It’s time for Oktoberfest, the time for drinking Oktoberfest bier.

The traditional beer served at Oktoberfest is Marzen, which can be spelled Maerzen, which actually means “March beer.”

So, you might wonder, why is March beer served at beer bashes in October? It goes back to a 16th-century Bavarian beer purity law, which says the only ingredients allowed in beer are water, barley-malt, hops and, added later, yeast.

An adjunct to the law says beer can be brewed only between Sept. 29 and April 23. I have read a couple of reasons for this ban. One is that bottom-fermenting, or lager, yeast, used in most Czech and German beers, requires cooler temperatures than top-fermenting, or ale, yeast, which is more popular in Britain.

Other reports are that fire danger increased in summer, so they didn’t want people starting fires to brew their beer then.

Just because they couldn’t brew in warm weather didn’t mean the Germans weren’t going to drink beer in warm weather, so in March they brewed beer that had more malt in the original mix, and thus more potential alcohol, and/or more hops so the beer would last longer. They then put the Marzen in caves, keeping it cool with ice cut from local lakes.

Once the Germans could start brewing again on Sept. 29, they knew they would be getting some new beer in about a month. And because they wanted to finish up any beer that was left in the caves, that meant party time.

In honor of this being the day after brewing resumed in Bavaria, I decided to review some beers that claim to be or hint at being Oktoberfest bier.

It was more difficult to find local Marzen-style beers than I thought it would be. There are lots of fall beers, some of which I have written about previously, from Sebago, Geary’s and Gritty’s, but they are ales and don’t qualify.

So shopping around locally, I found Tremont Mr. Oktoberfest brewed by Shipyard in Portland, Leinenkugel Oktoberfest brewed in Wisconsin, Magic Hat Hex brewed in Vermont and Samuel Adams Octoberfest based in Boston.

Now, an Oktoberfest should be a lager, have a fairly high hops, be a bit sweeter than most beers and possibly, but not always, have a higher alcohol content than many.

Joining me in an informal tasting — it was a family dinner with all four grandchildren needing various amounts of attention — were Nancy, my wife; son Zachary; daughter-in-law Marah and son-in-law Christian.

We put the Leinenkugel out of the running almost immediately. It was much lighter than the other three and tasted more like a traditional American lager than an Oktoberfest. Nancy, Marah and I liked it, the other two less so, but we all agreed it didn’t taste right for its name.

Christian and I liked Magic Hat’s Hex when we had it about a month ago, but it was too dry to be a Marzen.

When we got down to the favorites, Zachary and Christian like the Samuel Adams best, I liked the Tremont, and Nancy and Marah got busy doing things and didn’t vote. But none of them tasted ideal.

So when I got back from a fishing trip, I went to RSVP on Forest Avenue and bought an Ayinger Oktoberfest, a true import from Bavaria costing about $4 for a half-liter bottle. It was malty and sweet, with a good flavor of hops, and was fairly crisp. I like this one a lot.

And since I write the column, even though I was the only one to taste it, I declare it the winner.

Sometimes, you have to go back to the source.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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