So, as we publish this, it’s not yet October. Not yet Labor Day. Not even September. But the fact that it’s still hot and sticky outside doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge in an Oktoberfest-style beer. You know it’s fresh, it’s a suitable beverage for the warmth, and plenty of NJ craft brewers are making excellent versions of it—as well as plenty of lesser-heralded German-style beers, to boot.
What we—or maybe just marketers—call Oktoberfest beer is typically Märzen, a medium- or full-bodied Bavarian lager. Märzen comes from the German word for March (März), as the beer was brewed in the spring—regulations at the time prohibited brewing beer in the summer due to the increased risk of fires. It was brewed with more hops, malts and a higher alcohol content so the beer would last during the aestival hiatus.
Over the years, Märzen has evolved as other brewing cultures put their spins on it (and, they’re no longer only brewed in March). Too, Oktoberfest itself has evolved, particularly in the U.S. What started as an early 1800s Bavarian royal wedding celebration has turned into a global culture of regional festivals filled with people wearing lederhosen and bar maiden outfits, all centered around beer. So much beer.
Though those events are fun—and we’ll highlight a few of the upcoming NJ Oktoberfest events here—the beer that now shares the name of the festival is what we’re about, particularly now as we transition into fall and can’t quite stomach pumpkin beer yet. Here are a few Märzens, Rauchbiers, Dunkels and more to check out this season.
Bonesaw Brewing, Glassboro
Bonesaw’s got three beers in the Oktoberfest realm you ought to check out. The first, Bonetoberfest, is a Dortmund export lager (pilsner), brewed with pilsner, Vienna and Munich malts, and Bavarian noble hops. It’s got notes of toast and honey with a pleasant presence of malt.
The Luke Maibocker (Maibock or heller bock) is a 7.3% ABV complex lager that takes a skilled brewer to pull off. Brewed with a single malt and single hop, it’s a unique, more forceful complement to the Bonetoberfest.
Lastly, Bonesaw has the Feuchtfrohlich, a 7.4% ABV altbier, which is a fantastic style if you’ve never had it—and you may not have, because you don’t see it too often around here. It pours a dark reddish brown, copper color with dryness balanced with berry flavors.
Czig Meister Brewing, Hackettstown
Head to Hackettstown for Czig Meister’s take on a Märzen. It’s toasty, malty, biscuity; a little graham cracker, a little honey. In short, everything you’d expect from an Oktoberfest-style beer, with a refreshing, clean finish. Taste it in person at their Oktoberfest celebration Sept. 23-25 with stein-holding competitions, weiner dog races, cornhole tournaments and, of course, beer.
Ashton Brewing, Middlesex
No Oktoberfests, per se, at the fantastic Ashton Brewing in Middlesex, but they do have two beer styles you ought to take the opportunity to try this fall. First, their schwartzbier, Black Orpheus, is a black lager that goes down easy like a dark pilsner. It was brewed in collaboration with the folks at Sunken Silo in Lebanon. It’s got a soft but present roasted malt flavor that balances with a tasteful addition of German hops, for an eminently drinkable beer.
Next, Ashton’s got the Ober Baron, a German-style red ale. It’s a double version of their altbier Red Baron, and is aged on oak spirals. Red Baron was the first beer Ashton brewed, and so they brewed Ober Baron to commemorate its second anniversary. It’s deep amber in color with a balance of malty, crispy and bitter flavors. Oh, and you’ll taste the oak.
Ashton’s got an Oktoberfest celebration coming Sept. 24—check back with them for more details.
Cape May Brewing, Cape May
Now a classic in the realm of NJ craft Oktoberfests, Cape May’s Märzen-style lager, Oktoberfest, is hard to beat. It’s amber in color, malty on the tongue and clean on the finish. It’s cool-fermented, which mellows the beer as it lagers. Made of Vienna, Munich, Caramunich, Pilsen and Melanoidin malts, this is a beautiful expression of the style.
Montclair Brewery, Montclair
Montclair Brewery offers two German-style beers to enjoy this season. Their MB Lager is a Munich Dunkel, a full-bodied lager with tasting notes of caramel, honey and bread. As it does carry a bit more weight, save it for a cool night or later in September. Or not, who cares? One good opportunity to try it would be Montclair Brewery’s fourth annual Oktoberfest on Sept. 24.
Another to try is the Fumé, a smoky rauchbier—rauch means smoke in German. It’s brewed with peat-smoked malt, roasted barley and brown sugar and the whole tasting experience will remind you of a mellow campfire. Pro tip: Pour this into some hot cheese, maybe some Dijon mustard, and let it simmer and you’ve got yourself a kickass, smoky, spicy beer cheese dip.
Jersey Girl Brewing, Hackettstown
For a solid representation of the Oktoberfest-style beer you’ve come to know and love, head to Jersey Girl Brewing in Hackettstown. Their 5.9% ABV Märzen-style lager, Oktoberfest, is a medium-bodied amber lager that’s got a sweet bread-like malty character and a refreshing dry finish that’ll keep you sipping more and more.