Kansas City Ale Trail rounds up the vast selection of Oktoberfest and German-inspired fall releases available from Kansas City area breweries, plus selections from Lawrence, St. Louis, and Chicago. Find your favorites to get into a festive fall spirit. 

Märzen versus Vienna Lager versus Festbier

Not all seasonal “fest” beer brewed and served during Oktoberfest is the same. What’s the difference between a Märzen, a Vienna lager, and other German-inspired styles? They all taste delicious as the season shifts from summer to fall, but these styles are indeed different. Here’s a brief guide on beer styles you’ll spot during Oktoberfest on tap and in cans and bottles at retailers.

Märzen originated in the Bavarian region of Munich, Germany. The lager is named after the month of March when it was traditionally brewed. Märzen was then aged (lagered) through summer and released for Oktoberfest. A higher ABV and liberal use of hops helped to preserve the beer until its release. In the beginning, Märzen was amber-colored to dark brown, strong, and medium- to full-bodied. Expect rich maltiness balanced by crisp hop bitterness, and aromatic notes of bread, crackers, and toasted malt. Traditional Märzen later was mostly forsaken by breweries for modern Festbier (see below).

Oktoberfestbier formally refers to a beer brewed by one of the six big Munich breweries allowed to serve that beer on the grounds of the Oktoberfest. In other words, American craft breweries serve German styles of beer during Oktoberfest, but they are not officially an Oktoberfestbier.

Festbier, a strong golden lager, appeared in the late 20th century as a version of Märzen with lighter ABV (around 6%) and light golden to light amber color. Results vary depending on the American craft brewer’s interpretation. Some craft breweries produce the darker, maltier, German-style Märzen, others lean toward brewing easy-drinking Festbier. Look for malty character, a spicy/floral hoppiness, full body, and dry finish.

Vienna Lager is a Märzen-style beer that originated in Vienna, Austria, instead of Munich, Germany. Use of lighter Vienna malt results in a lighter color, less maltiness, a touch more hoppiness, and lower ABV (4.5-5.5%) compared to Märzen.

Craftbeering offers more extensive detail on these styles. Or debate the differences with friends at a taproom while drinking fall beers for Oktoberfest.

Keep in mind that American craft brewers are applying their own preferences and interpretations to these styles. Check out the roundup below to see how they compare.

Kansas City Bier Company – Waldo, Kansas City

Light amber in color. Fine, frothy head. Aromas of cracker and malt. Flavors of biscuit, honey malt, and bread with an initial caramel sweetness followed by moderately spicy hoppiness. Dry finish. Medium-bodied. (%5.5 ABV, 25 IBU)

Bob’s 47 Oktoberfest
Boulevard Brewing Company – Kansas City

Named in honor of Bob Werkowitch, Master Brewer and graduate of the U.S. Brewer’s Academy, 1947. Boulevard’s classic fall seasonal is dark amber color. Malty sweetness with spicy bite of hops that linger on the finish. Heavy mouthfeel. Medium-bodied but feels filling and satisfying like a multigrain bread made from scratch.  (5.8% ABV, 27 IBU) boulevard.com

Free State Brewing Company – Lawrence, Kansas

Free State’s Octoberfest is its most popular seasonal for good reason. Smooth, light, and easy-drinking. Medium amber to light orange hue. Extremely well-balanced, this lager doesn’t overwhelm the palate after just one serving. Subtle maltiness, not too sweet. Hops do their job to add backbone and the slightest hint of bitterness on finish. (5.4% ABV, 25 IBU) freestatebrewing.com

Alma Mader Meadow
Alma Mader Brewing – Westside, Kansas City

This Festbier more closely resembles a Vienna lager than a Märzen. Pours with a fine-bubbled frothy head and light golden hue. Lively effervesence. Alma Mader describes the lager as having a “bready malt character with a hint of almond that is layered above a floral foundation from Tettnanger and a blend of Hallertau hops.” Dry finish, crisp with gently lingering hops on the palate. Super crushable. (5.5% ABV, 25 IBU) almamaderbrewing.com

Stockyards Brewing Company – West Bottoms, Kansas City

A Vienna lager-style Oktoberfest made with German Bavarian Pilsner, Munich and Crystal malts. Brewer Micah Weichert used German Perle and Northern Brewer hops to balance out this slightly sweet, malty beer with notes of fresh-baked bread. Head to the West Bottoms to enjoy this beer on tap. Medium amber, medium body. (5.6% ABV, 26 IBU) stockyardsbrewing.com 

Martin City Brewing Company – Kansas City

Deep amber. Malty and sweet, perfect to drink with a warm pretzel. Low hop character. Medium body. Light dry finish. Solid. Martin City describes this fall seasonal as having “subtle toffee and fruit sweetness.” Sip and see for yourself. (5.8% ABV, 23 IBU) martincitybrewingcompany.com

Fest Bier
4 Hands Brewing Company – St. Louis, Missouri

4 Hands offers its spin on a traditional Marzenbier with a golden to light amber color, fine bubbles on the head, and gentle effervesence that makes for a satifying lager. Smooth drinking, medium body. Flavors of toasted malt with a pleasing sweet biscuit note. A hint of spice from German hops provides balance en route to a crisp, dry finish that leaves you wanting another sip. (5.8% ABV) 4handsbrewery.com

Maplewood Brewery and Distilling – Chicago, Illinois

Billed as a golden Oktoberfest lager. Deep gold color with a kiss of amber. Much bolder flavor than other fest beers here. It’s like drinking an appetizer of bread before the main dinner course arrives. Medium body. Caramel, bready malt flexes its muscle for robust flavor that glides to a crisp finish. Prominent hops but not overpowering. (6% ABV) maplewoodbrew.com

More German-style and Oktoberfest-Inspired Beers to try

Brewery Emperial
Crossroads, Kansas City

Get festive in the Crossroads Arts District at Brewery Emperial. German-style beers on tap include gose with orange peel, Oktoberfest, pilsener, and maibock. breweryemperial.com/on-tap-now

Diametric Brewing Company – Lee’s Summit  

Diametric Brewing releases two beers on October 1, 2021 – A Fest in October and Pump-Cadian, a Kolsch-style golden ale with pumpkin. Burn Theory Fire Kitchen will serve German-style wurst, sauerkraut, pretzels, and other treats. Free admission. 

Pathlight Brewing Company – Shawnee, Kansas

Pathlight Brewing releases several modern German-style beers – Therese Hefeweizen, Rose of St. Olaf Belgian Style Wild Ale with Raspberries and Cherries, and Ludwig, a Festbier on the slow pour tap that builds a large frothy head. Kravin’ It KC serves a German-themed menu on Friday and housemade Bavarian pretzels on Saturday. Feast on Wiener Wagon artisan sausages on Saturday as well. Free admission.

Oktoberfest Märzen
Rockcreek Brewing Company – Mission, Kansas

Rockcreek has its version of an Oktoberfest on tap that has a “warm amber color with notes of toffee and toast.”

Double Shift Brewing Burning Spire Marzen
oKCtoberfest German-Style Märzen Lager
Apex Aleworks – Independence, Missouri

Apex brewed a German-style Märzen with a “deep amber color and rich malty sweetness.”

Oktoberfest Märzen
City Barrel Brewing Company – Crossroads, Kansas City

This Crossroads brewery also has a Märzen on tap and four-packs to go. 6% ABV.

Burning Spire Märzen-style lager
Double Shift Brewing Company – Crossroads, Kansas City

Released today, Double Shift offers a “lager brewed with a Munich malt base and German hops.” 5.8% ABV. 

Pete DulinPete Dulin is the founder and editor of kcaletrail.com. His most recent book is Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries Across Central Kansas and Missouri. Pete’s other books include Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland (The History Press, American Palate series), KC Ale Trail (out of print), and Last Bite: 100 Simple Recipes from Kansas City’s Best Chefs and Cooks.