Know Thy Beer – Oktoberfest

As the Great American Beer Festival approaches (7 days!), I’ll be highlighting some of the beer styles you are likely to encounter and what makes them unique.  Today we’ll be covering Oktoberfest-style beers (separated into two sub-categories).

This is what the Brewers Association says about the two variations of Barley Wine-Style Ale in their Competition Style List:

Dortmunder/European-Style Export Dortmunder

Dortmunder/European-Style Export Dortmunder has medium hop bitterness.  Hop flavor and aroma from noble hops are perceptible but low.  Sweet malt flavor can be low and should not be caramel-like.  The color of this style is straw to deep golden.  The body will be medium bodied.  Fruity esters, chill haze, and diacetyl should not be perceived.


  • Dortmunder Gold – Great Lakes Brewing Co, Cleveland, OH
  • Dominion Lager – Old Dominion Brewing Co, Dover, DE
  • Jinx Proof – Three Floyds Brewing Co, Munster, IN
  • Shiner Fröst – Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner, TX

German-Style Oktoberfest/Wiesen

Today’s Oktoberfest beers are characterized by a medium body and light, golden color.  Sweet maltiness is mild with an equalizing balance of clean, hop bitterness.  Hop aroma and flavor should be low but notable.  Alelike fruity esters should not be perceived.  Diacetyl and chill haze should not be perceived.  Similar or equal to Dortmunder/European-Style Export.


  • The Kaiser – Avery Brewing Co, Boulder, CO
  • Left Hand Oktoberfest – Left Hand Brewing Co, Longmont, CO
  • Festbier – Victory Brewing Co, Downington, PA
  • Sam Adams Octoberfest – Boston Beer Co, Boston, MA

In case you were confused by the BA’s descriptions or if you just plain didn’t feel like reading it, here’s my version.  I don’t think I need to tell you that Oktoberfest has it’s history in Germany, specifically Bavaria.  Due to a brewing ordinance set in place in 1539, Bavarian beer was only allowed to be brewed between September 29th and April 23rd in order to limit the risk of fire during dry summer months.  During the summer, these lagers were stored in cellars until late summer, when they were served at the Oktoberfest.  Oktoberfest-style beers are often referred to as a Märzen lager (Märzen = March).

Dortmunders are a different beast entirely (and often lumped in with Helles lagers).  They originated in Dortmunder (huzzah!) in 1873, created by Dortmunder Union.  This style of lager was essentially derived from the pilsner, which was created in nearby Pilsen.  Today, these styles are distinct enough to be categorized and judged separately.  Dortmunders are golden in color with balanced malt flavors and mild hop profiles.

Here are last year’s winners (both subcategories are combined):

  1. Summerbrau – Utah Brewers Cooperative, Salt Lake City, UT
  2. Noble Stuff Export – Dry Dock Brewing Co, Aurora, CO
  3. Rolling Thunder Dortmunder – Snake River Brewing, Jackson, WY

Interested in some Oktoberfest happenings around Denver?  Check out this article by Bess Dougherty.

About Sean Buchan

Sean is a Physical Therapist and Photographer living in (and loving) Denver, Colorado. He enjoys shooting just about anything but his true passion is capturing the craft beer culture here in Denver. If you enjoy his photographs check out Beertographer.