What is a Märzen?
A Märzen (or March beer) is a German amber lager that is dark copper to reddish brown in colour. It’s crisp and smooth with toasted bread aromas and subtle hints of spice. The rich and toasty malt sweetness is balanced with a noble hop bitterness and a clean, dry finish. Like many other famous brews, the birthplace of Märzen is in Bavaria, sometime prior to the 16th century. Märzen is a term that was applied to beers brewed in March and lagered (cold conditioned) in cellars through the summer months, to be served in early fall. The March beers were brewed with higher alcohol content to extend their shelf life, ensuring they were well-preserved for the harvest festival season.
Bavarian Brewing Laws
It should come as no great surprise that the birth of the Märzen is tied to a Bavarian brewing ban. In 1553 Duke Albrecht V banned brewing altogether between the Feast of Saint George (April 23) and Michaelmas (September 29) There were two main reasons behind the ordinance: The first was that Bavaria’s traditional wooden architecture burned easily and authorities feared coal fires uses to heat breweries kettles had the potential to cause serious conflagrations. The second reason was to safeguard beer quality, preventing spoilage in high temperatures.
This time period marked a turning point in German beer, where brewers began favoured lagers over ales. They discovered that fermenting lagers at cooler temperatures yielded a purer beer with fewer bacterial infections and off-flavours than ales brewed in warmer conditions. As a result of Albrecht’s decree, brewers worked overtime in late spring to produce an ample supply of beer for the hot summer months. The Märzen beers were stored in casks in cool cellars, tunnels or caves.
Modern Märzen & Oktoberfestbier
Before kilning technology was refined to produce paler malts, all lagers were dark lagers. In 1841 the Spaten brewery began experimenting with combining a lightly kilned pale malt with Munich malt to produce a lighter coloured, amber lager. This style evolved into the Märzen style as we know it today, often referred to as the modern Märzen. It became the official beer of Munich’s Oktoberfest in 1872, where it reigned supreme for over 100 years before being dethroned by the lighter-bodied, golden-coloured Festbier in the 1990 Oktoberfest.
Märzen is a perfect beer for the fall season with rich, toasty malts and a balanced, crisp finish. So instead of picking up your post-work pumpkin spiced latte, treat yourself to a fresh pint of a delightful Märzen brew.
(Leah is a Toronto based freelance writer as well as Head Beer Weenie and a server at C’est What)