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  • Beware the Ales of March

    The month of March always gets your humble narrator pining away for a Märzenbier. For those in the audience that do not speak German, that translates directly to March beer.

    The history of this beer goes all the way back to the noble Bavarian court in the year 1553, when a royal proclamation declared that beer could only be brewed between the days of Saint Michael and Saint George. That’s September 29 through April 23 for the secular readers in the audience.

    Worry not, gentle reader, for this was not some sort of attempt at Medieval Prohibition. Rather, the Bavarian nobility thought so highly of beer, that they didn’t want substandard batches to be brewed in the summer months, when the warm temperatures and wild airborne yeasts would spoil the beer during fermentation. Think of it as tough love for beer.

    Knowing that the brewing season would be ending as the snow thawed, the brewmasters would make an extra effort for the last big batch of the season, with plenty of malted barley to drive up the alcohol content, which helped to minimize spoilage.

    The wooden barrels of beer were stored in cool cellars or caves over the summer, and had to be stretched to last until the fall, when brewing could begin again.

    Any remaining barrels at the end of the summer would be served up at the raucous Oktoberfest celebration, making Märzen the official beer of Oktoberfest, which is pretty much the highest honour that any beer can achieve.

    Since this style of beer was originally brewed to withstand long storage in the pre-refrigeration era, it is more robust than many other beer styles, as higher levels of alcohol and hops were the only tools the brewers had to keep bacteria at bay.

    For this reason, you will find Märzen beers to have a rich and malty flavour, often with hints of caramel malts, and just enough hops to balance the malt without becoming overly bitter.

    Hale and hearty in flavour, this is a beer that goes well with bratwurst or salted pretzels. Buxom barmaids spilling out of their dirndls are optional, but highly recommended while enjoying this type of beer.

    Now that we have fancy newfangled technologies like refrigeration, beer can be made all year round, but the Märzen style is still most commonly seen around Oktoberfest. Many craft brewers around the world bring out a seasonal brew just before Oktoberfest, with Calgary’s own Wild Rose Brewery being a local example.

    Toronto’s Mill Street Brewing also produces a seasonal Märzen brew, as does Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing, Russell Brewing in Vancouver, and too many others to count.

    Perhaps the most well known Märzen beer in North America is the Samuel Adams Octoberfest from the Boston Beer Company, who started brewing this style way back in 1989, when your intrepid liquor reporter was but a neophyte young beer drinker, without the sophisticated and nuanced palate that can only be acquired through years of dedicated beer snobbery.

    Your humble narrator fondly remembers his first bottle of Samuel Adams Octoberfest, which took place near the beginning of my education in the world of craft beer.

    The year was 1997, and I was broadening my horizons on the Around The World in 80 Beers passport at Bottlescrew Bills Olde English Pub in downtown Calgary, which is recognized by the beer cognoscenti as Alberta’s first pub dedicated to craft beer.

    Indeed, the formative years of your intrepid liquor reporter’s beer education were spent holding down a barstool in this Calgary institution, which is still going strong to this very day. Now on its second generation of family ownership, let’s hope the taps will be pouring for many more years to come.

    While the larger craft brewers may be starting their Märzen production today, those with a shortage of storage space in the brewery may opt to wait until closer to the fall to run off their seasonal batch.

    Your humble narrator still has a few bottles of Märzen squirreled away in the cellar, but I have my doubts that they will last through the long summer.

    So, start thinking about Märzen beers today, and you will start to see them on the shelves of your local booze merchant in just a few short months.