Oktoberfest kicks off with the best of Bavarian brews

It's that time on the beer calendar when tradition comes to the fore, and innovation and experimentation take a back seat.

It's Oktoberfest, and you're unlikely to find any chilli-infused or barrel-aged sour beers at your local Bavarian Bier Cafe or German club.

"Craft beer is super exciting, I'm really pleased that it's taken hold in the way that it has, it's just inspired people to get out and try beer, which is awesome," says the so-called 'bier professor' Dominic Dighton of the Urban Purveyor Group.

"But in my opinion at least, so much of what's coming out in the craft beer sector tends to be overly hopped and spicy ale styles, and I find those styles quite polarising."

Traditional brews

Dighton, who oversees beer at 10 Bavarian Bier Cafes, together with Munich Brauhaus in Melbourne and Lowenbrau Keller in Sydney, says the brews on offer at his venues are unapologetically traditional.

"Our beers are quite different in that we're Munich-centric, they're very much malt accentuated, so they tend to be grainier and sweeter," he says.

"They're styles that are far more approachable and generally I think it's fair to say they're more crowd-pleasing styles."

While the recent craft beer movement was founded on a desire to be different from the mainstream, Dighton says Germany's brewers are "driven by history and the pride that comes with that".

"There's not a lot of experimentation, at least on a commercial scale, with radically different styles such as we would see here and perhaps in the US," he says. "They do what they do well and they've got a long history of doing it that way."


How it all began

Tradition is also at the core of the Marzen (March) or Oktoberfest beers brewed specially for the festival by the six Munich breweries.

Marzen beers would have been the only beers available in Munich in October 1810, when the royal wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese inspired the first Oktoberfest celebrations that lived on as an annual event.

They were brewed in March with a higher alcohol content to enable them to withstand the northern summer, when brewing a quality product was problematic and posed fire risks.

Brewing advancements now ensure that quality beers can be made year-round, but the practice lives on of creating robust and rich Marzen beers to be released well-aged in time for Oktoberfest.

Dighton says today's Marzen beers are similar in style to the regular Munich lagers in that they are malt accentuated, however they are higher in alcohol - albeit not outrageously potent by modern brewing standards - at between 5.8 and 6.3 per cent ABV.

"Given that higher alcohol content, they have a slightly more viscous mouth-feel, so they're a little bit richer in palate structure," he says.

"Certainly the accent is still very much on the grain, so there's a lovely malt toffee character to them, with a herbal and subtly spicy hop finish. The bitterness is there but it's quite restrained."

Visitors to Urban Purveyor Group venues during Oktoberfest can try all five of the limited edition Oktoberfest biers available in Australia - if they're quick.

Dighton warns the beers from Munich breweries Lowenbrau, Spaten, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr are strictly limited and will be released gradually over the six-week festival, which begins with keg tapping ceremonies on Friday, September 18.