With the annual return of Oktoberfest comes the eternal question: What shall I drink? To help with an answer, we list five beers that any Bavarian would be happy to imbibe—even if they are not all from his region. What is more, because these beers have the additional grace of being historically connected to the life of the Church, you’ll be able to infuse your own observance of the festivity, be it at a Biergarten or in your own backyard, with spiritual and cultural meaning.
Maredsous. Maredsous Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in Denée, Belgium in 1872, has at least two claims to fame: 1) its abbot from 1909 to 1923 was the great spiritual author who was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 2000, Irish-born Columba Marmion (1858-1923); and 2) it makes outstanding beer. Although the brewery Duvel Moortgat has been making the abbey’s beer since 1963, the monks continue to govern production through their secret recipes; proceeds go to the monastery and to the needy in Africa. Maredsous currently has three offerings: a Blonde, a Brown or Brune (a dubbel), and a Triple. As providence would have, the feast day of Blessed Columba Marmion is October 3; you can honor his memory and kick off Oktoberfest at the same time.
Tripel Karmeleit. October 3 is also the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in the traditional 1962 calendar (in the revised 1969 calendar, it is October 1). The Little Flower is the twentieth century’s most famous daughter of the Carmelite order, so why not enjoy a Tripel Karmeleit as you invoke her intercession? This refined golden bronze beer with a beautiful creamy head is made by Brouwerij Bosteels in Belgium according to a 1679 recipe from an old Carmelite monastery in Dendermonde. And if you have any bottles left over, you can save them for another Carmelite Theresa, Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-158): her feast day falls on October 15.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen. Märzenbier literally means “March beer” because it is in that month that Bavarian brewers around the sixteenth century began brewing this extra strong and well-hopped beer that can survive a hot summer without spoiling. Märzen is associated with Oktoberfest because brewers would serve it during the festivities in order to empty their kegs and make room for next year’s batch. Several breweries make Märzenbier, but an appropriately pious choice is Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen. The now secular Paulaner brewery in Munich was established in the seventeenth century by the Minim friars and named after their order’s founder, St. Francis of Paola (1416-1507). To this day an image of the saint’s profile appears on the neck of every bottle.
Franziskaner Weissbier. If strong is not your style, consider a Weissbier or Hefeweizen. This somewhat sweet and refreshing malty wheat beer is usually associated with summer, but it also works well for Oktoberfest, especially when the weather is unseasonably warm. The Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu brewery in Munich, Germany, which has as its logo a Franciscan friar enjoying a tankard, produces several varieties of Weissbier, including Hefe-Weissbier Naturtrüb, Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel, Weissbier Kristallklar, and Hefe-Weissbier Leicht. The beer comes well recommended: those in the know say that it is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s favorite. And guess what? The feast of St. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181-1226) is October 4. Clearly, God knows what He is doing.
Saint Arnold Oktoberfest. But if you would rather go domestic (and live in Texas or Louisiana), look no farther than the Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston. The oldest craft brewery in the state, Saint Arnold offers a seasonal beer called Oktoberfest, a “full bodied, malty, slightly sweet beer celebrating the Autumn harvest.” The brewery is named after one of the patron saints of brewers, Saint Arnold or Arnulf of Metz (580-640), the great-grandfather of Charlemagne and the bishop of Metz, France. The holy shepherd saved his flock from a plague, it is said, by telling them to drink beer instead of water (thereby avoiding pathogens), and he is famous for asserting, “from man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.” I don’t know how Catholic the company is or was, but their website features a surprisingly accurate and devoted biography of their patron saint.
Michael P. Foley is the author of Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour and Drinking with Saint Nick: Christmas Cocktails for Sinners and Saints.