by Jesse Reynolds
The annual festivities at Munich’s Oktoberfest are a spectacle which must be experienced at least once in a lifetime, and ideally several more times.
From its elaborately decorated tents, lederhosen and dirndls, carnival atmosphere and cultural parades, the festival has something for everyone. Not to mention the beer, of which approximately seven million litres are guzzled over the course of the two-week event. That means over ten litres of beer are consumed every second.
The burning question — what makes the beer in Munich go down so easy? There’s a historical answer to that.
When Oktoberfest began 218 years ago, the beers were substantially darker and maltier. Over time, tastes shifted and by the late 19th Century the standard beer was similar to what we now call an Oktoberfest Marzen — the amber lager was traditionally brewed in March and stored in cool caves until Fall.
Marzen was served mostly unchanged for a century, until the Paulaner Brewery experimented with a lighter recipe which seemed less filling, didn’t compromise on flavour but could be consumed faster and in larger quantities. As it so often does, the opportunity to make more money paved the way for change and since 1990 the official beer of Oktoberfest has been Festbier.
By today’s lager standards, Festbier is no lightweight; it typically packs an alcoholic punch between 5.8 – 6.3%. It is masterfully brewed, with a finish that always leaves the consumer wanting more.
The simplest part about this beer is the bill of ingredients, which should all ideally come from German sources.
Light-coloured German lagers are made almost entirely with Pilsner malt; this is the case for this recipe, with just under 90 percent Pils. To add some local character to the Festbier, but not much colour, we rely on Munich Light malt and a very small amount of Melanoidin malt to amp up the bready, toasty character.
A few important points about the malt. Due to the high quantities of Pils malt (a well-known producer of DMS), we need to ensure a steady rolling boil for 90 minutes. As well, because German malts are under-modified it is best to perform a step mash. Details are shown in the brewday instructions below.
The hops should provide bitterness and some character while leaving the focus squarely on the malt. Low alpha-acid noble hops such as Tettnanger and Hallertau Mittelfruh provide spicy, herbal notes and crisp finish to the beer.
As is the case with all lagers, yeast is vital. You must have a 2L starter made 72 hours before pitching and refrigerated for 12-24 hours prior to decant the wort off the yeast. This cannot be stressed enough — a clean fermentation is the most important part about a lager, so provide your beer with enough yeast and control the temperature carefully.
Once fermentation nears completion, a three-day Diacetyl rest at 68F (20C) is important before transferring your beer to the secondary fermenter and lowering to lager temperatures of 34-43F (1-6C) for six weeks or more.
Festbier (BJCP Category 4B)
(all-grain, 5.5 gallons)
9 Gallons Tap Water (Treated w/Campden Tablets) or Spring Water
Add ¼ tsp Gypsum and ½ tsp Calcium Chloride to mash
9.75 lbs Pils
1 lb Munich Light
0.25 lbs Melanoidin
Hops and Whirlfloc
1 oz Hallertau Mittelfruh, 13.6 IBU (60 mins)
1 Whirlfloc tablet (15 mins)
0.5 oz Tettnanger, 4 IBU, (15 mins)
0.5 oz Tettnanger, 1.7 IBU, (5 mins)
Escarpment Labs Munich Lager or White Labs WLP830 German Lager
Brew Day Instructions
Mash-in grains with 4 gallons of treated water to reach 113F (45C) and hold for a 15-minute protein rest. Next, use direct heat or infuse with boiling water to raise temperature to further steps of 140F (60C) for 15 minutes, 150F (65C) for 30 minutes and 168F (76F) for a 5-minute mash-out. Drain your wort into your boil kettle and slowly sparge until you have 7 gallons of wort.
Bring the wort to a boil for 90 minutes, adding hops and Whirlfloc at the times directed above. After flame-out, chill rapidly to 48F (9C), transfer to your fermenter, aerate your hopped wort and pitch the yeast.
If you are not able to achieve 48F without refrigeration, get your wort as cold as you are able with your chiller, transfer to your fermenter and aerate, place it in your fermentation fridge and allow it to chill to pitch temperature (ideally within 12 hours of brewing), and pitch your yeast.
Ferment the beer at 50F (10C) for 12 days, then free rise to 68F (20C) to encourage complete fermentation and eliminate Diacetyl. When the beer’s gravity has reached or surpassed FG and holds steady for three days, transfer to a secondary fermenter and lower your temperature by ~2F (1C) every day until you reach 39F (4C). Lager at this temperature for at least 6 weeks, then package, carbonate and enjoy!
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