “Oktoberfest, Vienna, Märzen” by George Fix – not the best book in the AHA style series, a little too technical and scientific for me, but contains a lot of interesting history and some good recipes…

A Brewer’s Four-Pack

Is it over yet? Winter, I mean? This last day of March it is 45° here on the hill, overcast, but the sap is running the best it has so far. And we are awaiting the arrival of another nor’easter, expecting 5 – 10” of wet snow overnight. No, I didn’t take the month off from brewing, far from it. Today’s brew is actually my fifth of the month, including my annual batch of maple mead. I’ve just been lazy about writing and posting. So here, all at once, are my last four beers brewed.

March 3, 2011 – “Red 57” Irish Ale

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 lb. roasted barley
  • pinch peat-smoked malt
  • 8 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. 145°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. malted wheat
  • 1/4 lb. Belgian Special B malt
  • 1 oz. Challenger hop pellets (7% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. First Gold hop pellets (8% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Bramling Cross hop pellets (5% aa)
  • White Labs Irish Ale yeast (WLP004)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 167°F. Mash in grains and hold at 155° for 60 minutes. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil. Boil 30 minutes without hops, to develop color and caramel flavors. Add Challenger hops, boil 30 minutes. Add First Gold hops, boil 25 minutes. Add Bramling Cross hops, boil 5 more minutes (total of 60 with hops, 90 overall) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized primary fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 – 10 days at 65°F. Rack to secondary and age 2 – 3 weeks at 50°F. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (50°F) for two weeks.

OG: 1057

IBU’s: 41

A little richer and smokier than the usual Irish Red ales (like Smithwick’s), this is a smooth dark amber ale with a lot of complexity and character.

March 10, 2011 – Fischer Amber clone

My neighbor Kevin asked me to develop this recipe for him, so this is an experiment. Fischer is a brewery in Alsace, France. Most of their brews are pretty standard european lagers. Their amber, however, seems to be closer to a British pale ale, so I decided to try this as a hybrid. British malts, German hops, Steam beer yeast, cold conditioning… throw in a reporter and a photographer doing a newpaper story on me, and you never know what will come out of the fermenter!

Ingredients:

  • 9 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lb. 120°L crystal malt
  • 1/4 lb. malted wheat
  • 1 oz. Spalter hop pellets (5% aa)
  • 1 oz. Tettnanger hop pellets (3.5% aa)
  • 1 oz. Hallertauer hop pellets (3% aa)
  • White Labs San Francisco Lager yeast (WLP810)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming.

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains and hold at 152° for 60 minutes. Heat another 16 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 28 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil. Add Spalter hops, boil 45 minutes. Add Tettnanger hops, boil 5 minutes. Add Hallertauer hops, boil 10 more minutes (total of 60) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized primary fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 – 10 days at 65°F. Rack to secondary and age 4 – 5 weeks at 40°F. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (50°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1064

IBU’s: 28

In the end this came out just a little too dark and is probably a little hoppier than the target, but the combination of the sweet British malts and the bright spicy German hops is pretty cool.

For Kevin and others who might wish to try this as an extract-based brew, I would steep the crystal and wheat (as above) in 3 gallons of cold water to start. Bring the water up to 160°F and hold there for 30 minutes. Remove the grains, continue to heat to boiling, adding in 6 lbs. light dry malt extract or 7 lbs. light malt extract syrup. Boiling, hop and fermentation schedules would be the same.

March 17, 2011 – Cuppa Joe Golden Ale

My devious nature whispered to me, “How come all the coffee beers are stouts and porters? Couldn’t you just kill for a lighter colored beer with a strong coffee aroma and flavor?” I listened, and this is what I came up with. 

Ingredients:

  • 8 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 1 lb. malted wheat
  • 1/2 lb. coarsely ground coffee beans
  • 1/2 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (10.6% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Sterling hop pellets (7% aa)
  • White Labs California Ale yeast (WLP001)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming 
  • 2 oz. Flavorganics® Organic Coffee Extract

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains and coffee beans and hold at 150° for 60 minutes. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil. Add Northern Brewer hops, boil 45 minutes. Add Sterling hops, boil 15 minutes (total of 60) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized primary fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 – 10 days at 65°F. Rack to secondary and age 2 – 3 weeks at 50°F. Prime with corn sugar, add coffee extract, bottle and condition cool (50°F) for two weeks.

OG: 1060

IBU’s: 27

Nice deep golden color, a hint of coffee in the nose and some nice coffee notes hidden among the malt sweetness and hop bitterness. I think next time I’d add more crushed coffee beans to the mash, as they really didn’t darken the brew much.

March 31, 2011 – Maple Märzen

I almost always brew at least a couple batches with maple – mashing with the sap, adding syrup to the kettle, sometimes both. Since I do make my own syrup, I have access to all the fresh sap I need for a couple of weeks. I start by concentrating the sap some (I’ll boil 6 gallons down to 3 for my mash liquor, generally), which adds a hint of smoky/woody sweetness to the wort. This brew is a more or less traditional Märzenbier – brewed (just barely!) in March and lagered in bulk all summer, I will unveil this beer in the fall, when our local brewers’ group has an Oktoberfest tasting planned.

Ingredients:

  • 8.5 lbs. Weyermann’s Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 6 oz. cara-pils malt
  • 4 oz. 120°L crystal malt
  • 6 oz. 60°L crystal malt
  • 4 oz. melanoidin malt
  • 1 pt, grade B maple syrup
  • 1 oz. Tettnanger hop pellet pellets (3.5%)
  • 1 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (4.5%)
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (4% aa)
  • White Labs Octoberfest Lager yeast (WLP820)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts semi-concentrated maple sap to 168°F. Mash in grains and hold at 154° for 90 minutes. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 27 quarts sweet wort. Add syrup to kettle. Bring to boil. Boil 45 minutes without hops, to develop color and caramel flavors. Add Tettnanger hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Styrian Goldings hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Saaz hops, boil 15 more minutes (total of 45 with hops, 90 overall) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized primary fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 – 10 days at 65°F. Rack to secondary and age 3 – 4 months at 40°F. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (50°F) for four weeks.

OG: 1080

IBU’s: 30

If you don’t have access to fresh sap but want to try something like this brew, you can always add some real syrup to the mash water – probably a pint will do the trick. I’m sure there’s a way to figure it out but the math is beyond me… And yes, this is a LOT bigger than the usual Festbier, the high gravity is a product of the sap and syrup!