Last weekend would have been the opening of Munich’s Oktoberfest. The world’s biggest beer festival usually attracts upwards of six million revelers to the famed Theresienwiese in the middle of the city. Alas, this year the festival was not to be. So instead we’re going to have to celebrate Oktoberfest in our own backyards.
To help you parse the beers of Oktoberfest, we thought we’d taste test them for you. Here’s the thing, there are only six breweries that can legally sell their beer in the tents on the ‘Wiesn. The law/tradition is that the beer has to be made within the city limits of Munich for it to be poured at Oktoberfest. That’s about as local as it gets. So you’ll only find beers from Spaten, Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, and Augustiner.
That’s what we’re testing today. Luckily, living in Berlin makes it fairly easy to find these beers. However, it’s a bit more of a pain-in-the-ass to find the Oktoberfest iterations of the bottle — even in Munich. So we’re tasting the local Munich versions or original versions of each of the beers that would have been poured at Oktoberfest right now.
Check our tasting notes below and hunt down the beers themselves at your favorite specialty beer shop!
Paulaner Münchner Urtyp
Brewery: Paulaner Brauerei
Paulaner is marketed as the “youngest” brewery at Oktoberfest — founded by monks in 1634. The beer is made with both Herkules and Hallertauer hops ontop of Pilsner and Munich malts. Stone cold classic.
The malts really shine up top with a mild sense of an apple orchard. The floral hops bring a mild bitterness into the mix but never overpower the malty body of the beer. There’s a touch of grass next to refreshingly light citrus on the end that keeps you going back for more.
This brew is the perfect beer garden sipper. It’s also surprisingly full-bodied without being oppressive and really has a nice taste that somehow surprises me every time I drink it.
Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Hell
Brewery: Hacker-Pschorr Bräu (Paulaner Group)
The names of this Munich brew come from the partnership between brewers Joseph Pschorr and Maria Theresia Hacker. It’s a very easy drinking beer — keeping it simple with local Hallertauer hops next to local malt.
This one’s a little thinner. The hop bitterness is more in the back seat and the fruity yeast is more forward. The maltiness is there with a nice dry end. Hints of grass, lemon, and that touch of bitter hop round out the easy-drinking sip.
This beer always feels like it needs to be paired with a big meal: Roast chicken, pork shank, a schnitzel … something.
Brewery: Löwenbräu (Anheuser–Busch InBev)
Löwenbräu is going to be one of the easiest Munich beers to find in the U.S. This quaffer is crafted to be an easy-drinking beer that still has enough body to make you feel like you’re drinking something without being so bold as to ruin your palate.
This hits those classic “Munich Lager” notes of grassy hops, bready malts, and hints of sweet apple. Though… there’s a bit of a metallic note on the sip that’s not so much offputting as just… manufactured. The malt leans more into cracker territory as the hops fade all the way out of the taste.
It’s fine. Though I do have to say that every time I’ve had this in the U.S., it’s been a little skunked or flat. I get that that’s due to the stuff having to travel, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment compared to what it’s like in Germany.
Spaten Münchner Hell
Brewery: Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (Anheuser–Busch InBev)
This is the original Münchner Hell. The beer was made as a counterpoint to the heavier, darker, and sweeter brews that were popular back in the late 1800s. The light lager still holds up today.
There’s a caramel maltiness at play which is a nice change of pace when tasting these beers but loses its luster quickly. The hops are there, but more of an afterthought with hints of recognizable grassiness, citrus, and fruitiness. The sip ends on a high note with a lightness that is enticing and refreshing but, again, in a manufactured way. You feel the factory in the glass.
Again, this is fine. The particular sweetness of the malts isn’t something I’m looking for but it wouldn’t stop me from ordering another.
Brewery: Staatliches Hofbräuhaus
This brewery was started by royalty and is still a state-run affair. The beer has a bit more going on as well. The base is a mix of lightly malted barley and Munich malts that’s hopped with Herkules, Perle, Magnum, and Select hops. All of this adds a little more depth to the glass.
The bready malts are there with a slight hint of sweetness. The hops balance well with a floral nature and a very light sense of spice next to fruity yeasts. A hint of wood comes in to counterpoint all of those tastes on the dry and very refreshing end.
I usually drink the Dunkles more than the Original when I’m at a Hofbräuhaus. But this really hit the spot. Maybe it’s the cooling weather or my mood, regardless — I really dug this one.
Augustinerbräu Oktoberfest Bier
Augustiner is the oldest brewery within Munich’s city limits. It started all the way back in 1328. Full disclosure, Augustiner is one of my all-time favorite German beers. So, I can’t be anything but biased here. I’m also spoiled since I have several Augstiner beer halls near me where I can drink the stuff from the wooden cask.
There’s a subtle sense of the malts up top with a touch of grassiness and lager-y fizz on the head. The sip is super svelte with a fruitiness that leans towards apple cores and even seeds (an earthiness maybe). There isn’t really a sweetness to the malts and the hoppiness is dialed back into more fruit and florals than bitterness yet it’s still wonderfully balanced.
Yeah. This is the beer. What’s dangerous about this beer is how easy it is to down. It’s 6.3 percent. That’ll get you drunk quickly, especially if you’re drinking this out of a one-liter Maß.
My final ranking:
5. Spaten Münchner Hell
4. Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Hell
3. Hofbräu Original
2. Paulaner Münchner Urtyp
1. Augustinerbräu Oktoberfest Bier