For over five and a half days this month in Washington, D.C., the temperature never fell below 80 degrees. That is, the lowest temperature during the day, overnight, never was below 80°F. The days were even better, near 100 °F, near 90% humidity. According to the Capital Weather Gang at the Washington Post, this 138-hour hot streak was the longest in recorded meteorological D.C. history.
Ah, summer in the nation's capital!
So, why are six-packs of Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams Oktoberfest hitting the store shelves this week? And why did the Munich brewery Paulaner (owned by Heineken) ship its Oktoberfest beer to the U.S. in ... June?
According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, it was another Munich brewery, Spaten, which first used the name Oktoberfestbier, for its märzenbier, in 1872. The brewery also was the first to officially brew a beer called märzen, in 1841, at Munich's Oktoberfest: a relatively full-bodied lager, amber in color, with a moderate bitterness. Spaten is now owned by Anheusher-Busch InBev.
The historical origins of märzen lie in a decree issued in 1553 by the Bavarian ruler Duke Albrecht V, in which he forbade all brewing between April 23 and September 29. The decree was to prevent brewing during the warm season, when, unbeknown to microbially ignorant medievals, ambient bacteria would often infect the Bavarians' beers and quickly spoil them.
With the lack of modern refrigeration, many brewers would lager (German for "to store, keep") their beers in caves or cool cellars from March until October. Hence the beer-style monikers Marzen and Oktoberfest. So why Oktoberfest beer now? After all, beers can be brewed year-round now. Would it be because there's a big, very big, party hosted by city of Munich mid September through early October? Would it be because Oktoberfest beer suggests the taking the edge off summer heat? Sure, and maybe, it's just to honor tradition.
But why Oktoberfest beers in July? That's marketing. The first Okto-beer out of the blocks sells more before the pack becomes crowded in late summer/early autumn. Then, there's the All Souls Day expiration dread. Consumers assume the worst of a beer the instant the calendar says November. If a brewery has not shipped all of its Oktoberfest, and if a store has not sold all of its stock, discounts ensue.
It may be beastly hot and drippingly humid where you are. It is here in the Washington, D.C. area. A cool amber lager would be refreshing right now, even if the calendar disagrees.