Nothing shakes preconceived notions about beer quite like a blind tasting. To coincide with the Oktoberfest on the Wies’n in Munich last week (and the countless copycat events around Germany…), the Berlin specialist beer store, Hopfen & Malz hosted a blind tasting of the Oktoberfestbier/Märzen being brewed for this time of year.
The aim was specifically to pit four ‘genuine’ Munich Oktoberfestbiers (those that are allowed to use this on the label) against beers brewed in the Festbier/Märzen style from breweries in other regions (Thüringen, Franken and the Schwarzwald).
Style Note: idealised BJCP versus German reality
Many brewers outside of Germany, particularly those closely adhering to the BJCP style guidelines, have an ideal of the Oktoberfestbier/Märzen stlye as being a stronger, amber version of a German lager, with a pronounced malty character. The reality is that in Germany, the Oktoberfestbier demarcation only indicates strength of the beer (e.g. original gravity > 13.5%/ ABV > 5.4%). It is entirely up to the brewer if they brew with 100% pilsner malt or add significant amounts of Münchner malt or any caramel malts. In the last decades, Munich breweries in particular have tended to brew paler versions exclusively with pilsner malt.
The following are the combined group results from all five participants, using the German scoring system (1=very good, 6=very bad):
- Spaten Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,9%) – average score: 2,6
- Augustiner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – average score: 2,7
- Loffelder Märzen (ABV 5,5%) – average score: 2,8
- Ur-Saalfelder (ABV 5,6%) – average score: 2,9
- Paulaner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – average score: 3,1
- Alpirsbacher Klosterstoff (ABV 5,9%) – average score: 3,6
- Hummel Festbier (ABV 5,6%) – average score: 3,7
- Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,8%) – average score: 3,9
My own results only aligned very broadly with the averages. Deviations include my strong preference for Paulaner (1st instead of 5th place) and lower ranking of the winning Spaten (to 5th place).
- Paulaner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – my score: 2,0
- Augustiner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – my score: 2,5
- Ur-Saalfelder (ABV 5,6%) – my score: 2,5
- Hummel Festbier (ABV 5,6%) – my score: 2,5
- Spaten Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,9%) – my score: 3,0
- Loffelder Märzen (ABV 5,5%) – my score: 3,5
- Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,8%) – my score: 4,0
- Alpirsbacher Klosterstoff (ABV 5,9%) – my score: 4,5
Analysis & Conclusions
Comments on the Group Results
All of the scores averages are in a narrow range between 2,6 points and 3,9 points. This also reflects the feedback from the small tasting group throughout the tasting, that this is not a type of beer that the participants would drink regularly. None of the beers was praised highly and three of the beers were generally judged of a lower quality than the others (Alpirsbacher, Hummel and Hacker-Pschorr).
First and second place go to two Munich breweries: Spaten and Augustiner. Both of these beers are very pale straw colour and crystal clear – visually indistinguishable from a Helles. Neither have any pronounced malt complexity, with only pilsner malt detectable.
The participants all agreed that the Hacker-Pschorr was unpleasant to drink. More heavy-bodied, with a pronounced bitter finish, it would be difficult to imagine finishing a 1.0L Mass of this beer.
Comments on my Personal Results
Although it ended up in 5th place in the group results, the Paulaner was my personal favourite. This beer had a hint of vanilla in the nose, medium body, with a hint of butter and a superbly balanced finish.
The Ur-Saalfelder was noteworthy as it was the only beer with a pronounced malt complexity – reminiscent of a nutty brown ale. Again, this is the brewers formulation, neither more or less appropriate for a German Märzen. For anyone looking for a Festbier with a difference, I would recommend tracking this down.
I rated the Alpirsbacher Kloster-Stoff poorly (4.5 points), as I detected flaws that were entirely absent in the other seven beers: DMS and esters upset the balance and it had an unpleasant acidic finish.