We know fall is around the corner when Oktoberfest beers start landing on shelves. When you see the term printed on a beer bottle or can in the US, it’s usually referring to Märzens or Märzen-style lagers and pegged to Germany’s famed Oktoberfest celebrations, which start this week in Munich. This style is often coppery in color and features a nice mix of caramel malts, floral hops, and a dry, crisp finish. A savvy beer lover will also notice “festbiers” on shelves. These golden-hued German lagers are malty, refreshing, and have a nice dry, gently spicy finish of floral, Noble hops.
Both are perfect for this summer-fall transition.
To find the best Oktoberfest brews for 2023, we went to the source. We asked a few well-known craft beer experts and brewers to tell us about their picks for the one Oktoberfest beer they look forward to each year. Keep scrolling to see them all.
Rothaus Eis Zapfle
Suzanne Schalow, CEO of Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, Massachusetts
Average Price: $17 for a six-pack
I’m a festbier lover, as the lighter of the Oktoberfest styles is simply more appealing. And since Rothaus is the producer of the most impressive pilsner in all of the world, it makes sense that their Eis Zapfle is just as glorious. Clearly labeled a marzen on the package, that is simply not true, as it’s a light golden yellow color with brilliant, sparkling clarity with a playful, bone white head.
This beer is extremely drinkable with inviting notes of soft biscuits, bread dough, and a touch of herbal hops. The alcohol is slightly elevated from a typical Helles, the bitterness is only enough to keep the beer from expressing sweetness, especially in the finish. You’ll want to do yourself a favor and find this beer.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
Nico Freccia, co-founder at COO at 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco
Average Price: $12 for a six-pack
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Festbier. Recently, Sierra Nevada has been pairing with a classic German Brewery each year to bring us a new Oktoberfest collaboration. Unlike a lot of the American Oktoberfest beers which tend to be overly sweet, the Sierra Nevada collaborations are very true to the German originals.
It’s known for its nice malt sweetness but has a nutty backbone and a very fresh, crisp finish. It reminds me of Oktoberfest in Munich.
von Trapp Oktoberfest
Brian Wendt, brewer at Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield, Vermont
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
von Trapp Brewing’s Oktoberfest. This annual fall favorite comes from the Vermont-based brewery founded by members of the actual von Trapp family, the inspiration for ‘The Sound of Music’.
It has nice bread, caramel, and toffee flavors with a smooth body. All in all, it’s a classic fall beer.
Jared Williamson, lead brewer at Schlafly Brewing in St. Louis
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
Spaten Oktoberfest is widely considered the OG and readily available in the States. It’s one of the five breweries that are included in the actual Oktoberfest in Munich.
It has those toasty and biscuity malt notes you want coupled with a nice citrus undertone from the hops, it is exactly what you want from the style.
George Hummel, grain master of My Local Brew Works in Philadelphia
Average Price: $10 for a six-pack
In Germany, Oktoberfestbier can be produced by five brewers. And I like to drink classic. While other classic brewers have dumbed down their products producing ‘modern golden Festbier,’ the Oktoberfest Märzen beer brewed by Hacker-Pschorr Bräu GmbH in Munich, Bavaria has continued to produce theirs in the more traditional amber Oktoberfest Marzen style.
It’s just a wonderful beer to drink. Malty with a toasty biscuit-y quality that’s never cloying or overly sweet joined by a kiss of noble German hops.
Gordon Biersch Marzen
Bryan Donaldson, brewing innovation manager at Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, California
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
Not a style I typically seek out, I do have a soft spot for Gordon Biersch Marzen. I went to college and came of age in the South Bay Area, so Gordon Biersch was readily available everywhere.
It was one of my first forays into craft beer and I will never forget that slightly amber, slightly malty, slightly hoppy beer.
Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen
Fal Allen, brew master at Anderson Valley Brewing Co. in Boonville, California
Average Price: $6 for a 500ml bottle
My favorite Marzen comes from the legendary Aecht Schlenkerla brewery in Bamberg Germany. It is not a beer for everyone’s taste buds, but for those who get this beer – it is an experience that will forever change their drinking universe. There is not another ‘Oktoberfest’ beer like this one out there. Brewed with beech wood smoked malt it is reputed to be the original Rauchbier (smoked beer).
It has a dark amber color and has the flavor of rich dark bread and roasting meat over a summer campfire. The bottom fermented yeast leaves only a slight impression which allows the clean sharp bitterness to back up the rich smoky flavor and aroma. One’s first sip may overpower them, but the second sip invites yet another and by the bottom of the first half liter you will be excited for the next one, because you know it is going to taste even better than your first glass.
Ryan Pachmayer, head brewer at Yak and Yeti Restaurant and Brewpub in Arvada, Colorado
Average Price: $4 for a 16.9-ounce bottle
I often prefer pale festbier to marzen, but I do enjoy both. That said, Ayinger’s Marzen is something special.
The nose smells like a wonderful mash kettle and just invites you into the malty goodness flavor of that beer. It separates itself from the other solid imported Marzen.
New Glarus Staghorn
Garth Beyer, certified Cicerone and owner of Garth’s Brew Bar in Madison, Wisconsin
Average Price: $9 for a six-pack
I’m showing my Wisconsin-pride with this pick. While I enjoy trying a variety of Oktoberfest-style beers each year, my fridge almost always has a six-pack of New Glarus’s Staghorn.
It’s clean and crisp with a smooth amber, sweet biscuit flavor. The finishing flavor is all-spice, but it’s so obviously clean that you’re tasting pure hop and malt notes rather than adjuncts. These taste traditional. And I’ll tell you, the six-pack doesn’t last long.
3 Floyds Munsterfest
Frederic Yarm, USB bartender at Josephine in Somerville, Massachusetts
Average Price: $14 for a six-pack
3 Floyds Brewing’s Munsterfest is one of my favorite American-made Märzen-style Festbiers. 3 Floyds makes the effort to source the malted barley from Germany, noble hops from Bavaria, and a lager yeast appropriate to the style, yet they put their own unique spin on it.
There’s a depth of flavor in this malty beer with brown bread, toffee, and brown sugar notes.