In this Sept.21, 2019 file photo a guest holds glasses of beer during the opening of the 186th 'Oktoberfest' beer festival in Munich, Germany. Credit: BDN file photo

It’s officially fall, and with the season of cool nights and changing leaves comes the time to change up the lighter, fruitier summer beers you drink in favor of heartier autumnal brews. While pumpkin spice everything may be the flavor of the month for some, there’s far more to fall beers than dumping that specific flavor profile into a basic ale. That’s where marzens, festbiers, stouts and other more traditional seasonal beers come into the picture, and for Mainers, there are a wealth of them to try.

Where to start? Here’s your guide to the seasonal brews popping up around the state this time of year.

Marzen, Festbier, Oktoberfest — what’s the difference?

In short: there’s not that much fundamental difference between all those autumnal German or Austrian beers, whether you call them marzens, festbiers or Oktoberfest beers. They’re all basically slightly heavier, maltier, amber-colored lagers, with varying levels of maltiness and darkness.

Traditionally, marzens were lagers originally brewed in March (hence the name), had lots of malts added to them, and then were allowed to sit all spring and summer in a dark, cool cave. They were then tapped in September and were drunk throughout the fall, and in great quantities at the massive Bavarian celebration known as Oktoberfest, which starts in September and runs through early October, though this year it’s been canceled for the second year in a row due to the pandemic. Today, they’re brewed all over the world, though in Germany, they tend to be lighter, and in the U.S. they tend to be a bit darker.

Bissell Brothers taproom in Milo will serve its first-ever festbier this year. Credit: Courtesy of Bissell Brothers

So what should I drink in Maine?

There are lots of marzens or festbiers made by Maine breweries, ranging widely in taste and body. On the lighter side of amber, there are quaffables like Orono Brewing Company’s Festbier, Bangor Beer Company’s Therese and Rising Tide’s Oktoberfest, all of which come in slightly more golden colors, and should appeal to lovers of easy-drinking lagers.

On the slightly more robust side, you can try the lovely amber tones of Foundation Brewing’s Gretel, Bissell Brothers’ Festbier, Marsh Island Brewing’s Oktoberfest, Austin Street’s Oktoberfest, Banded Brewing’s Oktoberfest and Bunker Brewing’s Bunktoberfest. Each bears that distinct reddish-golden amber color, as well as the bready, malty, satisfying heft that pairs perfectly with turning leaves and bonfires. And each is a little different from the next.

But what if I don’t like that kind of beer?

Oktoberfest-type beers are not for everyone! Just as some don’t love huge, piney IPAs or those popular candy/fruit/pastry beers, the malty profile of these kinds of brews are a specific taste. But if you still want to enjoy the warming, roasty feeling that you get when drinking a beer on a crisp, cool fall evening, here are some alternatives.

For IPA lovers, Baxter Brewing’s relatively new Firestack combines the mouthfeel of an amber or red ale with the taste of an IPA. For a straightforward stout, Danny McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout, brewed by Lake St. George Brewing in Liberty, is an all-time Maine classic. And for sweeter, almost dessert-like stouts, Maine Beer Company’s Fall is a coffee stout that’s complex and flavorful, while Mast Landing’s Gunner’s Daughter is a peanut butter and chocolate milk stout that is far more delicious than it has any right to be.

And how can I get into the Oktoberfest spirit?

Breweries and other locations all over Maine have various types of Oktoberfest and fall beer celebrations planned, after they were almost all canceled for obvious reasons in 2020. In Gardiner, the town’s annual Swine & Stein Brewfest returns, with beer, food and music set for Saturday, Oct. 9. Also on Oct. 9, Saddleback Ski Resort in Rangeley hosts an Oktoberfest party with music from the Mallett Brothers Band. And on Oct. 18, Bissell Brothers Three Rivers in Milo will host an Oktoberfest celebration, complete with German food and music.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.