“Someone asked me if u make your own beer cause they never heard of Marzen. Well?” This is a comment I received on my facebook wall the other day from my mother. While forming a response to the aforementioned comment I realized that even after making my first batch of Märzen, I wasn’t satisfied with my knowledge of the beer. So I fired up my computer, started up my browser, and read as many articles on the subject that I could find.
Märzen started its rough beginnings in Bavaria during the 1830’s as the work of Anton Dreher. With England’s advanced barley malting techniques, they were able to produce paler colored beers than those in Bavaria, were dark (Dünkel) beer was prominent. The resulting English pale ales attracted Anton and drove him to develope his own version of this English Ale. He called his new beer Schwechater Lagerbier, after the Vienna suburb home of his brewery. His new beer became very popular and, for a short time, was dubbed Wiener Typ (Vienna style) after his malting process, which produced a reddish caramelized crystal malt.
It wasn’t until 30 years later that Josef Sedlmayr, the son of an apprentice at Dreher’s brewery, brewed a batch of beer in Dreher’s Vienna style that was slightly paler in color. He brewed his beer in March of 1871 and introduced it at the Oktoberfest in 1872. He called the beer Märzen (or Märzenbier), which in German, means “March”.
Oktoberfest is an annual festival that started on October 18th 1810 when Prince Ludwig of Bavaria took the unusual step of celebrating his marriage to Princes Threse of Saxe-Hildburghausen in a public festival instead of the customary private royal one. Today, the 16 day festival is held in Munich, Germany and starts in late September, running into early October.
So how how does Märzen and Oktoberfest fit together? As mention earlier, Josef Sedlmayr brewed his beer in March. At the time, this was the latest that one could brew beer. Due to the lack of mechanized refrigeration, the heat of the summer months would wreak havoc on the fermentation process causing bacterial infections and spoiled beer. Therefore brewers worked overtime in March, brewing more alcoholic and often well-hopped beer, to assure ample supply of beer during the summer. These beers were Lagered (stored) in caves or stone cellars, sometimes built into the sides of mountains or hills, throughout the summer, awaiting their debut during the fall festival season.
Weather Josef Sedlmayr intended his Märzen to be debuted at Oktoberfest is not quite sure. None-the-less, the introduction of his beer at Oktoberfest in 1872 resulted in a complete sell-out. His Märzen was priced 3-crowns more than other beer available and yet sold 2 to 1 over any other beer there. Märzen grew ever popular and became the Oktoberfest beer style for the next 100 years.
The original Märzen was described as “dark brown, full-bodied and bitter”. Appearing now in color anywhere from a burnished gold hue to a deep brown with shades of red and orange, the beers are characterized by sweet, almost humid maltiness that’s balanced by a slight bitter note from the hops, though not enough for the beer ever to be considered bitter. It’s alcohol content usually ranges between 5 and 6.2%.
Of course now-a-days, we can control the temperatures of houses, food, cars, buildings, and most importantly, beer. You can find Märzen all year round if you look. So I encourage you, no matter the time of year, to kick back and enjoy the slightly bitter, sweet, malty flavor of a beautiful glass of Märzen.