As we trudge through the morass of Covid life, it feels like a lost memory recalling scenes where folks packed under tents to clank steins, glug Märzen and shovel sausages down their gullets. With revelry postponed, we can still find joy in these traditional German styles that celebrate community and good times, and while there’s hardly a substitute for partying in Munich, Cedar Springs Brewing Company emulates the Oktoberfest spirit with some of the finest beer you can drink outside the Deutschland.
In conversation with David Ringler, Director of Happiness at Cedar Springs, he unspools an encyclopedic retelling of the style’s origins. A scholar could fill tomes on its emergence, its evolution, its political implications, but we’ll cut to the chase. Though Märzen has adapted to the modern era it’s clear how sacrosanct the style’s heritage remains to the Germans.
“Oktoberfest is a political animal,” Ringler said. “Any beer served at Oktoberfest is Oktoberfest beer, but there are only six breweries in Munich that are allowed to be served at Oktoberfest. Technically, you can’t call it Oktoberfest if it’s not served at the festival.”
Still, that doesn’t discourage us Americans from borrowing the nomenclature. Whether it’s a seasonal marketing ploy or not, we do find useful delineation in understanding the differences between the two main Oktoberfest styles: Märzen and Festbier.
What makes a Oktoberfest beer?
Märzen, meaning March in German, was brewed in the Spring, stored cold in caves during the Summer and enjoyed as reward for the harvest in Fall. It’s slightly hoppier and boozier than its peers, but still ultra quaffable. Festbier arrived on the scene as the paler alternative. A gold lager with biscuit and light toast notes, it is now the primary style served at Oktoberfest, owing in large part to its crushability.
Cedar Springs’ Salzburger Märzen hems closely to traditional guidelines. Their rendition, inspired by the great breweries in Salzburg, pours a brilliant amber hue. Hints of caramel, brown sugar and molasses beguile, but its light, crisp body makes it perfect for tossing back a couple without a second thought.
“It’s a bit of a ninja beer,” Ringler said. “It hovers right around 6%, but drinks way easier than that.”
It also finds harmony with food. Grilled or smoked meats serve as excellent companions to this subtle beer—think classic German Brauhaus cuisine when searching for an apt combination.
“These flavors grew up together and they really mesh when you get some of these roasted savory flavors of a fried schnitzel or sausage,” Ringler said. “It really goes well with the sweetness found in the Marzen style that has some of those malty, estery notes.”
Although the beer requires German ingredients to nail the style’s distinct flavor profile, the history of this brewing tradition couldn’t be more Michigan. The recipe bears the Küsterer name, paying homage to one of the forefathers of Beer City’s beer scene, Christoph Küsterer.
Post civil war, there were nine breweries in West Michigan—each of them German—and the Küsterer brewery was by far the most prominent at the time. These original brewers made do with what they could source locally to recreate the beers from their homeland. Yes, Cedar Springs Brewing has better access to quality hops and malt than their forebears, but still they harness the same ingenuity and commitment to integrity. This year, make the pilgrimage to Cedar Springs Brewing Company and taste for yourself why for centuries this great style has endured.
Celebrate Oktoberfest across the State with these brews
Küsterer Salzburger Märzen, 6% ABV
Cedar Springs Brewery, Cedar Springs
Pivot Point, 7% ABV
Barrel + Beam, Marquette
Oktoberfest Lager, 5.3% ABV
Frankenmuth Brewery, Frankenmuth
Bloktoberfest, 6.1% ABV
Atwater Brewery, Detroit
Oktoberfest II, 6.7%ABV
Silver Spruce Brewery, Traverse City
Photos Courtesy of Cedar Springs Brewing Company.
Jack Raymond is a beer enthusiast and writer.