As the month of March gave way to the warmer days of April, I enjoyed the last few cans of Märzenbier that I was hoarding in the cellar. 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, which is 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. 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.
While it is a bit further away than Strathmore, Blindman Brewing in Lacombe released a seasonal Foedered Lager Märzen a few months ago, which I hoarded jealously to enjoy throughout the month of March. Foeder is a Dutch word, pronounced like food-er, and is essentially a giant wooden barrel, typically thousands of litres in size, and used for fermenting and/or aging in both breweries and wineries.
Foeders are less common in North America than in Europe, and Blindman Brewing is one of the few Canadian brewers adventurous enough to age their beer in oak instead of the more predictable and easily sanitized stainless steel vessels.
Blindman Brewing uses a pair of 3000 litre Foeders that began their life holding Cognac, imported at great expense back in 2017, and are used to create special one-off seasonal brews like this Foedered Lager Märzen. The porous nature of the wood means that each brew is influenced by those that came before, making each new batch a unique adventure.
Blindman Brewing has wide availability throughout Alberta, with a core group of flagship brews available year-round, as well as an ever-changing rotation of seasonal brews known for their extreme flavour profiles, making them a mainstay in the fridges of beer nerds across our fair province. Look for them today!