Updated on September 15, 2023
The official 188th Oktoberfest celebration, starts on Saturday, September 16, 2023, so with the party is just getting started let’s toast with the best Oktoberfest beers. This year was the second time since the global pandemic that the annual festival that attracts millions of visitors to Munich, Germany, to imbibe a very specific style of beer, returned in person.
And you can bet that there were toasts, aka prosts, and beer steins clinking aplenty.
Even if you can’t make it across the pond this year, you can still find a way to celebrate.
For our part, we wanted to recognize the holiday by digging into its history. Above all, we’ll clarify the exact difference between Oktoberfest, Märzen, and Festbiers. Lastly, we’ll give you a few updated recommendations of our favorite classic German and current American versions to try.
Known here in America for roasty, malty notes, Oktoberfests, Märzens, and Festbiers are perfect pints when the weather turns cold. Whether you’re camping out with a classic Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier from the original Munich brewery or enjoying a contemporary Hopewell Brewing Oktoberfest , we’ve found the best beers to ring in the Oktoberfest season.
But first, a little history lesson.
What Is Oktoberfest?
Essentially a lesson in German royalty, Oktoberfest started with a wedding. Bavarian Crown Prince Louis (later King Louis I of Bavaria) married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12th, 1810.
The nuptials included a raucous party open to the citizens of Munich on the fields in front of the city gates. Named Therensienwiese or Therese’s Fields, the Wiesn or outdoor meadow hosted days of drinking and horse races. In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) this party aimed to unite Germans during a tumultuous time.
Oh, and did we mention the royal family provided beer and food free of charge? So much fun was had by all that the festival became a yearly celebration.
“History, tradition, hospitality—Oktoberfest is not only the biggest but, I think, also the best beer festival in the world,” says Christian Dahncke, head brewmaster at Paulaner, one of the six Munich breweries that actually has permission to brew and sell the original Munich Oktoberfest Bier. “It is a combination of old traditions…and a big beer festival, where each of the six Munich breweries tries to brew the best beer for this event.”
Hurdles like cholera and now the COVID-19 pandemic have stymied some Oktoberfest celebrations. But for the most part, over the past two centuries every year people gather in Munich to sip overflowing steins in huge beer tents and eat roasted chicken.
Today, Germany’s largest folk festival and one of the most famous beer festivals in the world normally welcomes over six million visitors. And has spawned local celebrations at breweries and bars across the globe.
What Is the Difference between Oktoberfests, Märzens, and Festbiers?
The answer is a little complicated. In Germany, Oktoberfest means beers that are brewed specifically for the Oktoberfest event in Munich.
Historically, the beers served at Oktoberfest can only come from the large breweries inside Munich’s city limits including Augustinerbräu Münche (Augustiner), Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (Spaten).
“Paulaner brewery is a real traditional Munich brewery and has always played a big part in the history of the city’s culture,” says Dahncke. “[So Oktoberfest] is an event dear to Paulaner’s heart.”
Since 1818, Paulaner has brewed its Oktoberfest Bier, but it actually didn’t gain popularity at the annual celebration until much later.
Actually, during the first sixty or so years the darker Bavarian dunkel dominated. But by 1872 Spaten brewery introduced the more amber-hued Märzen, which became the official beer of the fest. And in the mid 1960s Paulaner’s golden-colored Oktoberfest Bier, considered a Festbier, began to take over.
Today, Paulaner’s Oktoberest Bier is the most-served beer at Oktoberfest in Munich. Although still slightly malty, these lighter-bodied Festbiers are super drinkable and perfect for the two-week-long celebration.
So, What Does the Term Oktoberfest Actually Mean?
According to European Union regulations, only beers brewed by the aforementioned six breweries can use the label “Oktoberfest” (much like real champagne can only technically come from the Champagne region of France). All other breweries must call their seasonal lagers Oktoberfest-style beer. But that hasn’t stopped American brewers from using terms like Oktoberfest, Märzen, and Festbier pretty much interchangeably. To further confuse things, American breweries will often see beers with punny variations such as Oaktoberfest, Octoberfest, etc.
Today in the States, Oktoberfest is often used as a catchall encompassing Märzens and Festbiers. The Märzens here in America typically feature Munich and Caramel malts for beers that tend to be redder, maltier, and slightly sweeter.
Basically, the Oktoberfest-style beers brewed in America are actually nothing like the Festbiers made for the real Oktoberfest in Germany. Instead, they align more closely with the original styles served in the 1870s.
Of course, there are some brewers in the United States that do adhere more closely to the paler, modern German Oktoberfest styles. But for the most part, if you’re drinking an Oktoberfest in America, it’s probably a copper-hued, toasty Märzen lager.
Wait, I’m Still Confused. Can You Recap Everything For Me?
Heck yeah! Basically…
Oktoberfest (Oktoberfestbier) – Any beer formally brewed by one of the six big Munich brewers and served on the Oktoberfest grounds. Over the years these beers have evolved from dunkels to Märzens to Festbiers. Today, they’re light gold in color and easy-bodied.
Märzens – German amber lagers typically anywhere from chestnut to russet in color. Smooth, toasty, bready, slightly spiced with a bit of a Noble hop bite, Märzens hit around 5-6% ABV with a dry finish. First brewed by Spaten in Germany, in America this is the most common style of what we’ve come to call Oktoberfest or Oktoberfest-style beers.
Festbiers – A strong golden German lager similar to a helles just maltier. The floralness and spiciness of Noble hops are more prevalent in this style. And they’re slightly meatier at 6-6.5% ABV. First pioneered by Paulaner, Festbiers today in Germany are THE official beer of Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest-style – Normally falling under the style of Märzen, these beers are brewed outside the city limits of Munich. Again, if you buy an Oktoberfest-style beer in America, it will most likely be an amber Märzen. Technically only beers brewed by one of the six original breweries in Munich can officially use the term Oktoberfest (Oktoberfestbier).
For our purposes, as much as we can, we want to recognize all of the above styles. Oktoberfest is a celebration of tradition and we want to respect that. But there are plenty of modern American versions that deserve recommendation as well. But don’t worry, we’ve parsed through the field to bring you our top picks for the best Oktoberfest beers to drink at home during this year’s festival.
Here Are the Top 23 Oktoberfest Beers We’re Drinking to Celebrate
The German Classics You Can Find in the U.S.
The best way to experience historic, original Oktoberfest beer is to visit Munich, Germany, during the last two weeks of September. Of course, not everyone can travel. So since we’re all stuck here in the States for the celebrations, these are the versions of Oktoberfest that you can try from the original six Munich breweries here in America. Prost!
Please note that at the time of publication we could not find Augustiner-Bräu Oktoberfestbier available in the U.S. Similarly, because Anheuser-Busch InBev now owns the rights to brew Löwenbräu in North America at the Labatt Brewing Company in London, Ontario, Canada, we have not included Augustiner or Löwenbräu in our list.
Hacker-Pschorr – Munich, Germany
Märzen — Since 1417, Hacker-Pschorr has been a leader among Munich’s famed breweries. Over 600-plus years, Hacker-Pschorr perfected its original Oktoberfest Märzen with Marthe, Grace, and Caramaran barley and Hallertauer Tradition and Hallertauer Herkules hop. In this traditional Märzen find a nose of blackcurrants and earth, with very malt-driven flavor.
Editor’s Note: Find Hacker-Pschorr’s Oktoberfest Märzen in Untappd’s Oktoberfest variety pack, which you can find here.
Hofbräu – Munich, Germany
Festbier — Considered the authentic and original Oktoberfest Bier, Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier, falls under the Festbier category, served at the actual Oktoberfest celebration in Munich.
With a rich, golden color, Hofbräu’s Oktoberfestbier includes four exquisite Hallertauer hops—Herkules, Perle, Magnum, and Select—and three specially selected Bavarian malts.
Find an aroma of fresh fruity hops and a rich and full-bodied flavor. This brilliant and authentic lager-style beer offers the true Oktoberfest experience—a beer bringing the world together.
Editor’s Note: Find Hofbräu’s Oktoberfestbier in Untappd’s Oktoberfest variety pack, which you can find here.
Paulaner – Munich, Germany
Märzen — Developed over 200 years ago to celebrate the original Munich Oktoberfest, this amber full-bodied bier has a rich malt flavor and dark toffee notes with an underlying fruitiness and masterful hop balance. Drink Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen to instantly turn your home into an Oktoberfest celebration. Prost!
Editor’s Note: Find Paulaner’s Oktoberfest Märzen in Untappd’s Oktoberfest variety pack, which you can find here.
Spaten – Munich, Germany
Märzen — A medium-bodied ur-märzen with aromatic roasted malt flavor and deep amber color, Spaten Oktoberfest was first served at the 1872 Oktoberfest, making it the world’s first Oktoberfest beer! Today, the Mayor of Munich kicks off every Oktoberfest festival by tapping a ceremonial keg of Spaten Oktoberfest. Could you get any more traditional!?
Editor’s Note: Find Spaten’s UR-Märzen in Untappd’s Oktoberfest variety pack, which you can find here.
The Modern American Versions We Love
Here are a few versions from American craft brewers that put their own modern spin on the German classic. For the most part these versions will adhere to the more recognizable Märzen style that as we’ve mentioned has become popular here in the States.
Hopewell Brewing Co. – Chicago, IL
Märzen — Built to bring in the fall, Hopewell’s Oktoberfest captures the essence of this season in a can. Which is why we love it so much. Rich and malty with a hint of that Noble hop character, the aroma actually presented very juicy to us.
Getting into that first sip revealed a complexity and depth that makes us love the Märzen style.
With Oktoberfest, you peel back the layers with every sip. A bit of dark toast with jam hits first followed by an almost smoked meat finish.
This is just a delicious, smooth, and balanced märzen.
Elsewhere Brewing – Atlanta, GA
Märzen — Elsewhere Brewing just continues to impress us with every new beer they send our way (I guess we were right when we named them one of our <”10 Best Breweries to Watch in 2021.”
Their German hefe called Promised Marvels made our list of The 20 Best Beers to Drink in Fall 2021, but it’s their own 2023 Oktoberfest called Walk the Line that makes the cut here.
A creamy foam almost like melted ice cream burst with a light floral, buttery biscuit on the nose. But dig underneath the delicate head and you’ll discover a clean, crisp Oktoberfest-style beer that’s not over the top or too fancy.
Elsewhere’s version of an Oktoberfest is just super balanced and beautiful. And to us that is what the Oktoberfest style should be all about. No fuss, no muss, just the good stuff.
Fox Farm Brewery – Salem, CT
Märzen — Fox Farm’s seasonal Märzen, Tines, is a beer the brewery looks forward to all year long. The 6% ABV German lager gives you everything you want in a Märzen: malty depths but with a brisk hop bite to bring you back to the surface. It’s almost like the hops strike through this Märzen like a…tine.
New Image Brewing – Arvada, CO
Oktoberfest Lager — Normally, when we’re mentioning New Image it’s because of an innovative new IPA—like one with Phantasm. But you may not know that this Colorado-based brewery also kills it with their lager program.
Small-Tober started last year when Founder Brandon Capps wanted to make a low-alcohol version of a Oktoberfest beer.
Uniquely, the brewery served the Festbier in smaller kölsch-sized glasses in its own version of kölsch service. The event went swimmingly, enough so, that New Image plans to blow out its Oktoberfest celebrations over five weekends this year.
While other lagers will be available as a part of its “lager service,” Small-Tober will be the main feature.
Brewed with Colorado-grown malt from Troubador Maltings and a lot of patience, Small-Tober is one Oktoberfest lager you can’t miss. Preferably you can make it to New Image’s taproom from September 9, through October 7, 2023, to try it!
Barrique Brewing and Blending – Nashville, TN
Märzen — Barrique Brewing and Blending takes tradition to heart with its Märzen. The Nashville-based brewery starts with floor-malted Bohemian dark malt and pilsner malt from the German maltster Weyermann, double decocting for a 5.8% ABV Märzen with lovely layers of robust maltiness. This is the perfect fall beer, and it is easy to see why it makes it into the top ten beers on Untappd’s All-Time Top-Rated Märzens.
Bierstadt Lagerhaus – Denver, CO
Märzen — One of the best lager-focused breweries in the entire country does the ultimate justice with its version of an Oktoberfest.
And that’s what this beer is all about. Released just this past week, Bierstadt’s version stays true to the Märzen style.
And that’s important. This version just nails all the prereqs of a traditional Märzen.
Beautiful amber hue ✅
Deep malt character ✅
Luxurious mouthfeel ✅
Clean, crisp finish ✅
Some might argue that it’s worth visiting Denver in late September / early October for something other than the Great American Beer Festival. And if you do happen to be there for GABF, maybe consider making a side trip to Bierstadt Lagerhaus to snag a stein of their Oktoberfest (oh, and also this Slow Pour Pilsner is a can’t-miss).
Green Bench Brewing Company – St. Petersburg, FL
Festbier — Festbier is Green Bench’s own interpretation of the lesser-known German golden lager now served as the official beer of Munich’s Oktoberfest fete.
Brewed with imported German Pilsner, Vienna, and Munich malts, Green Bench’s Festbier produces a strong malty backbone tempered by a clean hop bite.
Green Bench Co-Founder and Head Brewer Khris Johnson uses a traditional double decoction process and natural carbonation to truly mimic an authentic German-inspired interpretation of this celebratory harvest beer.
Tree House Brewing Company – Charlton, MA
Märzen — Yes, one of the best IPA-producing breweries in the country makes a couple of damn fine Märzens. In fact, this beer made it onto Untappd’s list of All-Time Top-Rated Märzens.
Brewed with German Pilsner, Munich, Cara Munich, and Vienna malts, plus a traditional Märzen yeast, Whisper is Tree House’s culmination of years toying with the idea of a German-inspired lager to celebrate Oktoberfest.
Smooth and rich from the plethora of malts, Whisper also includes just a…well…whisper of Noble hop character.
“We find Whisper to be an ideal comparison to crisp weather celebrations and companionship,” writes the brewery in the beer’s Untappd description. “With a dense, billowing head and a remarkably creamy mouthfeel, this is a beer we are proud of and trust that you will enjoy as much as we do—Pröst!”
Westbound & Down – Lafayette, CO
Märzen — Westbound & Down is like your best friend: solid all the time.
And things are no different with their Oktoberfest. This is a no-frills, unfussy, sturdy Märzen.
For us, we get notes of chestnuts roasting over an open fire, like the ones you’d find at a Christmas market in Germany. There is a slight bitterness here, but it’s really more about the layered roastiness.
Personally, we like how the brewery describes the beer: “rich malt aroma, flavors of fresh toasted bread and golden brown biscuit tops with a clean, balanced bitterness.”
New Glarus Brewing Company – New Glarus, WI
Märzen — We love how breweries known for other styles put an equal emphasis and care on nailing these German-style Märzens.
Best known for farmhouse ales—such as Spotted Cow—and fruited sours, New Glarus puts its own spin on the autumnal German beer with Staghorn Octoberfest.
Featuring both Midwestern and European malts along with German yeast and Wisconsin water, New Glarus’ version of the amber German lager marries the brewery’s Midwestern mentality with traditional German heritage.
“Be sure to hold this one up to the light of any harvest moon and enjoy ‘Wisconsin’s Real Red,’” writes the brewery in the beer’s Untappd description.
We think that about sums it up.
Schilling Brewing Co. – Littleton, NH
Austrian Märzen — A bit unique, this Märzen from the European-inspired brewery in New Hampshire (one of our favorite to visit in the entire state) is described as an Austrian-style. With a slightly drier finish than its Germany buddy, Konstantin launches only during the Oktoberfest season. Rich caramel and toasted oat notes round out a gorgeous ruby-hued lager. In addition, decoction gives this beer an extra layer of complexity.
Off Color Brewing – Chicago, IL
Märzen — Known for brewing oft-forgotten or a bit off-the-beaten-path styles, Off Color keeps the tradition alive with their own Märzen—Waddle.
Funny story, just as the original Oktoberfest started with a wedding, Waddle similarly began with the wedding of one Off Color employee.
Off Color pretty much colors in the lines with their Oktoberfest-style Märzen. Pils, Dark Munich, and CaraMunich round out the malt bill, lending a deep biscuit and fresh baked bread backbone. On the hop side traditional Hersbrucker and (perhaps a little less traditional) Nugget hops lend a subtle spiciness to the finish.
All in all, this is a celebratory beer, first brewed for a celebration, and now continually brewed for Oktoberfest celebrations.
Thin Man Brewery – Buffalo, NY
Märzen — One of our favorite breweries in Buffalo, NY, Thin Man’s interpretation of a Märzen is spot on.
Bready, toasty, malty, with just a hint of herbaceousness of Hersbrucker hops, Thin Man’s Oktoberfest is “rich, but not cloying,” according to its Untappd description.
Czig Meister – Hackettstown, NJ
Märzen — We kind of think of Czig Meister’s Oktoberfest as like the goldilocks of American-brewed Märzens. It only took us one sip to write in our notes, “Yup, that’s a Märzen-style beer to a ‘T.’”
Pouring a bit more of an orange-gold than the traditional darker ambler, Czig Meister’s interpretation presents crisp toast notes alongside honied graham cracker.
Truth be told, we didn’t get many floral or herbaceous hoppiness here. Instead, this one is all about the malt.
But hey, we’re not mad at that. Not at all.
Wallenpaupack Brewing Company – Hawley, PA
Märzen — We’re big fans of Wallenpaupack’s Paupack Cream Ale, naming it one of the best beers we drank last November. So we weren’t too surprised when they sent us an Oktoberfest lager and it knocked our socks off.
And if you don’t believe us, we’re not the only ones!
Wallenpaupack’s Oktoberfest won a gold medal from the Brewski Awards in 2021 and VinePair named it one of the “Six Best American Oktoberfest Beers We’ve Tasted This Year (2020).”
We liked it for its fizzy aroma of cream soda of all things. On the sip it’s much toastier and less sweet. Kind of like the charred ends of buttered toast. We actually like that this one is a bit more bitter than some of the other versions on this list. There is a complex depth to the bitterness that rounds out the whole beer, giving it a robust mouthfeel and body.
This is a grown-up Oktoberfest deserving of all its awards and recognitions.
Bonus – Wallenpaupack also makes an award-winning Festbier that follows the recipe for the more traditional German-style pale lager drunk at the official Oktoberfest festival in Munich.
Copper Legend Octoberfest
Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers – Framingham, MA
Märzen — When Oktoberfest rolls around each fall, Jack’s Abby’s Copper Legend becomes a staple in our beer fridge. Mainly because it’s just such an excellent expression of the Märzen style. Probably because Jack’s Abby Brewmster Jack Hendler painstakingly aims for his German beers to match up to the traditional styles. Smooth, malty, and super quaffable, Copper Legend is a go-to.
Tröegs Independent Brewing – Hershey, PA
Märzen — Brewed as a part of the brewery’s Long Live Lagers celebrations, Tröegs take on the timeless classic includes leveraging a traditional German brewing technique called decoction.
“By boiling a portion of the mash, we create a bright, dry maltiness,” says Tröegs Brewmaster and Co-Founder, John Trogner in an article for Brewbound.
An additional kettle dose of Hallertau Tradition hops gives Tröegs Oktoberfest Lager a bright herbaceousness that’s countered by the richness of the Pilsner and Munich malts.
One of our favorites, Tröegs’ version of a Märzen, showcases their testament to tradition and perfect execution.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Paso Robles, CA
Oktoberfest Lager — With Oaktoberfest, Firestone Walker takes the threads of traditions and weaves in its own heritage. So yes, you’ll find all that caramelly goodness you love in Oktoberfests from Weyerman Pils, Vienna, Munich, Cara Hell, and Cara Red malts.
And yes, you’ll find a nice crisp bite from the Noble Tradition and Spalter Select hops.
But then, Firestone Walker injects its own DNA, partially lagering Oaktoberfest in neutral oak barrels. After all, Co-Founders Adam Firestone and David Walker started the twenty-seven-year-old brewery as an exclusively barrel-fermented business!
As a result, the finished beer has a soft caress of French oak that makes this one of the most approachable, balanced Märzens on the market.
Firestone Walker calls this one “a classic German Fest Bier with a hint of West Coast hoppiness.”
Athletic Brewing Company – Milford, CT
Non-Alcoholic Festbier — Because who says you can only drink non-alcoholic beer during Dry January? We’ll admit this is the first non-alcoholic version of a Festbier we’ve tried, and we wholly enjoyed it.
Pouring a burning gold, Athletic’s Oktoberfest hit us first with some really nice floralness on the nose from the Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops.
First sips detected a strong malt backbone courtesy of the Vienna and Munich malts that stood up nicely to the hoppy zing. Slightly sweet but mostly floral, this NA Festbier finished incredibly refreshing.