Across the diverse range of geographies, the change of seasons is experienced (and often celebrated) in an equally diverse number of ways. And while they may not be universal, the transition from summer to autumn is usually equated with cooling temperatures, changes to foliage, epic festivals and the annual introduction of beers specifically made for those festivals. A Märzen (Märzenbier, or simply ‘Marzen’) might be the most definitive example.
Originating in Bavaria, Märzenbier (which translates to ‘March Beer’) was a fall-inspired lager which, historically, was brewed in March and then moved into cool-temperature caves since the increasing warmth of summer months would negatively impact their brewing. In fact, tying back to the topic of seasonality, it was a Märzenbier which was served at the very first Oktoberfest celebration. This is why many modern commercialized Marzen brews are given Oktoberfest-themed monikers and branding. So, with that in mind, let’s take a deep dive into both the history and characteristics of this popular style of beer.
While refrigeration poses little obstacle to modern brewing, it was once nearly impossible to brew a proper lager between the months of April and August. Since lower temperatures were required for stable fermentation, early spring brews needed to be drunk almost instantly or be stored for consumption later in the year. Recognizing this, many German and Austrian brewers embraced the opportunity of extended layering and assigned the Märzenbier names to these higher-gravity fall beers. Fortunately, the location of both Germany and Austria in proximity to the Alps made both caves and cold cellars equally accessible.
By the 18th century, this brewing method was appreciable in both Viennese ales and Münchner lagerbiers. And it was throughout the 19th century when modernization of the brewing process would begin to influence the science and spectrum of brewing as a whole, and the name Märzenbier would become more refined.
In 1810, the very first Oktoberfest would double as a royal wedding, with Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen joining Prince Ludwig I to sit atop the Bavarian throne. As part of the five-day festival, all Münchners were invited to join in the festivities and were served indigenous Munich dunkels, a popular Märzenbier of the time.
But it was the amber-colored lager introduced by the Spaten-Franziskaner Brauerei over six decades later that would shape the modern definition of a Märzenbier. Referred to as Ur-Märzen (or ‘original Märzen) the Viennese-inspired festival beer was introduced to Oktoberfest crowds in 1872 after original beer supplies had been depleted. The popularity was almost immediate, with other breweries making it a point to adopt the style.
And while modern festival beers might embody lighter, more golden characteristics than these original Viennese and Münchner style malts, the original style remains largely popular and a mainstay of fall releases. In fact, if you’ve ever drunk an Oktoberfest-named fall beer, it was likely a Marzen (or at least Marzen-inspired). Some might be more reflective of the golden Paulaner version, introduced in the 1970s as a lighter, less-filling alternative but, rest assured, there are plenty of options out there when it comes to classic refreshing Marzen-style festbiers.
Nestled somewhere between the heaviness of winter brews and the passive refreshment of a light summer thirst-quencher, the autumn Marzen is a savory, flavorful brew designed to embody the rich, melancholy ambiance and reflective calm of the autumn months. In terms of appearance, a Marzen is likely to range from an amber-orange to a deeper red-copper. Evocative in the coloring of the changing leaves appreciable in some regions, it should avoid any golden hues associated with lighter beers, with an off-white head and appreciable clarity.
There is a bready quality to German malts which help to create a toasted aroma. But a Marzen should lack any hints of caramel or roasted aromatics. To the mouth, it’s both smooth and creamy, with only the subtle hint of alcohol warmth. And while medium-bodied, a Marzen is often misleading since it delivers a full-bodied flavor. Sweet in the front, that flavor transforms into something more complex as it crosses the palate. Lacking high sweetness or strong hoppiness, one might describe it using such terms as ‘spiced’ ‘bread-y’ and ‘toasted.’ These characteristics are echoed in the trademark aftertaste.
Normally falling between 5.5 to 6.0% ABV, the modern Marzen differs from many other styles of beer in the fact that brewers often embrace its legacy. While other styles offer perfect platforms for experimentation and private-labeled innovation, new world Marzen recipes tend to celebrate that 18th-century formula more faithfully.
Their bright copper coloring comes as a result of toasted malted barley, often originating from Vienna and Munich, and kilned at a temperature than that used in golden pilsner malts. Other bi-products which serve as the calling card of a Marzen are a medium-bodied mouthfeel and a pleasurable hint of spice. And with a more subdued presence of hops, the modern Marzen often carries the noble characteristics so commonly associated with German beers.
Zeppelin Here at Fort Brewery
Our Zeppelin is a near-perfect example of a formula so enticing and popular that we decided to offer it year-round. And while we’re big fans of the seasonal anticipation normally associated with a classic Marzen, we feel that we made the right choice here. It’s an instant classic.