The month of March always gets me 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. Fortunately, some of our local craft brewers produce a Märzen all year round.
The closest local example is the Homestead Marzen Lager from Origin Malting & Brewing in Strathmore. In those carefree pre-pandemic days of yesteryear, I would pop into the tap room for a pint and a burger whenever I was running errands in Strathmore. Now that I have become a hermit isolating at home, I take advantage of their free delivery service to Chestermere, and have the tallboy cans delivered directly to my door.
I must confess to being a bit snobby about lagers in the past, preferring the more flavourful ales, but the Origin Homestead Marzen Lager has turned me into a lager fan, with its rich coppery colour pouring into my glass with a firm and lacy off-white head. A hefty malt bill provides notes of fresh bread and toasted caramel, while the noble German hop varietals bring notes of fresh cut grass, and the clean lager yeast providing a crisp finish.
At 6% ABV, it is a bit heavier than most of the other Origin brews, but after sampling a flight of all the offerings in the tap room during one of the brief intermissions between pandemic lockdowns, the Homestead Marzen Lager just might be my current favourite. Pick one up on your next visit to Strathmore!
While it is a bit further away than Strathmore, the German-themed Brauerie Fahr in Turner Valley also puts out a seasonal Märzen, typically released just before Oktoberfest, so you will have to wait for that one. All of the brews from Brauerie Fahr are strictly German styles, made by a German-born brewmaster of incredible talent, and well worth the day trip to Turner Valley. Make a day of it by also visiting the Eau Claire Distillery just two blocks away and wash down the fine German beer with a Gin cocktail in the speakeasy-themed distillery tap room.