- Style: Festbier
- ABV: 5.8%
- IBU: 26
Weihenstephan is a German brewery located on the site of the former Weihenstephan Abbey in Freising, Bavaria. It is also one of the oldest breweries in the world. Weihenstephan had a stroke of ill luck in the beginning including 4 fires that completely burned down the monastery, depopulated by 3 plagues, various famines, a great earthquake, and was destroyed again during the Spanish succession. This however did not stop them. They rebuilt again, and again.
Now it may be a surprise to many, but Marzën is not actually the beer served at Oktoberfest today, but rather what is know as Festbier, sometimes called Wiesn. This name can only be used by Breweries within Munich, and has taken the place of Marzën during the two week Oktoberfest celebration. It isn’t the first change to the beer lineup of Oktoberfest. The traditional celebration of Oktoberfest stretches back to October 12, 1810. It was on that day that the Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria was to be married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The beer served at the wedding was a true Marzën or “march” beers, that is, beers brewed in March and then lagered until fall and winter. These beers were something like a Munich dunkel. Munich Dunkels are smooth, rich, and complex without being overly heady. They boast brilliant ruby hues from the large amounts of Munich malts used, and these malts also create a fuller-bodied beer. In addition, the decoction mashing, a brewing process, lends much depth and richness of flavor. Little to no hop aroma is detectable; the nose is dominated by malty notes of bread, nuts, and perhaps a touch of chocolate. Hop varieties used tend to be German Noble varieties like Tettnanger and Hallertau. Bitterness is often moderate, with just enough to balance out any sweetness.
The first change in Oktoberfest beer came in 1872 when Gabriel Sedlmayr, the head brewer at Franziskaner, which is now part of Spatan, saw an opportunity in a quickly changing beer landscape. Pale lagers were becoming all the rage in much of Europe. In an attempt to take advantage of the changing tide, he brewed and introduced an amber lager based largely on a Viennese recipe. He called it Ur-Marzën, “original Marzën.” It sold so well that other breweries quickly began to copy the style, and soon it had replaced the darker lagers at Oktoberfest. This style is what we know as Marzën today.
It would be 100 years before further changes touched the beer of Oktoberfest. In the mid 1970’s, Paulaner Brewery in Munich decided the Marzën style wasn’t the ideal beer for the festivities. The brewery felt it was too filling. They started searching for a style of beer that was still reasonably malty, but less heavy and lighter in color than Marzën. Experimenting to make a quaffable drinking alternative, Festbier was their answer and since the 1990s, it’s been the only beer poured at Oktoberfest.
Weihenstephaner Festbier pours a deep yellow, with a white frothy head quickly capping the top, and lending amazing lacing down the glass with each and every sip. It also looked super bubbly, and carbonated. Aromas of lightly toasted bread, along with cereal, blossom, and even some light lemon peel was noticed. Hop flavors of robust earthiness, woody, and herbal characters with relatively low bitterness. Cereal, and white bread come back into play here as well. It had a light body and even though the beer looked like it would be super carbonated, it wasn’t. Carbonation was fairly low, while still keeping it really crisp, and not enough to make you full.
I can totally see why they switched to this thirst quenching beer style for the fest. It is extremely easy to drink being refreshing, and crisp without filling you up, this way you can eat more Bratwurst, and pretzels…or drink more beer!