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Oktoberfest vs. Märzen (Issue 26)

With autumn seasonals and Oktoberfest beers getting released earlier and earlier each year – to the chagrin of many craft beer lovers – we delve into the differences between two of the most popular fall seasonals: Oktoberfest and Märzen.

In the 2004 iteration of the BJCP style guidelines, these two styles were lumped into a single category, despite their disparate backstories. Currently, in the 2015 BJCP stylebook, Oktoberfest has been replaced by the Festbier category, which is usually lighter in color and body and represents the modern interpretation of beers served at Munich’s original Oktoberfest celebration.

While the Oktoberfest style is no longer an officially sanctioned BJCP category, that doesn’t stop innumerable breweries from using the moniker to describe their disparate fall seasonals. Oftentimes in this case, an Oktoberfest beer also happens to be a Märzen. How is this possible?

The short version is: there’s no difference. According to the 2015 BJCP guidelines, Oktoberfest and Märzen are technically the same thing. The only reason for the difference in nomenclature is the legality of the term Oktoberfestbier, which “is a protected appellation for beer produced at large breweries within the Munich city limits for consumption at Oktoberfest,” according to BJCP guidelines.

The official Oktoberfest style, in that case, has been replaced by Festbier.

Despite this fact, it hasn’t stopped thousands of craft breweries from using the term Oktoberfest to describe their fall seasonals, which are technically Märzens.

The Märzen style is a malty, amber, European-style lager that can trace the roots of its modern variants all the way back to 1841, when Spaten created the first recipe for the style. Märzen become the official beer of Munich’s Oktoberfest in 1872, a tradition that lasted over 100 years when it was replaced by the lighter-bodied, golden-colored Festbier in the 1990 Oktoberfest...

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