Ask a Cicerone: The Best Märzen and Oktoberfest Beers

Toasty, malty, nutty: they're just the kind of flavors you want in autumn, the ones you need to accompany roasted parsnips and squash, a crisp-skinned chicken or a comforting bowl of chili. Luckily for all of us, these toasty, malty notes are found in abundance in the freshly released amber-colored Märzenbiers that make the rounds each Oktoberfest season. Want to read more about the history of this delicious beer style? Head right this way.

Bottleshops tend to display a whole range of these beers every fall. But which should you buy? We asked our crew of beer experts to recommend their favorites—both German and more locally brewed—along with few suggestions for the perfect dishes to serve alongside.

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"Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, hands down. It's everything I want in a Märzen: that mild, sweet caramel flavor of the Munich malt, spicy noble hops, and a hefty baked bread character. You really can't go wrong with this beer and a plate of sausage and German potato salad. The spices in the meat, the earthiness of the potatoes...it works on all levels. If I'm drinking American on this one, I'm drinking local: New Glarus Staghorn. No one in the country is making better, cleaner German-style lagers than Dan Carey, and this beer is just another stellar example. It's clean and malty with a hint of nutmeg flavor, and at 6.25% ABV, it harkens back to the Märzens of yore. Have it with schnitzel if you can." —Josh Ruffin (Brassiere V)

"When it's done right, Oktoberfest-Märzen is one of my favorite styles. I love the beauty of something simple with nothing to hide behind. I really enjoy Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen: it has a great caramelized flavor without being overly sweet; and has great depth of rich, toasty, complex malt, but stays relatively light. Perfect for early fall food like tomatoes and cheddar on toasted brown bread or a beer-brined roast chicken with root vegetables." —Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"My perennial favorite comes from Ayinger in Aying, southeast of Munich. An obvious food pairing would be pretzels and bratwurst, but I'd go a little sweeter. A Liege-style waffle with maple syrup and shaved aged Gouda. Semi-sweet pickles with plenty of mustard seed. The Ayinger, and most Oktoberfest-style beers, are experts at palate clearing, but the malt character can handle some more intense savory flavors. The sweetness of the food complements the moderate bitterness of the beer." —Aaron Brussat (The Bierstein)

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"Looking for American interpretations of the Märzen style? I am a HUGE fan of Shiner Oktoberfest. This brewery out of Shiner, TX knows everything there is to know about brewing craft lagers. It's a great example of a traditional Märzen: very clean and crisp with big notes of caramel malt. Serve it with a big German sausage and some fresh sauerkraut. Want to go German? One of the most unique Märzen beers out there—and one of my favorites—is Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen from Bamberg, Germany. It's a cross between a traditional German Märzen (sweet malt and caramel flavors) and a smoked beer (from the addition of malts dried over open fire.) The smoke component adds a layer of complexity to complement the sweet malt character. Pair it with a juicy grilled dry-rubbed pork chop. The smoke character from the beer mirrors the char from the grilling and the saltiness of the pork balances the malt sweetness from the beer. " —Joe Falkowski (J.J. Taylor Distributing Co.)

"In Los Angeles we don't get the whole leaves-changing and getting-cooler experience when September rolls around, so Oktoberfest beer is maybe my favorite part of fall. Sipping on a crisp Märzenbier with its layered malt flavors and zippy noble hops can get me into an autumn mood, even if it's still 90 outside. This year, I've been particularly into Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest (part of fall's seasonal 12-pack). It's deep and rich, and features Sierra Nevada's signature skew towards the hoppy end of the spectrum. Oktoberfest beers are my secret pairing weapon come Thanksgiving. I always make sure to stash a six-pack of Oktoberfest beers for the feast—the rich malt flavors and zesty hops are a perfect accompaniment to a roasted bird with herbed dressing." —John Verive (Beer of Tomorrow)

"Grimm Brothers in Loveland, Colorado makes my current favorite American-made Oktoberfest, called Farmer's Daughter Oktoberfest. Brilliant orange with effervescent notes of toffee and toast, flavors of freshly baked biscuits and caramel, this brew is perfect alongside a platter of jalapeno cheddar biscuits and pork sausage gravy. The freshly baked biscuits mirror the biscuit-like flavors of the beer while the sweet malts enhance the sweetness of the pork sausage." —Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)

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"Traditional German lagers take a lot of talent and patience to produce and cannot hide flaws as well as ales can due to the delicate nature of the lagering process. One of my favorite American-made Oktoberfests on the market is one of the original seasonal brews from Sam Adams. Samuel Adams Octoberfest hits the nail on the head with their brew: the orange-copper color, the toffee aroma and flavor, and the perfect amount of Noble hops to balance. Serve it with fried chicken: the sweet malt from the beer contrasts the saltiness of the dish, and there's just enough alcohol to cut the fat." —Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Haiwaii)

"Ayinger takes the cake. The biscuit, honey, and nut characters shine beautifully just long enough for you to savor them but then it cleans up after every sip, getting you ready for the next. I would pair this beer with macaroni salad, a hot dog covered in sauerkraut, and a sunny afternoon tailgating. As far as American Oktoberfest beers go, I have to cheat and get after Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager. Not an Oktoberfest, technically, but its alcoholic strength, bright orange color and caramel driven maltiness make for a stunning beer in a related style. I would pair this beer a wood-grilled brick chicken, some chicken sausage, roasted carrots, parsnips, and a rich chicken fond sauce." —Brett Robison (Republic)

"As far as domestic examples go, Ninkasi has been producing excellent German style lagers over the past year and their Ninkasi Oktoberfest is no exception. The beer differentiates itself from its European counterparts with the addition of Sterling and Willamette hops. These two Northwest hops (derived from European noble hops) give this beer a unique Northwest twist." —Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)

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"Nothing signals the beginning of fall like a stein full of Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen. Its reddish amber color fits the season, and its toasty aroma and toffee sweetness are perfectly balanced by hop bitterness. It finishes clean, cleansing the palate between bites of the grilled meat you need at an Oktoberfest celebration. From the US, I'm enjoying Duck Rabbit Märzen this year. It's a well balanced Märzen that reminds me of Spaten's. Its restrained bitterness highlights the toasty malt flavors. With either beer, I love a juicy bratwurst and a Bavarian pretzel with spicy German mustard while an oompah band plays in the background." —Kendall Joseph (Beer Makes Three)

"Stoudt's in Adamstown, PA focuses heavily on German styles, and Stoudt's Oktober Fest is great. It's got restrained hop bitterness and the right amount of malt depth and sweetness for a beer that's complex, but not cloying. And if you're drinking an Oktoberfest, you had better be eating a grilled bratwurst with some authentic German potato salad." —Adam Sivits (13 Virtues Brewing)

"My favorite German and American Märzens couldn't be more different from one another. Samuel Adams bolsters my feelings that they brew great lagers with their Octoberfest. It's is a rich, caramelly sweet, and copper colored example. But this American version would be difficult to drink from the massive steins that hold Weihenstephaner Festbier in Bavaria. The oldest brewery in the world produces a Märzen that is a decidedly more modern take on the style. Drinkability seems to be sought after here. It is much drier than many American and even other German versions, with a more balanced profile and floral and herbal hop notes. It still exhibits some of the toasty bready notes of Munich malt, but in much more reserved amounts. While Sam Adams serves up an unabashedly malt-forward beer, Weihenstephaner employs a deft touch in its brew. Both beers work well with German festival staples like bratwurst and pretzels." —Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)

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"My favorite German example is the widely available Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, but Spaten, Paulaner, and Hacker-Pschorr all make good ones, too! For a solid US version, look for Gordon Biersch's Märzen or their FestBier. Gordon Biersch is a perpetually underrated German style brewer. Perfect for pairing with roast pork, which features similar caramel and toast flavors." —Chris Cohen (San Francisco Homebrewer's Guild)

"Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen would be my pick, it's an amazing German beer for the fall. Once you fill your mug with this beer, smells of caramel and toasted malts immediately fill the air. It's creamy and smooth with a slight sweetness that is balanced by the hops. When I'm feeling like something different for fall I look to Breckenridge Autumn Ale. While Bavarian Oktoberfest beers are lagers, Breckenridge's beer is an Old Ale. It's fuller in body with a slightly higher ABV and a longer finish. The deep mahogany color instantly makes you think of fall leaves on the trees. Small additions of chocolate malt and roasted barley achieve chocolate and nutty notes to marry with the caramel flavors. By utilizing German hops to balance the sweet malty flavors Breckenridge has created a unique Oktoberfest style. Prost!" —Melissa Long-Higgs (Nevada Beverage Company)