A Brief History of Oktoberfest Beer

OktoberfestGirls_2015_C_normalWhen we think of the beer consumed at the Munich Oktoberfest, many brewers picture the classic Oktoberfest/Marzen style: a hearty, dark, and malty brew with great head retention and a warming alcohol bite. While this may have been the case over fifty years ago, today’s Oktoberfest beer is quite different. The beer that the masses are drinking at today’s festival is more akin to a Munich helles than to a marzen. It tends to be a light body beer that, while still malt focused, is usually much lower in alcohol. The added digestibility and drink-ability of this modern lager makes it more of a “sessionable” beer, but it is far different than the traditional beer of the fest.

While many of us romanticize Oktoberfest as a beer focused holiday, the truth is rather more… sober. The original festival started as a celebration of the marriage between Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. The event was celebrated with a fair and horse racing, but beer did not play a central role. Of course, there were venders around the outskirts of the fair selling some brew but it was definitely not the focus of the event. As the years went by, the festival became more beer centered and in 1896 the first beer tents were raised. This growth in beer’s presence at the festivities was no doubt a byproduct of the festival falling around the beginning of the brewing season.

Lager caveBefore the age of refrigeration, brewing was governed by the seasons. The fall and winter were the brewing seasons since the temperatures were ideal for brewers yeast (both ale and lager species). Towards the end of the brewing season, usually March in Germany, a final strong beer was brewed to last until the beginning of the next brewing year. This March beer, or Marzen, was then stored in barrels (often in dark and cold lagering caves) and consumed through spring and summer. Once fall rolled around, the brewers once again fired up their brew kettles and needed the storage barrels for fermenting the new year’s beer. The barrels were then quickly emptied is a semi-debaucherous set of festivities. The Oktoberfest festival provided an excellent avenue for draining the last of these Marzen barrels.

The Oktoberfest beer I brewed this year falls into the Marzen category, making it more of a traditional Oktoberfest rather than a more modern example. I chose to keep the recipe simple, with a grist of 2 high quality German malts and two additions of one classic noble hop. I wanted the beer to have enough bitterness to be assertive but not so much that took away from the high quality malts. In turn, I wanted there to be a whiff of hops, but it should be subtle and almost undetectable.

Recipe: Oktoberfest

This beer is very malt focused with a hint of hops to balance out the residual sweetness. Although this is not a complex beer it is both very rich and very filling. It matches fall weather with its dark color and warming alcohol. As would be expected, it pairs very well with smoked brats.

OG: 1.058 —- FG: 1.0?? —- ABV: ?.?%


  • 6 lb Avangard Pilsner Malt
  • 6 lb Dark Munich Malt
  • 1.5 oz Hallertau – 60 min
  • .5 oz Hallertau – 15 Min

Yeast: Wyeast 2633 (Oktoberfest Lager)

Mashed at 150 for 60 minutes with a single decoction mash to achieve mash out temperatures. Boiled for 90 minutes. Fermented at 55 F for 2 weeks with a diacetyl rest for the last 2 days. Lagered at 45 degrees for 1 month. Kegged and forced carbonated.


2015 Cider Extraviganza

As I pulled up to the farmer’s market, the rain began to fall on my windshield. The patter of rain combined with the rich smell of coffee from my thermos created a soothing environment; one which I was not willing to give up for the frigid rain and biting wind that waited for me outside of my vehicle. It was one of the first truly cold days of fall and with my winter clothes still in storage, I was poorly equipped for the weather in my cargo shorts and a t-shirt. With a grunt, and a final sip of my coffee, I got out of the car to make my cider purchase.

Mood's FarmMood’s Farm is located in South NJ, located far enough away from the major commerce areas to be considered rural, but not so far away that it’s a challenge to get to. The farm market where they sell their produce is a bit run down, but it’s age certainly gives the building character. If you are in the area, I certainly recommend checking out this local hub.

Among the home brew community, Mood’s is known  for one thing in particular… Cider. After pressing, they run their juice under a UV light, thus “cold pasteurizing” their cider. It allows for a preservation of taste but more importantly, it allows for fermentation without the interference of chemical preservatives. The juice that they create is primarily sweet, but it does have enough tannin and acidity to make it worth fermenting and acceptable as a hard cider without the need for chemical adjustments (although adding acidity brings this cider to a whole new level).

Cider from MoodsThis year I made a grand purchase of 20 gallons of Cider. 6 Gallons of that cider went to a class I taught at Keg and Barrel Home Brew Supplies, the remaining 14 gallons was mine to play with. I divided the cider up into 4 different projects: One Apple Wine, Once Hard Cider, and Two Apple Meads (Cysers). I’ve compiled my list of fermentations from this years cider, I will be updating them as the year goes on and the ciders reach completion.

The Cider Projects:

Mood’s Farm Cider (2015)

This is one of the 4 fermentations that came from this years haul from moods farm. My goal was to ferment one large batch of cider and then split it off to try different techniques. 3 gallons will go into a keg along with metabisulfite and sorbate. I will then back sweeten it with wine conditioner and possibly add some acid blend. Then, I plan to force carbonate and bottle. Another gallon will be bottled dry and a final gallon will be aged on bourbon soaked oak then bottled.

  • 5 Gallons Moods Farm Cider
  • 2 1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
  • 5 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • 5 Campden Tablets
  • Yeast: Wyeast 4766 Cider

Process: After sanitizing all equipment, I poured the cider into the fermenting conical. I then added my Pectic enzyme, Yeast Nutrient, and Campden Tablets. I then left the mixture covered with a paper towel and rubber bands. The next day I pitched they Cider yeast. Within a day the fermentation began. After 2 weeks the cider was fermented to complete dryness. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Mood’s Farm Applewine (2015)

This is one of the four fermentations that came from this years haul of cider from moods farm. My goal was to create a dry to off-dry wine that was high in fruity character. As I normally do with fruit wines, I threw in pectic enzyme to create a clear wine later down the road. I may bottle three gallons dry, back sweeten one gallon, and age one on bourbon soaked oak.

  • 5 Gallons Moods Farm Cider
  • 5 Lb Corn Sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
  • 5 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • 5 Campden Tablets
  • 6 1/2 tsp Wine Acid Blend
  • Yeast: Red Star Cote des Blanc (3 Packs)

Process: After sanitizing all equipment, I poured the cider and corn sugar into the fermenting carboy and mixed thoroughly. I then added my Pectic enzyme, Yeast Nutrient, and Campden Tablets. I then took an acid reading, finding that my acid level was between 0.3 to 0.4 titratable acid. In order to bring it up to roughly 0.6 titratable acid I added 6 1/2 tsp of acid blend to the mix. I then left the mixture covered with a paper towel and rubber bands. The next day I pitched 3 packs of Cote des Blanc yeast. I found that the wine started fermenting within an hour. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Mood’s Farm Butterbean Cyser (2015)

This is one of the four fermentations that came from this years haul from moods farm. I wanted to create a sack mead with a fair amount of residual sweetness. To accomplish this I chose a wine yeast with a low alcohol tolerance. In order to create a mead that I can drink in a few months, I chose to do staggered nutrient additions. I chose to use Butterbean since it is one of my favorite meads, and I was curious what it’s soft and mellow character would do for the cyser.

  • 1 Gallon of Mood’s Farm Cider
  • 3 Lb Butterbean Honey from Harvey’s Honey
  • 1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
  • Nutrients: 1 g Fermaid K & 0.5 g DAP in 4 increments
  • 1 Campden Tablet
  • Yeast: Cote des Blanc (2 Packs)

Process: After sanitizing all equipment, I poured the cider into the fermenting carboy. I then heated my honey in hot water to allow it to become less viscous. I then mixed thoroughly and added my Pectic Enzyme / Campden Tablets. I then left the mixture covered with a paper towel and rubber bands. The next day I pitched 2 packets of yeast hydrated with Go-Ferm. I then added the first round of nutrients, but made a bit of a mistake and substituted Yeast Energizer for the Fermaid K. I continued this process of adding nutrients and degassing. After 2 weeks I racked from the brewing bucket into the secondary fermenter. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Mood’s Farm Wildflower Cyser (2015)

This is one of the 4 fermentations that came from this years haul of cider from moods farm. My goal was to create a dry mead and possibly back sweeten one gallon, spice or oak one gallon, and keep one gallon dry as a control. By trying different methods I can create 3 different meads from a single batch and experiment with techniques to see which one I like best for future batches.

  • 3 Gallons Moods Farm Cider
  • 5 Lb Wild Flower Honey from Harvey’s Honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
  • Nutrients: 4.5 g Fermaid K & 2 g DAP in 4 increments
  • 3 Campden Tablets
  • Yeast: Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead & EC-1118 (3 Packs)

Process: After sanitizing all equipment, I poured the cider into the fermenting carboy. I then heated my honey in hot water to allow it to become less viscous. I then mixed thoroughly and added my Pectic Enzyme / Campden Tablets. I then left the mixture covered with a paper towel and rubber bands. The next day I pitched a packet of wyeast sweet mead yeast. Unfortunately after 24 hours, I saw no activity. I then pitched 3 packs of EC-1118 that I hydrated with Go-Ferm. Every other day I either added nutrients or degassed by swirling the carboy. After 2 weeks I racked into a 3 gallon carboy and did some degassing using a vacuum pump. When trying the cider, it tasted very pleasant with a hint of honey although it was a bit boozy. (TO BE CONTINUED)


Hefeweizen has become a very popular style among craft beer drinkers. Many breweries have at least a seasonal hefeweizen available on draft or in the bottle. However, there is a is a darker, more sinister, cousin of hefeweizen that many people have never even heard of… the dunkelweizen.

Lets break Dunkelweizen down. Dunkel is German for dark and Weizen is German for wheat. Put them together and you get a Dark Wheat Beer. One key component to brewing a dunkelweiss is producing a beer that has a dark color combined with rich malty flavor. We can accomplish this through a number of methods, but I recommend utilizing a bend of various high lovibond malts. This will not only give a darker color, but will also create an interesting malt profile. Next we have to think about the weizen component to this beer. I personally prefer a near 50:50 ratio of wheat malt to barley malt but this is again about personal preference. One thing to remember is that the more wheat you have, the more challenging your sparge will be. Although it may be overkill, I like to use 1 pound of rice hulls in my wheat beers. I can say that when I use high amounts of rice hulls, I never get a stuck sparge.

This brew makes an excellent beer for the fall. It has the excellent banana and clove aromas that hefeweizen is redound for, but it has a more rich malty note that makes it perfect for colder weather. This is an excellent transition between the light beers of summer to the dark beers of winter.

Recipe: Dunkelweizen

This is a highly malty, rich beer with a beautiful hint of chocolate. It balances the banana and spice of a German wheat with the complex malt and dark sugar notes of a dark Belgian ale.This particular version is heavy in the darker malts, giving a plum and raisin flavor.

DunkelweissOG: 1.051 —- FG: 1.0** —- ABV: *.*%

Recipe: 5 Gallons

  • 5 Lb Red Wheat Malt
  • 4 Lb German Pilsner Malt
  • 1 Lb Dark Munich
  • 4 oz Carafa I
  • 4 oz Special B
  • 4 oz Crystal 90
  • 1 Lb Rice Hulls
  • 0.75 oz Hallertau (4.5% aa) at 90 min

Yeast: Mangrove Jack Wheat

Fermented at Room Temperature for 12 days, Kegged and Forced Carbonated

Quick Brews and Fast Ferments

There are many times when you just say…. “F$*K It”, I just don’t feel like brewing today… but I really need a new beer on draft.  At other times you think… “Oh S&*T” I promised a keg of beer for the party next week. We have all been there, but there is no need to let the trifling matters of laziness and lack of time stop the production of delicious beer. There are a number of ways that you can make a great beer without a lot of work or time. The key is being clever, and determining the strategic short cuts you can take in the brewing and fermenting process.

Fifteen Minute Brews

I first came across the idea of a 15 minute homebrew while watching basic brewing radio. The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. Since malt extract has been pre-boiled, it is not necessary to do a full boil. Considering this fact, a 60 minute extract boil more or less superfluous for most beers. The big limiting factor in the fifteen minute boil is the hop utilization. The long and the sort is that your bitterness extraction will decrease with more sugar in your wort. On top of this, with a 15 minute boil, you will get significantly less alpha acid utilization than you would during a 60 minute boil. There are a number of ways to compensate for this, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The first is to do a full boil at around 5.25 gallon starting volume. With the full boil, you will extract more bitterness from your hops but you will will have to spend more time in your brew day heating up and cooling down the wort. The alternative is simply adding more hops or higher alpha hops to boost your alpha acids. The down side to this method is the increased amount of money you will have to spend on hops. In my opinion the best option is a combination of the two methods. A 4 gallon boil is a very good middle ground between increased utilization and decreased overall cost of hops.

One Week Turn Around

I think we have all experienced times when we want to have a beer on hand but are faced with very limited amounts of time to make it. Its during these occasions that fast fermenting beers are our best bet. Generally speaking, fast fermenting beers are low alcohol beers. The less sugar there is for the yeast to ferment, the faster they will finish their project. Additionally, low sugar and low alcohol environments put significantly less stress on yeast, allowing them to ferment even more efficiently. When your looking for a beer with a quick turn around, look for something with a starting gravity of around 1.040 or less. Many styles can be brewed at either a low or high starting gravity, so there is quite a bit of room for low alcohol beers in several categories. Some examples of fast fermenting beers are: Ordinary Bitter, Mild, Scottish Light, Irish Stout, Cream Ale, Blonde Ale, Gratzer, and Trappist Single. On top of this, you could always make a “session” version of any beer style, your creativity is the only limiting factor.

Not only is it important to pick an appropriate style of beer, its necessary to treat the beer properly. There are a number of ways that you can ensure a healthy and fast fermentation. The first is ensuring that your beer has ample nutrients. You can do this by adding… you guessed it, yeast nutrient. Pick your preferred nutrients and add them as per the instructions. The next step is proper oxygenation. Yeast need oxygen in order to stay healthy, so don’t skimp when adding your O2. With the wort nutrient dense and full of oxygen, its time to pitch the yeast. Going with more yeast will give you a more rapid fermentation, but there is a limit. Don’t go over 4 packets of yeast, as this could take away from the overall flavor of the yeast. Finally, there is the question of temperature. Generally in chemistry it is understood that the higher the temperature, the faster the reaction (I know chemists, this is a gross simplification, get over it). This same idea works in brewing, and higher temperatures lead to faster fermentation. Unfortunately we need to deal with the nasty byproduct of off flavors. As tempting as it is to ratchet up the temperature to 90 degrees and let it rip, this would most likely make a highly undrinkable beer (but… what about a session saison…. think about it). I would recommend looking on your yeast’s web page and find out what the highest temperature your yeast can handle and use that a starting point.

Recipe: Quick Second English Bitter

This beer is a great recipe to brew if your in a rush and need a fast fermenter. The key to this brew is the low alcohol and punch of hop flavor. It makes a very easy drinking bitter, with delicate hop notes and a solid bite of bitterness. This recipe is based on Michael Dawson’s Boat Bitter. It’s best enjoyed with good company and simple food. 

English BitterOG: 1.041 – FG: 1.008 – 4.3% ABV

Recipe: 4.5 Gallons (Originally Designed for 5 gallons)

  • 7 Lb Marris Otter
  • 1 oz East Kent Golding (15 min)
  • 0.5 oz UK Brambling Cross (10 min)
  • 0.5 oz UK Brambling Cross (5 min)
Yeast: Mangrove Jack Burton Union