Munich, Germany's Oktoberfest is the world's most famous and imitated beer festival, and it's name has become synonymous with the style of beer served there: Märzen (Mayrt-zen).
Before refrigeration, it was difficult to brew beer during Bavaria's hot summer and the quality of the beer suffered. In 1553, Bavarian law decreed that beer could only be brewed between September 29th and April 23rd. Beer was brewed in March (Märzen in German) to be stored in cellars and caves for drinking during the summer.
As a beer style and as a beer festival, Oktoberfest started informally (around the 15th century). Brewing ended in spring and began again in the fall. As summer ended and it became time to brew again, it was necessary to finish off the Märzen beer to make room in the cellar for beer brewed in the fall.
In the fall of 1810, when King Ludwig I of Bavaria was still a crown prince, he married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Bavarian royalty invited the citizens of Munich (about 40,000 of them!) to attend the festivities, which were held on the fields in front of the city gates. The original Oktoberfest featured horse racing, not beer gardens.
The festivities were repeated the next year and began the tradition of the annual Oktoberfest, which now begins in late September and lasts until the first Sunday in October.
In 1818 a carousel, some swings, and a few beer stands were set up.
In 1872 a Munich brewer created a spin on the Vienna style of lager (think Negra Modelo) and released a beer that he called Ur-Märzen – original märzen – that became the standard bearer of Oktoberfest beers.
By 1896, large tents had replaced small beer stands, and the modern Oktoberfest had arrived.
Oktoberfst beer (Märzen) is an amber to dark copper colored, full-bodied, rich, and toasty lager.
It has mild, if any, hop flavor, but it has medium high alcohol, around 5.3% to 6.0% alcohol by volume. It has a clean, caramel and toast aroma, with a malty, mildly sweet taste of nuts and honey with a dry finish.
American made examples stay pretty true to the traditional Bavarian style.
Pair Oktoberfest beer with it's traditional accompaniments: pretzels and bratwurst
I have personally subjected this combination to years of rigorous testing and I've found it to be a consistently perfect pairing!
The saltiness of the pretzel is a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the beer, and the carbonation of the beer keeps the salt from building up on your tongue.
Oktoberfest's toasty maltiness goes perfectly with pork, whether it is a sausage, a pork roast, or a tenderloin that you've thrown on the grill. The sweetness of the pork and the beer syncronize magically.
If you are tailgating, not only does Oktoberfest work with sausages, but it goes well with burgers too, just go easy on the vinegary sauces like A-1 or yellow mustard.
In a bit of cultural diversity, Oktoberfest beer pairs well with hummus and pita as well as spicy Mexican food.
Pair Oktoberfest beer with Swiss cheeses like Emmental and Gruyère. The nuttiness of the cheese will find an echo in the beer. These cheeses also happen to melt very easily, so you could put them on your burger or, even better, make a fondue.
But for me, its just not Oktoberfest without a stein of Hacker-Pschorr and a brautwurst.
And a little accordion music by S-Bahn: