Essentially heftier versions of toasty, crisp Vienna lagers, these beers were originally brewed in March (that’s Märzen in German) before summer weather made brewing difficult; they aged through the hot months until brewers brought them out in fall—just in time for Oktoberfest. Today, brewers can make Märzens whenever they want, and the beers you see labeled “Oktoberfest” are just Märzens released for the autumn beer-fest season. Their outdoor appeal means they’re ideal spring sippers, and many breweries take the style’s name to heart and are releasing soft, malty Märzens right now.
Say it: Märzen sounds like MAER-tzen; not MAR-zen. That first syllable rhymes with “bear,” not “car.”
Since the style’s a riff on a Vienna lager, look for German Vienna malt as a primary ingredient; Munich and pilsner malts are fine, too. The most authentic Märzens employ Old World noble hop varieties for earthy, leafy bitterness, but these aren’t hopmonsters; IBUs shouldn’t top 30.
Märzens are lagers; their cold conditioning should yield a beer so clear you can see through it, though the liquid will range in color from gold to deep copper. The head should be nice and creamy, never fleeting.
Give that glorious head a sniff: All you should smell is a light breeze of clean, toasted malt.
Sure, they’re party beers, but Märzens should exude smooth, complex maltiness that reads warm, sweet and toasted—not caramely or roasty. Then, quick as it entered, that malt sweetness should fall away as hop bitterness (but not flavor) moves in, and a clean lager snap finishes the job.
Märzens should be 4.8% to 5.7% ABV—not weak, but not so strong that you can’t have another (and another…).
Finally, a reason to use that mug! Beer nerds love to hate on a handled stein, but they bend for Märzens, since this style’s all about toasting and prost!ing.
Before you buy, check bottles for date stamps. Märzen labels can be confusing, particularly when they say “Oktoberfest” on them. Don’t take home bottles more than a few months old; this style doesn’t age well.
4 MARZENS TO TRY:
If you love the hunt: PENN MÄRZEN
Find this toasty, smooth, stellar Märzen in Pittsburgh and a few select East Coast markets.
If you buy in bulk: GORDON BIERSCH MÄRZEN
The brewery bottles this biscuity-sweet, nicely bittered example year-round.
If you dig something different: AECHT SCHLENKERLA RAUCHBIER MÄRZEN
A classic Märzen, but with the meaty smoke of fire-dried malt.
If you track ratings: AYINGER OKTOBER FEST-MÄRZEN
It’s Ratebeer.com’s top-ranked Märzen, but you’ll have to wait until fall to score it.