Although the 187th Oktoberfest may have passed you by this year – it officially finished on the 3rd of October 2022 – but that doesn’t mean the party has to stop.
Just because you maybe didn’t make it to Munich this year doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to celebrate belatedly here in the US.
As the weather turns colder here, you will find an Oktoberfest beer, perhaps a Mârzen or Festbier with their roasty, malty notes, to be the perfect pint to sip on those colder, darker nights (and there’s no need to break out the lederhösen – unless you really want to, of course!)
Let’s take a quick look at the history of Oktoberfest and what makes a great Oktoberfest beer before choosing some of our favorite beers of this style from both Germany and the US available over the winter months.
What Is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is an annual beer festival that is held in Munich in Germany and dates back to 1810.
Considered the world’s oldest and largest beer festival, Oktoberfest was originally a celebration of the wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Louis (later King Louis I of Bavaria) and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildenburghausen on October 12th, 1810.
Rather than hold a stuffy formal state banquet, the wedding involved a raucous party which was open to all the citizens of Munich on the fields in front of the city gates.
And of course, it being Bavaria there was plenty of beer involved.
The royal family provided all the beer and food free of charge and such a good time was had by all that it became an annual event.
The Oktoberfest is now considered the world’s best beer festival, where the six Munich breweries get to show off their best Oktoberfest beers.
Every year it attracts over six million visitors and it has given birth to local Oktoberfest celebrations at breweries and bars all over the world.
What Is an Oktoberfest Beer?
In Germany, an Oktoberfest beer is a beer that has been specially produced for the annual Oktoberfest event in Munich.
Officially, the only beers which are allowed to be labeled as Oktoberfest beers come from the large brewers based in Munich, including Augustinerbräu Münche (Augustiner), Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (Spaten).
Traditionally, the beers would be brewed in the Spring before the weather became too warm for efficient brewing, and then kept in cold storage over the summer months to be served in the Oktoberfest of the winter months.
Originally, for the first 60 years or so, the darker beer styles like a Bavarian Dunkel dominated. But in 1872, the Spaten brewery introduced the more amber-colored Märzens (brewed in March hence the name) and it became the official beer of the festival.
Later in the 1960s, Paulaner’s golden-colored Oktoberfest, classed as a Festbier, began to take over, and is now seen as the official beer of Oktoberfest.
Although many of the Oktoberfest beers of Munich are now available in the US, many breweries across America make their own Oktoberfest-style beers.
What’s the Difference Between a Munich Oktoberfest and an American Oktoberfest-style Beer?
European Union regulations mean only beers that have been brewed by the previously mentioned six breweries of Munich can be officially labeled “Oktoberfest”, in much the same way as only champagne from the Champagne region of France can be classed as real champagne.
The Brewers Association actually splits Oktoberfest into two distinct categories – the German-Style Oktoberfest/Wisen and the American-Style Märzens/Oktoberfest.
Although some US brewers do stick more closely to the paler, modern German Oktoberfest style, on the whole, if you are drinking an American-brewed Oktoberfest style beer it will be a more copper-hued, toasty Märzens lager.
A Quick Recap
Oktoberfest, Märzen, Festbier, Oktoberfest style beer..it can all get confusing, so here is a very brief summary.
A beer that is formally brewed by one of the six major brewers of Munich and served on the Oktoberfest grounds.
Over the years, the official Oktoberfest beer has evolved from darker Dunkels to amber-colored Märzens and then golden Festbiers. A modern Oktoberfest Bier is light gold in color and easy-bodied to drink.
A German style of amber lager that ranges in color from chestnut amber to russet. Normally they have a smooth, toasty, bready taste and can be slightly spiced with a hint of Noble hop bite.
They will have a dry finish with a typical ABV of around 5% – 6%. First brewed by the Spaten brewery in Germany, this is the most common style of Oktoberfest beer produced in the US.
A strong, golden German lager similar in style to a Helles but maltier in flavor. The Noble hops are more prevalent in this style giving the beer a floridness and spiciness with a slightly meatier ABV of 6% – 6.5%.
First introduced to Oktoberfest by Paulaner, the Festbier is now the official beer of Oktoberfest.
Any beer which is brewed outside the city limits of Munich is referred to as Oktoberfest-style. Normally falling under the category of a Märzens lager, it will typically be amber in color.
Technically only a beer that has been brewed by one of the six original breweries of Munich can be served at the Oktoberfest and labeled an Oktoberfest. It’s estimated over 7 million liters of beer are poured at the official Oktoberfest annually.
For the purposes of this guide, we have recognized all of the above styles and consider Oktoberfest a celebration of the tradition born all those years ago in Bavaria.
We have searched the field, both in Germany and the US to bring you some of our top choices for Oktoberfest (or Oktoberfest-style) beers you can enjoy at home this winter without the need for a German Oompah band (again a matter of personal choice!)
The Best 13 Oktoberfests to Enjoy This Winter
Without a doubt, the best way to enjoy a historic, original Oktoberfest beer is to make the journey to Munich during the last two weeks of September (Yes that’s right, Oktoberfest is now actually in September and all but finished by the first weekend of October!).
However, if you are stuck here in the States for the celebrations, you still can enjoy versions of the Oktoberfest beers produced by the Munich Big 6 or Oktoberfest-Style beers produced in the US right here in the comfort of your home or local craft beer bar.
Oktoberfest Bier by Paulaner, Munich Germany
- ABV 6%
Currently the most served beer at Munich’s Oktoberfest and seen by most as the official beer of the festival, Paulaner describe their Oktoberfest beer as a “glass of October sunshine, strong and golden.”
Paulaner has been proudly brewing beer for Oktoberfest for over 200 years, and this modern version uses a special Pilsner malt from regional Bavaria and adds a small amount of dark barley to enhance the color, body, and maltiness.
The hops used are 100% Bavarian and include Hercules and Hallertauer for a pleasantly fresh and hop flower floral aroma with a delicate bitterness,
The true secret to this beer, though, is the bottom-fermenting yeast which helps to build a higher alcoholic content along with a full malt body.
Brewed only once a year for the winter celebration, Paulaner Oktoberfest is the authentic Oktoberfest beer that you can quite easily find at your local store or craft beer hangout.
Original Oktoberfest Amber Märzen by Hacker-Pschorr – Munich, Germany
- ABV 5.8%
Brewed in accordance with the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 known as the Reinheitsgebot, this Original Oktoberfest Amber Märzen from the Pschorr brewery is another of the original Munich beers you will find served at the Munich Oktoberfest every year as well as on the shelf of your local 7/11.
With its amber hue and stunningly smooth taste, it’s everything a good Märzen should be – a perfect combination of sweetness and maltiness.
With its toasty bread crust flavor and rich maltiness, it stops just short of being too sweet making it easy to sip for hours, just like all good Oktoberfest beers.
Oktoberfestbier by Hofbrau – Munich, Germany
- ABV 6.3%
With its slightly higher ABV of 6.3%, Oktoberfestbier clocks in a bit heavier than its traditional counterparts but is still extremely quaffable.
Using light barley and Munich malts in the brew, this Festbier pours a shiny gold and has a body that feels soft on your palate. The slightly sweet finish makes you want to go in for another sip almost immediately.
The perfect beer to serve alongside those traditional Oktoberfest roasted chickens, as dished up in the beer tents of Munich.
Sierra Nevada’s “Oktoberfest” by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Chico, California, US
- ABV 5.5%
Sierra Nevada is often credited as one of the top American breweries, and its reputation is well deserved. The first of our American Oktoberfest-style beers, Sierra’s Oktoberfest is a thing of beauty, a hoppy, floral, delicious riff on the style.
This beer style’s authentic flavor is thanks to a hearty dose of German noble hops. The resulting brew is a crisp, delicious seasonal lager full of bold hops and warm malty flavors.
Better still, at six percent alcohol, Oktoberfest is an exceptionally drinkable beer that will ring in any celebration accordingly.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest by Sam Adams Brewing Co, Massachusetts, US
- ABV 5.3%
Go to just about any bar or restaurant during autumn, and you’re bound to run across Boston beer company Sam Adams’ “Oktoberfest.”
Sam Adams brews its signature Oktoberfest with high-quality German hops and just the right amount of malt for a balanced brew that’s easily drinkable. Although this Oktoberfest tends to be a little sweeter, it’s never overpowering.
Expect delicious vanilla and caramel notes laced with the hearty taste of classic malt and barley. Some people even think that this Oktoberfest has a salted toffee flavor on the back end.
One of the best aspects of this beer is that it isn’t too heavy. As a result, you can make the smooth transition from Sam Adams’ Summer Ale to Oktoberfest without even skipping a beat.
Great Lakes Brewing’s “Oktoberfest” by Great Lakes Brewing Co, Ohio, US
- ABV 6.5%
Great Lakes Brewing’s “Oktoberfest” is a spicier version of the beer we’re used to, and beer drinkers love it. So if you want to get the closest thing possible to winter in a beer stein, you need to check out this brew.
It starts with a malty undertone. This malt is layered and full of deep autumn flavors and just a touch of bitterness, offset by the addition of Noble hops for a bright kick.
The body of Great Lakes Brewing’s beer is dark copper, with a healthy foamy head. Expect aromatics right away, specifically the caramel and spice, then dig in.
This beer is warm and inviting, with heavy tones of toast from the grain and just the right amount of bitterness. It’s a superb take on Oktoberfest and one you should certainly try.
Half Acre’s “Lager Town” Octoberfest by Half Acre Beer, Chicago, US
- ABV 5.8%
Now with the label Octoberfest added to the name, Half Acre’s Lager Town is produced seasonally every August for just three months. It used to be a year-round beer before the Octoberfest moniker was added.
As the fall approaches, you can revel in the glorious taste of Lager Town Octoberfest. As with traditional Oktoberfests, this one is a beautiful deep golden color with an intoxicating aroma that smells just like hops, yeast, and, of course, caramel.
It’s got just the right amount of spice and a beautiful toffee undertone that keeps it from getting too bitter. This brew certainly stands up to the best Oktoberfest official beer both in taste and style.
Brooklyn Brewery’s “Oktoberfest”, Brooklyn, USA
- ABV 5.5%
Brooklyn Brewery is known for embracing bold flavors, and their “Oktoberfest” is an excellent example of when to push the envelope and when staying with tradition is a better bet.
Brooklyn Brewery starts with German malt and hops, building their beer on a framework of German tradition. It’s a deep, rich base that’s delicious all on its own but not too heavy to pair with some of fall’s favorite dishes.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Oktoberfest combines all of the classic flavors of the style, but they do it with the expertise you wouldn’t expect outside of Munich.
As a result, this beer is a true treasure, from the copper ale to the faint notes of malt and toffee.
Hi-Wire’s Zirkusfest Oktoberfest by Hi-Wire Brewing, North Carolina, USA
- ABV 6%
As its zany name suggests, Hi-Wire’s “Zirkusfest” is an imaginative and bold beer. It gives the nod to traditional German Oktoberfests while still going its own way.
One of the most exciting things about this beer is that it’s not afraid to shy away from bitterness. While many Oktoberfests try to mask the bitterness in their beers, Zirkusfest embraces it and even doubles down.
They start with a traditional Oktoberfest, big on maltiness and rich toffee flavors. The crisp finish is what’s impressive, though; bitter hops that hit your palate on the back end of your swallow.
Zirkusfest plays with the duality of malt and hops expertly, creating a delicious surprise at the end.
Ayinger Oktober Fest- Märzen by Ayinger Privatbrauerei -Ayinger, Germany
- ABV 5.8%
With its rich amber gold color, this traditional Märzen has a malty nose and bready aroma that is an ode to barley. A medium to big body, it has a touch of warming alcohol on the finish and a soft dryness from the long maturation process.
Beer purists may argue that Ayinger isn’t a real Oktoberfest since it’s not brewed in Munich – the town of Ayinger is about 15 miles away.
But it is one of the best German-import Oktoberfest you can find in any well-stocked beer aisle. Grab a handful of Bavarian pretzels and make like you are in Germany at the Oktoberfest.
Beck’s Oktoberfest by Brauerei Beck & Co, Bremmen, Germany
- ABV 5%
Beck’s is Germany’s highest-selling exported beer brand. A true seasonal beer that is only brewed and bottled in the fall, Beck’s Oktoberfest is quite unique in that it is actually not allowed to be sold in Germany, due to it not being brewed in Munich.
It does, however, still pass the German Purity laws of 1516, like all of Beck’s beers. This means it only uses fresh water, top barley, and hops in its brew.
Although many beer drinkers may feel it’s a cop-out to choose a mainstream beer like Beck’s as one of the best Oktoberfest beers, it is a surprisingly good example of the style.
Dark amber in color, Beck’s Oktoberfest is a German-style Märzen lager with aromas of caramel, coffee, and chocolate.
The flavor is full but slightly sweet with notes of caramel and roasted malts. With a dry finish, it has a crisp hop aftertaste.
Germany’s loss in prohibiting the sale of this delicious beer in its homeland is our gain here in the US.
Aleschmidt Oktoberfest by Alesmith Brewing Company, San Diego, USA
- ABV 5.5%
Fans of Alesmith’s seasonal Oktoberfest beer constantly demanded they release their coveted AleSchmidt Märzen lager earlier every year, and AleSmith, this year, gave in and released it towards the end of July, 2 months earlier than previous years, giving beer lovers more time to sip this delicious brew.
With its clean, toasty, and elegant flavor, AleSchmidt is the perfect beer to round out the summer and prepare you for the coming fall.
With an ABV of 5.5%, it has a fresh, polished, and toasty malt character. AleSmith pays homage to the classic Oktoberfest style with rich malt complexities that balance with their characteristic clean hop bitterness and toasted malt aroma.
It has quickly become a seasonal staple around the California and San Francisco vicinity and is now available in over 43 of the mainland states.
The AleSchmidt brand is even exported now to Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Japan, Korea, and Mexico. So, if you should find yourself searching for some winter sun this year, at least you know you can still find a quality Märzen to celebrate Oktoberfest with.
Bell’s Octoberfest Beer by Bell’s Beers, Kalamazoo, USA
- ABV 5.5%
Although Bell’s may be better known nowadays for its summer range of beers like Oberon or the much beloved Two Hearts Ale, their reputation dates back to the mid-1980s.
It was during this period that they were known to produce many of the first of darker styles such as Porters, Stouts, or Brown Ales inspired by European beers.
It’s quite appropriate that Bell’s should make one of the best Octoberfest beers in the US with this true-to-form classic Märzen beer.
It is rich in amber color, with herbal hop aromas, and focuses on lightly toasted malt that lends body without too much sweetness.
It’s the perfect beer for sharing with friends alongside some Bavarian food at the annual festivals.