When you hear the phrase Oktoberfest, what comes to mind? Surely, you think of the best Oktoberfest beer right away, as enjoyable a seasonal sipper as it gets. But it’s more than likely you’re thinking of both a beer and a place: The world-famous (one might say universally famous) Oktoberfest held every year — except, well, this year and last year in Munich — is a hallowed and yet seriously fun way to celebrate all things hops.
Over here in the States, we do things a little bit differently, adopting the best Oktoberfest beers to our own tastes and palettes, while coming up with festival-esque celebrations that don’t quite hold a candle to the long-running Oktoberfest abroad. That festival has been around since the 1800s, runs for about two weeks, and results in the consumption of about two million gallons of beer. Consider us thirsty for some of the best Oktoberfest beers from the comforts of couches and back porches across the land.
Of course, Germany now imports plenty of beer in its own right, but Oktoberfest beer comes down to just six Munich breweries.
You might also see Oktoberfest beers go by the calendar-like moniker Octoberfest, since technically, only the six “big brewers” of Munich are allowed to serve at the event, but plenty of American breweries use the traditional name as well. Beer is more than just beer in this case, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The beer served at the original Oktoberfest is a red-gold lager, served and consumed in mass quantities.
You’ll also see names for beers like Festbier and Marzen – festbier eventually replaced Marzen at the festival itself. Oktoberfest beers are a catch-all term these days, so be sure to see if your brewery of choice is making a Marzen, for example. Either way, it’s a mighty fine beer you’re getting (more on these styles in a minute).
American breweries, just as they take a different approach to the outsized Oktoberfest celebration itself, tend to shake things up a bit when brewing their takes on the style, too. Here’s more trivia for you: German beer purity laws, called the Reinheitsgebot dictate how certain beers can be made (lager, for instance, can only be made with barley, water, yeast and hops).
Of course, Germany now imports plenty of beer in its own right, but Oktoberfest beer comes down to just six Munich breweries. Still with us? Feeling thirsty? We’re right there with you.
Thankfully, there’s never been a better time to get some fresh Oktoberfest beer over here in the States. The best Oktoberfest beers are just a few clicks away (yes, beer can be delivered right to your door these days). And Oktoberfest beers in their own right are the beer world’s equivalent of transitioning from summer into fall.
Just as you might start to put away your white canvas sneakers in favor of durable dress boots, and just as you start to throw on a snug, stylish winter hat as temperatures drop, consider an Oktoberfest beer a reliable way to embrace an ever-so-slight fall chill, because Oktoberfest beers are as rich and flavorful as it gets. Let’s look a bit deeper into your beer mug (before the beer itself is gone).
Here’s How to Enjoy the Best Oktoberfest Beers
- It’s about embracing tradition: The type of beer served at the actual Oktoberfest has varied over the years, from the Marzen style (a malty, dark beer) to Festbier, an aptly named and higher ABV beer that’s also lighter in color and closer in flavor to a blonde ale. What the heck does this mean for you, a discerning and certainly very thirsty beer drinker? It’s important to note that classic German breweries helped pave the way for many American breweries to make the styles you know and love (and all are worth drinking, in our opinion).
- Start sipping now: Oktoberfest beers are, for some breweries, their first major fall release (perhaps alongside a hearty pumpkin ale). If you want the true fall sipping experience, seek out one of the best Oktoberfest beers right now, and reap the rewards when your beer fridge is filled with the freshest and best Oktoberfest brews from your favorite local or regional brewery. Of course, we think our picks for the best Oktoberfest beers are a great place to start, too.
- Go all-in: Be it enjoying an Oktoberfest beer at an early fall tailgate or sipping on one at home around the grill, don’t be afraid to pair your Oktoberfest beer with bratwurst, schnitzel or other traditional staples. These hearty foods play nicely off a malty Oktoberfest, so you get the best of both worlds (meat and beer… seriously, what’s not to love?). You’ll thank us later, and so will the guests at your tailgate or backyard garden party. Prost!
Now that you know how best to enjoy the, well, best Oktoberfest beers, let’s get into the subtle art of the suds themselves. What exactly should you be looking for, from the traditional to the shiny and new? Bring your mug over this way and we’ll pour you another round.
Our Favorite Oktoberfest Beers to Buy Now
Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier
That’s right: You can get a beer from one of the six breweries served at Oktoberfest delivered right to your door this fall. Paulaner’s Oktoberfest Bier is a certified, historical classic, and it’s the only beer served in the Paulaner tent itself at the festival. To hear the famed brewery tell it, it’s a perfect introduction to an Oktoberfest beer: Neither too heavy or too light on the palette. As Paulaner says, this beer has a “deep golden color, full-bodied and wonderfully mellow, with a balanced harmonious taste and the pleasant fragrance of hops.” It’s best enjoyed out of a large, dimpled mug, the kind you’ll find at Oktoberfest, so be sure to stock up for delivery accordingly: We guarantee you’ll want more as the fall wears on.
Minnesota-based Summit knows plenty about making beers that can stand up to a frigid Minnesota fall and winter. Take the Summit Oktoberfest, a carefully crafted beer that arrives just in time to shake up your summer beer rotation as temperatures start to fall (best enjoyed around, say, a bonfire). This Oktoberfest beer is actually a full-bodied Marzen, made with Northern Brewer hops out of Germany and featuring flavor notes of toffee (among others), all the better to enjoy with some of those traditional German staples we mentioned above. Best of all, whether you live in Minnesota or not, you should be able to get some Summit Oktoberfest in good time at your door. The best Oktoberfest beers all bring a little something different to your fridge, and this one is no exception.
Brooklyn Brewery Oktoberfest
Brooklyn Brewery paved the way for a host of breweries to bring suds back to New York again, introducing flavorful and nuanced beers (including its famed Brooklyn Lager) to the city’s thirsty, welcoming residents. There are certain styles they return to time and again each year, and Oktoberfest is one of ’em. The timeless German style is in good hands under the watchful eye of legendary brewmaster Garrett Oliver, who’s been with the brewery since 1994 (that’s a lot of time to perfect one of the best Oktoberfest beers). Brooklyn Brewery calls this one “our take on the classic Märzen lager style with sweet, bready malts and German noble hops.” Sounds more than good enough to us.
Michigan-based Bell’s has built a devout following over the years, and with good reason. Whether it’s the award-winning, crowd-pleasing Two Hearted (voted the country’s best beer in various publications over the years) or the beer that heralds the arrival of spring — the refreshing Oberon — it seems they can do no wrong. They deliver when it comes to other seasonal suds, too. Bell’s own Oktoberfest is described by the famed brewery as “a flavorful session beer and perfect for autumn,” and we couldn’t agree more. We think one taste is all it’ll take to get you hooked on one of the best Oktoberfest beers (in a responsible way, that is). It’s also best enjoyed in the idyllic backyard at Bell’s. A word to travel-hungry beer fans: You can catch a concert on a warm summer night in said beer garden holding an Oberon, and you can return, appropriately bundled up, to sit under changing leaves later on in the year with an Oktoberfest in your glass. We’ll see you there.
Yes, they even do Oktoberfest beers in Florida. It might seem an odd beer to brew, but an Oktoberfest beer is actually a hearty and substantial beer to sip on as you enjoy a burger or a bratwurst — think of it like a touch of the changing seasons, brought right to you poolside. It’s another welcome Marzen-style lager, with a 6.2 percent ABV that lends itself to having more than one, but say, less than a 12-pack (seriously, don’t overdo it). When you can’t quite make your way over to the real Oktoberfest, this beer is a fine substitute. This style of beer can be found most anywhere these days, provided you know where to look, and we think that’s great news (to say the very least).