Beer: Gordon Biersch Märzen Brewery: Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Style: Märzen/Oktoberfest ABV: 5.8 percent
It was a cool fall day more than 200 years ago, and the Germans were partying. It had just been announced that Crown Prince Ludwig, who would later become King Ludwig I, was to be married to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. To celebrate the royal event, the citizens of Munich gathered on the fields in front of the city gates, watched some horse races, danced, sang and drank in joviality.
Thus did the first Oktoberfest celebration occur, and the tradition has been going strong ever since. This year's Oktoberfest began September 22, with millions of visitors drinking even more millions of liters of the only beer allowed in the fairgrounds: Oktoberfest. You can get a number of traditional iterations in America -- German breweries like Spaten, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner and Hofbrau all make Oktoberfests that see Arizona shelves, and all of these are the same brews sold at the actual Oktoberfest celebration. If, however, you'd like to try a version of the style that's available almost everywhere and is just as tasty, go for the Gordon Biersch Märzen.
Märzen, you say? I thought we were talking Oktoberfest? Ah, but we are, for these beers are one and the same. Oktoberfests are also commonly known as Märzens, and here's why: Before the refrigerator was invented, brewing beer in the summer could be quite difficult. The yeast needed to ferment the beer can only do their stuff below a certain temperature, and the sweltering summer heat increased the risk of bacterial infections and often ruined beer during the important fermentation period. So the crafty Deutschlanders brewed these beers in March (the German word for March), stored them in cold caves or cellars during the warm summer months, and popped them open once fall rolled around.
Pour the Gordon Biersch Märzen into a dimpled mug, if you can find one. Gordon Biersch refers to this as an "auburn lager," and that's a good word for the appearance. Translucent and autumn-colored, the liquid sits below a one-finger head of filmy, sandy-tan bubbles that are constantly replenished by carbonation rising from below.
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The nose is very nutty -- walnuts, mostly. Baked German bread and boiling malt add breadiness to a soft hint of apple and caramel. The flavor perfectly replicates the aroma up front -- nuts, baked bread, malt, apple. The swallow brings a smoothing scoop of toasted oats. A crisp finish leaves nothing but a touch of bitterness.
The Märzen is my favorite Gordon Biersch's flagship beers. It sticks to the style while delivering decent flavor and drinkability. We may not be able to travel to the Munich Oktoberfest, but at least we can drink like we're there. Prost!
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.