Societe's seasonal Fest Bier is being released in cans for the first time this year, with or without a take home stein.
Oktoberfest is canceled in 2020 — that is, the massive, more than two-week-long Munich beer drinking festival that’s taken place since 1810. The spirit of the event has survived the pandemic, however, and a number of local breweries are even hosting limited-capacity Oktoberfest events at their tasting rooms this week. And even more have been tapping their versions of classic fest beers. Check your local listings.
Fest beers tend to be amber to reddish brown in color, with low hop profile and a bread or biscuit malt flavor. The most common is the märzen lager. Märzen is German for March, which in 19th century Bavaria was the last month cool enough to brew with temperature-sensitive lager yeast. So a surplus of beer would be brewed in March; caramel malts ensured palatability as it continued to ferment through the summer in cool Alpine caves.
I don’t want to belabor the notion we’ve all likewise been kept on ice this March through September, but I would point out that, party or otherwise, we might all appreciate a celebratory beer to warm our spirits heading into this fall. And for those of us electing to spend this festival season drinking märzens at home, here are a few delicious examples being sold in cans by local breweries.
Societe Fest Bier
Putting a fest beer in cans for the first time this year is Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing. Best known for its west coast IPAs early in its lifespan, in the past couple years Societe has raised its lager game, so the debut of this one in cans is reason to raise a glass. You can get a four-pack shipped or delivered online. Or, pick some up in person for a $10 Societe stein and/or crowler fill.
Eppig Brewing quickly established itself as much on the strength of IPAs as its a dedicated lager program, and with the opening of a larger brewery in Vista last year, has started putting its seasonal Festbier on local shelves both in the spring and fall. The instant classic is easiest to find by having it shipped directly, but you can also opt for curbside pick up in Vista or Eppig’s Shelter Island beer garden. As with Societe, picking up a four-pack or crowler in person affords the opportunity to purchase a stein.
Now celebrating its 25th year as a top San Diego beer brand, AleSmith Brewing has given its popular annual märzen a six-pack release in spiffy blue and white cans inspired by the Bavarian flag. Thanks to a rare covid silver lining, it’s now easy to order this and other AleSmith brews online for curbside pickup, shipping or delivery. Best bet to get an AleSmith stein, though, is to get in to AleSmith’s socially spaced, outdoor Oktoberfest event ongoing from September 24-27.
Athletic Brewing Oktoberfest
It will seem counterintuitive to most drinking at home to buy nonalcoholic beer, but a booze-free fest beer is a legitimate option this year. That’s thanks to Athletic Brewing, a Connecticut-founded beer company that bought a former Ballast Point brewing facility in Miramar this March. Athletic doesn’t remove the alcohol from beer the way near-beer makers of the past have done. It uses proprietary methods to ferment the beer while yielding a mere 0.5-percent alcohol by volume.
Karl Strauss Oktoberfest
San Diego’s oldest brewery has been brewing its seasonal märzen for decades, and bottled six-packs may be picked up at its restaurant locations from North County to the original Karl Strauss brewpub downtown. Online ordering makes it easier, but keep your eye open for the “Steins to Go” option at the top of the menu: this gets you a one liter stein of the Oktoberfest beer, and a 32-ounce crowler to fill it with, for $20. That’s pricier than a six-pack, but worth it to drink märzen in the volume and vessel appropriate to the season.