Nick Carr on September 30, 2016 1 Comment The History of Festbier It may surprise many people, especially here in America, that what we overwhelmingly consider the style of Oktoberfest, Marzën, is not what is served at Oktoberfest. Don’t get too bent out of shape, Marzën is the original style of Oktoberfest, it’s just not what is served today. Festbier, sometimes called Wiesn, Festibiere or Oktoberfestbier — a name that can only be used by Breweries in Munich — has taken the place of Marzën in the beer tents dotting the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow) in Munich during the two week Oktoberfest celebration. It is a relatively young, and mostly unknown, style here in the United States. But it isn’t the first change to the beer lineup of Oktoberfest. The traditional celebration of Oktoberfest stretches back to October 12, 1810. It was on that day that the Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria was to be married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The beer served at the wedding were true Marzën or “march” beers, that is, beers brewed in March and then lagered until fall and winter. These first festive ales were probably something like a Munich dunkel. A change came in 1872. Gabriel Sedlmayr, the head brewer at Franziskaner, which is now part of Spatan, saw an opportunity in a quickly changing beer landscape. Pale lagers were becoming all the rage in much of Europe. In an attempt to take advantage of the changing tide, he brewed and introduced an amber lager based largely on a Viennese recipe. He called it Ur-Marzën, “original Marzën.” It sold so well that other breweries quickly began to copy the style, and soon it had replaced the darker lagers at Oktoberfest. This style is what we know as Marzën today. It would be 100 years before further changes touched the beer of Oktoberfest. In the mid 1970’s, Paulaner Brewery in Munich decided the Marzën style wasn’t the ideal beer for the festivities. The brewery felt it was too filling — sounds like they wanted to sell more beer at the festival to me. It also may have been another attempt to “follow the crowd,” as the festivities found popularity with more visitors from around the world. Whatever the reason, they started experimenting, searching for a style of beer that was still reasonably malty, but less heavy and lighter in color than Marzën; a more quaffable, easy-drinking alternative. Festbier was their answer and since the 1990s, it’s been the only beer poured at Oktoberfest. Today there are only 6 breweries given the honor of pouring at Oktoberfest; Paulaner, Spaten, Löwenbräu, Augustiner-Bräu, Staatilches Hofbräu-München, and Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu. All pour Festbier. Though most of them do still brew and bottle an example of Marzën. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Festbier style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Festbier should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 4-7 SRM Original Gravity: 1.054-1.057 OG Final Gravity: 1.010-1.012 FG IBU Range: 18-25 ABV Range: 5.8-6.3% Appearance: Rich yellow or deep gold with superb clarity and white head. Aroma: Sweet and moderate maltiness with notes of toast or dough; Low hoppy aromas with herbal, spicy or floral notes; Clean yeast. Flavor: Moderate to high maltiness with a sweet doughy taste; Bitterness will be moderate, but balanced & crisp; Hoppy flavors will be low to moderate. Mouthfeel: Body will be medium, smooth and creamy; Carbonation will be moderate; Low alcohol warmth possible. Serving & Storage Temp.: 42-46°F Shelf Life: 3-6 Months Suggested Glass: Stein Food Pairings: Bratwurst, Bavarian Pretzels, Pizza, BBQ, Grilled Chicken, Mild Cheeses, Sweet Dessert Breads The BJCP just added Festbier to their guidelines in 2015. It is classified under the category “Pale Malty European Lager” and it can be found in their guidelines as sub-category 4B. Other beer styles in this category include: Munich Helles (4A) and Helles Bock (4C). Appearance Unlike the Marzën style, the festbier shouldn’t have any amber shading to it at all. It will be a rich yellow to a deeper gold instead. Commercial examples usually fall somewhere in the middle ground most of the time. It should have superb clarity and a long-standing white to off-white head. Aroma Will have some sweetness tied up in the medium maltiness. Malts should carry a character of toast and dough, but shouldn’t contain the deeper malt aromas of caramel, biscuit, or darkened toast. Hop aromas should have herbal, spicy and/or floral qualities and can be low to medium-low. Yeast character should be clean. Mouthfeel Medium body on the palate. It can have a smooth quality and creamy texture carried by the medium carbonation. Alcohol warmth is low if present at all. Taste Medium to moderately high malt flavors presenting the soft sweetness of bread dough, basic to Pilsner malt with an added hint of light toast. Hop bitterness and flavor should remain medium to medium-low. Bitterness should bring slight balancing to the malt, while flavor will be spicy, herbal, or floral. Clean lager character. Food Pairing All the same food you can enjoy with a Marzën works well with the Festbier style, too. Of course there are the bratwursts and Bavarian pretzels, the standard of any Oktoberfest celebration. A bratwurst rye bread sandwich with spicy mustard anyone? It will also pair with pizza, BBQ, grilled chicken, battered fish, and roasted meat. Keep any cheeses paired with the style relatively mild, such as Gouda and Emmental. For dessert, think sweet with light nuttiness; a nut tart, toasted coconut flan, or sweet dessert breads. Serving & Storage: For best presentation and greatest appreciation, a Festbier should be served at 42-46°F in a stein glass. They are best stored at cellar temperatures away from light and should be enjoyed within 3 to 6 months of purchase. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Examples of the Festbier Style It’s a pretty safe bet a beer labeled as Festbier from Europe is going to be a true Festbier. For the most part, this is likely not going to be true for beer named Festbier from U.S. breweries. For example, Victory Brewing offers a beer named Festbier, but it is actually a Marzen. There aren’t very many true Festbiers brewed in the U.S., unfortunately. So, so if you’re looking to taste a true representation of the Festbier style, do some research beforehand and be prepared to spend some time hunting them down. For the best examples, obviously a trip to Munich and Oktoberfest just can’t be avoided. Below are seven commercially produced beers that represent the style well. Oktoberfest Wiesn from Paulaner Brewery (Munich, Germany) Oktoberfest from Hofbräu (Munich, Germany) Oktoberfestbier from Löwenbräu (Munich, Germany) Oktoberfestbier from Augustiner-Bräu (Munich, Germany) Festbier from Weihenstephan Brewing Company (Freising, Germany) Festbier from Castle Island Brewing Company (Norwood, MA) Festbier from Gordon Biersch Brewing Company (San Jose, CA) Tips to Brewing a Festbier Recipe Festbier is basically a more robust (in alcohol as well as body) Munich Helles with slightly more hop flavor. It trades the rich toasty maltiness of Marzën for a subtler character of lightly toasted bready dough and light sweetness, complements of a grain bill built around pilsner malt. If you’re thinking of trying your hand at brewing your own Festbier recipe, here are a few tips to help you throughout the brewing process. Want to Brew Festbier? Start With A Munich Helles Recipe Grain Bill: You could actually just start with a good Munich Helles recipe and build upon it. Shoot for a staring gravity of between 1.054 and 1.057. You’ll want a German pilsner as your base and, since you’re trying for some distinct but light maltiness, floor malted pilsner malt might be a good choice. Floor malting usually creates a slightly less modified malt, meaning it retains more protein and is often lighter in color, another good characteristic for this style. There’s also a general consensus that floor malting tends to create a grain with a maltier flavor than newer malting practices will. Both Weyermann and Bestmaltz are German malting companies that carry German pilsner malt. Weyermann also carries a Bohemian floor malted pilsner. This base malt can make up 100% of your bill, but more often makes up 75 to 80 percent. To deepen the malt flavors slightly you can add some Munich and/or Vienna malt. Keep any Munich malt you use pretty light in color, remember you’re looking at a color range of 4 to 7 SRM. It’ll be a matter of playing with recipe formulation to see how you want to work this, i.e. using both malts, or just one, and in what amounts. If using both malts you’d usually look to have a higher proportion of Vienna than Munich. Remember the color you’re shooting for and the malt characteristics — bready with only very light toast. A small portion of wheat is sometimes added —no more than 5% — to bouy body and head, but if the mash is done properly this really shouldn’t be necessary. A few ounces of acidulated malt could be added to help lighten beer color and lower mash pH. For the extract brewer, a festbier kit is probably gonna be pretty hard to come by, but who needs a kit right? It’s also worth noting that the popular Festbier extract kit offered by Austin Homebrew Supply is a Marzën, not a true Festbier. Really, all you’ll need is a high-quality German pilsner malt extract and either a portion of light Munich extract or small amounts of grain for a mini-mash. Personally, I feel a more controlled way to go might be the mini-mash with light Munich and/or Vienna malt. Hops: To keep with tradition go with one of the noble hop varieties — Tettnang, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Spalt, or Saaz. If none of these are available, for one reason or another, German Magnum would make a decent substitute. If you’d prefer to stick with a U.S. variety, Liberty or Willamette would also work. If you’re comparing it to a Munich Helles recipe, you will want to increase the bittering hops somewhat. Look for a bittering ratio of about 0.50. In many cases, a single bittering addition around 1 oz. for a 5 gallon batch should do. In general, hop flavor is more important in the Festbier style than hop aroma, though both are relatively low overall. A small, single flavoring addition, along the lines of ¾oz per 5 gallon batch, is often added between 20 minutes and end of boil. The Mash: What sort of mash you decide to do is going to depend a lot on the type of pilsner malt you’re using. In general, German malts are often slightly under-modified when compared to UK and U.S. malts. Add floor malting and the malt will likely be further under-modified. For these malts a step mash, if not a full on decoction, is your best bet. And again, you have some incentive to use these malts; tradition, deeper malt character, lighter color. For a step infusion mash, start with a rest at about 122°F for 10 to 20 minutes, then up the temperature to 144°F for your beta-amylase rest for 30 minutes. Up it again to between 155°F and 160°F for the alpha-amylase rest and hold for 30 minutes. Mash out at 168°F. I honestly wouldn’t even bother with a single infusion mash. You can do one, especially if you’re using regular pilsner malt, but it will not, at least in my opinion, create the malt depth Festbier is recognized for. A decoction mash is the other way to go when using less modified malt. Whether it’s better than a step mash is the subject of continual debate. They aren’t easy to do. They can be messy and make for a long(er) brew day. But they are still used in Germany, so at least some of the brewers in this style’s homeland believe it makes a difference. In simplest terms, a decoction mash is done by taking the thickest third of your mash and boiling it for a specific period of time to produce melloniodin, which are darker, richer aromatic compounds. You then add it back into your mash to “step-up” the temperature to its next rest. A triple decoction would do this three times. For darker beers, the time boiled could be anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. In the case of a Festbier, it seems intuitive to me, that you’d want to keep boiling time down maybe between 20 and 30 minutes, to help keep the beer in the right color range. Possibly even less time if doing multiple decoctions. Boil: You’ll want to do at least a 90 minute boil because of the large quantities of Pilsner malt and the higher probability of DMS. Throw your bittering hops in at 60 minutes before flame out and, if you do a flavor addition, add it between 20 and 30 minutes before flame out. Don’t add any hops after the 20 minute barrier. If you are extract brewing, remember that extract tends to pickup color faster than all grain. You’ll want to boil for the least amount of time you can get away with and, as I talk about in this article, it’s a good idea to add only a portion of your extract at the beginning of the boil. Add the rest 10 to 15 minutes before flame out. This will help keep the beer color lighter. Yeast: Use the same type of yeast here as you would for a Helles. Some Marzen yeasts may work okay, too. Ideally, you want a yeast that will have a good malt profile and low ester production. Some possible choices include: Dry Yeast: Saflager 34/70 or Saflager S-23 Wyeast: Bohemian Lager (2124) or Oktoberfest Lager (2633) or Munich Lager (2308) White Labs: German Bock Lager (WLP833) or Southern German Lager (WLP838) Organic Yeast: Imperial Organic Harvest (L17) Fermentation: Fermentation follows the same lines as most lagers. Be sure to pitch the right amount of healthy yeast. Too much is better than not enough. Pitch and ferment below 50°F to keep ester production low. If your chosen yeast calls for a diacetyl rest, raise the temperature to 60°F for a couple of days as fermentation nears completion (7-10 days). Rack the beer to a secondary when the primary fermentation is complete. Lower the temperature slowly over several days to between 32°F and 38°F and allow it to lager for up to 6 weeks. Even longer if you like. When lagering is complete, package it, either bottles or keg, with a CO2 volume of 2.4 to 2.6. Store it at cellar temperatures and get ready to surprise and impress at your next backyard Oktoberfest! Prosit!