Article originally published Sept 2020.
By Feature Writer Gin Benavidez
Once upon a time, somebody gleefully asked me if I could explain how Texans do Oktoberfest differently from the beer’s homeland, Germany. I took a long pause and a deep breath. I looked that person in their beautiful and innocent eyes, knowing that they weren’t ready for the havoc their question was about to wreak, but that they would have to suffer through it anyway. I touched their hand gently with mine, and before I dove into a heinously lengthy and complex answer, I whispered to them, “I’m sorry.” I watched their sweet smile fade from their face as they braced themselves, seemingly aware that their beer world was about to be rocked to its core.
Let me begin this by saying that pretty much everything we Texans think we know about Oktoberfest is wrong and confusing.
For starters, Oktoberfest isn’t a beer style; it’s an event. Oktoberfest officially began in Munich back in October of 1810 as a big wedding party to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. So, the Oktoberfest of yore doesn’t inherently have much to do with a particular beer style, nor really beer in general. In fact, the decision to make Oktoberfest a yearly event in Munich was based largely on the popularity of the festival’s horse races, not its beer.
Second, most of Oktoberfest doesn’t even occur in the month of October anymore. The festival became such a huge event as the years went on that it eventually grew to a celebration that lasts more than two weeks. Because the weather in Munich is usually more pleasant in September, it was decided to begin the festival in mid-September and have it run through the first weekend of October.
Next, to set the record straight, the style we often refer to as Oktoberfest here in Texas is typically a Märzen style beer. Märzen, which means “March” in German, is an aptly named style because historically this Bavarian beer was brewed in the month of March. In Bavaria, prior to all of the temperature-controlled equipment brewers have access to today, March was the last month of the year before the weather would get too hot for brewing until autumn came around again. That being the case, after Märzen was brewed, it was stored to last through the summer, and a large portion of it was tapped as part of the Oktoberfest celebrations.
In Texas, if we had to brew our beers au naturale and abide by seasonal temperatures to dictate our brew schedules, our Märzen-making-month would probably be January. Or maybe never. However, thanks to modern brewing technology, pretty much any beer style can be made year-round. Even so, I can still guarantee you that very few Märzens here in Texas are actually being brewed in March. They are likely brewed during the summer months to be released in time for Oktoberfest, if not many, many weeks beforehand, apparently.
To summarize this mess of an answer, when Texans talk about Oktoberfest, we’re talking about a beer that’s actually a wedding party that’s mostly about horse races that takes place in September that popularized a beer style made in March that we now brew in June.
But in the end, the spirit of today’s Oktoberfest is really all about having fun and drinking beer. And from my experience, Texans certainly know how to throw an incredible Oktoberfest hootenanny. So despite all the things that might have gotten lost in translation, it seems to me that Texans and Germans are still speaking the same language when it comes to Oktoberfest. Prost!