Spaten Oktoberfest

Review Date 9/17/2002  Last Updated 10/17/2019   By John Staradumsky

Rejoice, beer lovers! Spaten Oktoberfest is once again available in your local beer store. Yes, its that time of year again, time to enjoy sweet and malty Marzen beers while you munch bratwurst and listen to Oom-pah-pah music. What’s that you say? It’s only September? I’ll have you know that Oktoberfest in Germany begins the last week of September and runs into early October. So there!

Were you to travel to Munich for the original Oktoberfest, one of the breweries you would find best represented would in fact be Spaten. Spaten is one of the original Munich breweries, along with Lowenbrau (now part of Spaten), Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr (now part of Paulaner), Augustiner, and the Hofbrau Haus allowed to have tents at Oktoberfest. In fact, they are the only breweries in Germany who can legally call a beer “Oktoberfest”.

Spaten has a long tradition of brewing in Germany; its roots date all the way back to 1397. Anheuser-Busch, by contrast, has only been around since 1876. The brewery derives its name from the Spatt family, owners from 1622 to 1704. If you’re wondering where the shovel in the Spaten logo comes from, “Spatt” is German for shovel.

Spaten operates four beer tents at Oktoberfest. They are:

This is where Munich’s mayor taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. Seats 10,000.

You may have been to a pig roast, but how about a cow roast? They cook hundreds here, whole on a spit. Seats 7500.

No, they don’t roast hippos here. A smaller tent with more upscale cuisine. Same great beer though. Seats 4000.

Glöckle Wirt
The inside favorite, smallest and most gourmet.

Of course, you’ll be able to find plenty of Spaten Fest beer pouring, but these days what you’ll get in your one-liter mass (drinking vessel) is more likely to be a light, malty helles than an amber nutty marzen. The Marzen style has been long associated with Oktoberfest beer both in Germany and abroad, though it does not date to the very first Oktoberfest back on October 17, 1810. That’s when Bavaria’s Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen on what came to be known the “theresienwiese”.. This inspired the event we now know as Oktoberfest, which has been held every year since 1819.

Marzen became all the rage in the 1840s, when mechanical refrigeration equipment was not yet available. The only way to serve lager beer during the hot summer months was to brew up large quantities at the end of spring (usually March) and store it in cool subterranean caves. An especially robust and malty brew of this last lager was called Marzen, and the last of it was generally consumed in September, when cooler weather arrived and lager brewing could soon recommence. Thus, the last of the Marzen quickly became the beer associated with the annual Oktoberfest.

The Spaten Oktoberfest you buy today is still loosely in the Marzen style. Spaten calls its brew “Ur-Marzen”, or original Marzen, mainly due to the fact that Gabriel Sedylmayr, an important figure in Spaten’s history, had a major hand in the evolution of the style.

Spaten Oktoberfest pours to an amber-reddish color with a thick head formation and a rich malty nose. The palate is slightly nutty and a tad toasty, though seems to be less so than in the past. There is a rich, sweetish, and slightly candyish malt character similar to that in Samuel Adams Oktoberfest. This is a smooth, creamy, very drinkable brew. The finish is balanced to slightly sweet. Seems a tad lighter than in the past, perhaps leaning toward the helles style all the rage in Munich today?

In fact, I enjoyed a pint of Spaten Oktoberfest alongside a pint of Samuel Adams Oktoberfest at the Mews Tavern on September 23rd, 1997:

The month of September can never come fast enough for me. It generally brings, in addition to relief from the hot humid summer weather, a steady parade of Oktoberfest beers. Among my favorites are Spaten and Paulaner from Germany, and few American brews can equal them. At least until now. This evening I had the pleasure of dining out at the Mews Tavern, a Rhode Island establishment famous for a wide selection of draught beers (in spite of our dismal beer history).

Noticing a Spaten Oktoberfest tap handle, I ordered a pint, and it arrived in all it's glory, if a bit overchilled. Being to cold to appreciate it's delicate malt flavor, I asked that it be zapped in the microwave for ten seconds, and it came back in a state of perfection, truly a model for Oktoberfest beers to attain. In any rate, the night progressed, and I quaffed many a pint, including Sam Adams version of the Oktoberfest brew. Damned if it wasn't the spitting image of the Spaten, toasty-malty with a touch of molasses that I usually find present in the better examples of the
style, and plenty of Munich malt character.

Until now, I hadn't done a credible side-by-side of Sam Adams and a good German Ofest. After tonight, to those who say that Sam Adams Octoberfet falls a bit short of the style, I can only say that they haven't sampled this years version. Anyway, I ordered another pint of the Spaten at the end of the night, and to my dismay found they were out (which explains the overly cold pint I first received). The Sam Adams made a fine substitute. I daresay the pints of SAOfest I enjoyed this evening were easily the best marzen beer I've yet sampled in the states, easily outdistancing my previous favorites, last year's Full Sail version and Victory's Fest Beer. I still favor the Spaten, but just by a notch.

Still a classic.

Update 10/09/2014: Every September I'm on the prowl for Oktoberfest beers, and amongst the myriads out there, there are always two favorites I'm sure to buy: Paulaner Oktoberfest and Spaten Oktoberfest. I'll purchase a six-pack or two of each and judge all the rest by them. The Paulaner gets my nod as the best, but its a close race and Spaten comes in a close second, folks. The rich malty, toasty nutty character of this beer is a true malt lover's delight, and the gentle grassy hop finish balances perfectly. And at just $8.99 a six-pack, it's a bargain, too.

Update 10/17/2019: Spaten is brewery of the month at Taco Mac! $6.08 for 23 ounces of this nutty malty melanoidin bomb is a great deal, with a free key chain to boot! Ein Prosit!

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.

(B)=Bottled, Canned