The following Oktoberfest recipe will create the ideal beer for those looking to celebrate Oktoberfest or for those who simply want to enjoy the perfect pint of beer suited for autumn and the wonderful crisp cool air it brings.
Historically this German lager also referred to as Märzen was brewed in March and then left to lager in cold caves during the hot summer months where it would become a very bright and clean-looking beer with a nicely balanced malt flavor, it would then be brought out of the caves to be enjoyed in late September and early October.
Thankfully as a result of the modern-day advancements in temperature-controlled fermentation we do not have to wait for the cold weather to brew an Oktoberfest, following the tips provided in this article as well as our simple Oktoberfest recipe after 6 weeks of lagering you will have created a beer that even the original Bavarian brewers of this style would be proud of.
The most noticeable characteristic of an Oktoberfest recipe is that it is a malt-forward beer, hops take backstage to the malt taste, however, they do play an important role in balancing the beer because even though it is malt-forward it should never be overly sweet tasting.
Being a celebratory beer similar to a Vienna Lager it is intended to be consumed in large quantities so it is important that it does have a dry finish. There should be no noticeable hop aroma or flavor, and the hops should provide an average bitterness level. It is amber-colored and being a lager should be crisp and clear looking with an ABV typically between 5 – 6%.
Appearance – Color wise this beer is considered to be amber, however, it can range from pale to a reddish brown. The head is quite noticeable on this beer being slightly off-white and contrasting nicely to the amber color of the beer itself. Carbonation bubbles are clearly visible, with the clarity being excellent as a result of the lagering process.
Aroma – Being a malt-forward beer the maltiness is distinctly noticeable. There should not be carmel notes with this style of beer, but rather more toast or bread. There should be little to no hop aromas present. And being a lager there should be no esters or phenols.
Taste – The taste will have similar toast and bread-like characteristics as the aroma. There can be a low to mild alcohol flavor, however, very little hop flavor will be able to be detected, if any is it will be from the German hop varieties and present as herbal, earthy, or floral.
Mouthfeel – The body of the beer will have a soft and smooth feel to it, not quite creamy but more pillow-like. The carbonation level is medium and will be easily detected.
Tips to Brew an Oktoberfest Recipe
Further in this post, we will provide you with a recipe however for those of you who like to create your own recipes or want to modify the one we will provide, the following tips will allow you to brew up your own one-of-a-kind Oktoberfest.
Gain Bill – If you are looking to brew a traditional version of this style of beer then stick with at least half of your grain bill being Munich malt, the other half can be Pilsner, 2-Row, or even Marris Otter for a little more bready flavor.
If you are looking to brew some of the more modern versions of this beer then higher levels of Pilsner and 2-Row would be used.
If you want a little less of the grainy malty flavor the Munich provides try substituting 15 – 20% of it with Vienna malt which will add a little more of a toasty flavor.
To add a little color and a slight amount of caramel flavor some of the lighter Crystal malts can be added, keep them to under 10% of the total grain bill. And as always if you like a little extra body in your beer as well as some additional head retention add some dextrin malt, but no more than 5% of the grain bill.
Water – Considering how much water is in beer it is a very important component of the ingredient list. When it comes to a Märzen the best water to use is soft water. We don’t recommend over-thinking this unless you have very hard water, then it is recommended to either treat it or consider purchasing spring water.
The Mash – Like most German Lagers traditionally a decoction mash was used when brewing this style. That was typically done because the quality of the grains was not what it is today. It does take some extra work and knowledge so we do not recommend it and it is not needed. A typical single infusion mash will suffice. Mash for at least 60 minutes at around 153℉.
Hops – Being a European beer this is not a hoppy beer style like many North American beers, you will not catch any hop aroma or flavor in a traditional version of this style. The purpose of the hop additions is to keep the beer from becoming overly sweet. Typically there are only 2 hop additions, a bittering addition at the start of the boil and a flavor addition towards the end of the boil. German noble hop strains such as Tettnanger, Hallertauer, and Saaz are typically used. For bittering hops use 1 – 2 ounces and for flavor add 0.5 – 1 ounces.
Yeast Strain – Any European lager yeast strain will work for this style of beer, however, German strains are better and Bavarian strains are preferred. Wyeast and White Labs both have good selections of liquid yeasts that will work and if you prefer a dry yeast consider either Saflager W-34/70 or SafLager S-23.
Lagering – When these beers were originally made they were brewed in March and lagered in caves during the summer months and then consumed in late September to early October. Quick math tells you they were lagered for 6 months. Although some traditionalists will still lager them for that duration of time, as a result of modern-day advancements in temperature control devices i.e. refrigerators, a standard 5 – 8 week lagering time period is all that is required. This is a tutorial on how to lager beer if you have never done it.
Batch Size: 5 gallons
6lb Munich Malt
1oz Perle (60 min)
1oz Saaz (5 min)
Mash at 152℉ for 60 minutes. Perform a mash-out with 170℉ water for 10 minutes. Sparge with 170℉ water. Boil for 90 minutes. Add hops as per hop schedule. Chill wort down to yeast pitching temperature as indicated on the back of the yeast packet. Transfer to fermenter and ferment between 48 – 58℉. After fermentation is complete transfer the beer to a secondary fermenter or carboy and lager for 6 weeks. Bottle or keg.
As you can see when designing an Oktoberfest recipe there is a lot of leeway and freedom to be able to modify the ingredient list and experiment with different combinations of grains, just be sure to keep Munich as the primary grain if you are striving to build a recipe that is close to the traditional version of this style of beer.
P.S. Be sure to grab our gift to you, on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your smart device, get Bigg Robb’s top 5 favorite recipes from his brew pub! Cheers