How to Brew Your Own Munich Helles for Oktoberfest

Peter Reed

Oktoberfest is just around the corner. Polka music, lederhosen, and...What is it? Oh, yes. Beer! Oktoberfest is Munich's annual beer-drenched celebration—it actually takes place mostly in September, not October. (This year's party lasts from September 17th to October 3rd.) I have an annual Oktoberfest tradition of forgetting that it's coming until it's too late. This year is no different. Nevertheless, I've just brewed my Oktoberfest beer, which will be ready just in time for my own private Oktoberfest remembrance party in mid-October.

The most popular style of beer to drink at the party is the Munich Helles. Lucky for me, it's one of my favorite styles to drink.

Last week Joe Postma talked about American IPA, a great showcase for hops. This week I'm going the other direction. Munich Helles is a great showcase for malt. So put on your all-grain traveling hat, 'cause we're going to Munich for the Oktoberfest (afterparty).


Get to Know Munich Helles

Whenever I'm designing a new recipe, I do a bunch of reading and some tasting. First, I look at the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) style guideline for a complete description of the style and recommended commercial examples to try. Then I go to my homebrew library and look for chapters on the style. Another good source free information is The Jamil Show podcast on The Brewing Network.

Munich Helles is a light lager, Style 1D on the 2008 BJCP guideline. Everything about this beer is a showcase of Pilsner malt. The aroma is slightly bready and clean. Malt should dominate with a background of noble hops spiciness. The flavor, again, is of Pilsner malt, low noble hops bitterness and flavor, and a lager-clean malty finish. Mouthfeel is smooth with medium body and medium carbonation. It should be relatively dry and well-attenuated. The beer should have a pale golden color and a creamy white head. Overall, you're aiming for a clean, bread-malty, Pilsner-flavored beer with enough noble hops bitterness and flavor to balance the malt.

This beer is often consumed by the liter, so the alcohol level is sessionable (but still high enough to have you singing and dancing the polka on the beer hall table).

OG: 1.045 - 1.051 FG: 1.008 - 1.012 ABV: 4.7 - 5.4% IBU: 16 - 22 SRM: 3 - 5

Some commercial examples include Weihenstephaner Original, Paulaner Premium Lager, Bürgerbräu Wolznacher Hell Naturtrüb, and Spaten Premium Lager.

The main challenge in executing this style well is temperature control. To get that classic clean flavor, you need steady cool fermentation temperatures, starting at about 45°F. And because this beer is malt-forward, all-grain brewing with high quality German Pilsner malt will produce the best results, but you can do a mixture of extract and grain.