Oktoberfest means a lot of things: dirndls, gigantic steins, sausage, and, of course, a ton of beer. These days, damn near every brewery concocts a version of Oktoberfest ale (or märzen/festbier, to use zee German parlance). But not everybody has the ability/lederhosen to get out to a far-flung brewery -- or a raucous German fest. That's why we rounded up some of our favorite, nationally available Okto-beers. Head to the grocery story, grab a sixer and some brats, and feel free to polka in the comfort of your own home. Prost!
Spaten’s one of the most ubiquitous German beers on the market: if you’re chilling at a beer garden drinking out of a boot, there’s a strong chance it’s filled with Spaten. It’s got that slight skunkiness of German beer that’s often lost on marzens, with a toasted malt flavor to balance it out and a pillowy head that just looks glorious atop a stein. Oh, and it’s available year-round, meaning every month can be October. Or September... Oktoberfest is very confusing like that.
If you’re looking for the benchmark of a traditional Oktoberfest beer in a sea of American seasonal releases, this is the ticket. It’s beautifully malt-driven with caramel and bread flavors literally designed for celebrating one of the most prized dates on the German calendar. It’s easily one of the best ways to get the old-world flavor into your Oktoberfest party -- especially if you’re serving it alongside traditional foods like sausage with sauerkraut, soft pretzels, and potato salad.
Clocking in at a higher ABV than its lederhosen-clad brethren, Left Hand’s take on the marzen brews for two long months in order to nail the balance between its biscuity maltiness and hop spice, making it one of the more complex takes on a style typically marked by its crisp and delicate flavors. This one’s better suited for a pint glass than a stein, though it’s also just as good out of the bottle, which seems counterintuitive, but hey, this is a variation that’s sort of built on simple turns of the unexpected.
Like a less-grumpy/violent Mike Ehrmantraut, Sierra Nevada isn’t a brewery that tolerates half-measures, and its commitment to doing things just right has made it one of the most prevalent and beloved independent craft breweries in America. Case in point, Oktoberfest. Rather than interpret German tradition in creating the annual offering to the Oktober gods, the brewers bring in a different legendary German brewery every year as a collaboration. This year’s concoction is a team up with Brauhaus Miltenberger, a malty, ready, slightly sweet harvest ale that nails that whole “tastes like fall” cliché.
Ninkasi is the kind of beermonger that puts a unique stamp on pretty much everything that comes out of the brewery — this is, after all, a place that shot a yeast strand into space, just so they could legitimately claim to have made space beer when it came back to Earth. Nothing got transported to Germany to make Ninkasi’s take on Oktoberfest, though there’s a definite Pacific Northwest stamp on the palate thanks to a blast of hops, which adds a whole new layer to the malty, roasty taste. No, it’s not rocket science -- that’s reserved for stouts -- but the slight pivot takes a traditional brewing style and makes it Ninkasi’s own.