Nick Carr on August 10, 2016 5 Comments History of Vienna Lagers The lager of Vienna introduced much of Europe to the crisp clean profile of modern bottom-fermentation and would grow to become one of the most popular beer styles the German-speaking realm… before promptly being forgotten in its native land. It would disappear from Europe within 60 years of its arrival and only a brief Austrian foothold in the new world allowed the style to survive. In 1841, Anton Dreher became the “King of Beer” when he revolutionized brewing by combining lightly kilned malt with lager yeast. This new style would predate Bohemian Pilsner by a year, making it arguably the first pale lager in the world. But let’s back up to the beginning of the story. In 1820, Franz Anton Dreher dies leaving the Klein-Schwechat Brewery to his ten-year-old son, Anton Dreher; but Anton is too young to take over operations. Instead, the late 1820s finds Anton starting his brewing education in anticipation of taking over the brewery at a later time. So he undertakes an apprenticeships journey, visiting a series of breweries around Europe. At the same time another young brewer, Gabriel Sadlmayer II, son of Gabriel Sadlmayer, owner of Spaten Brewing Company, is also making the same journey of learning. Somewhere along their travels the two meet, become good friends, and even make much of their remaining travels together. At this time, early in the 1830s, a new kilning technology has come into use in England. Up to end of the 1700s malt was kilned directly over fire, creating a malt dark in color, with a strong toasty, sometimes smoky, profile. But by the early 1800s, the British are refining a way to dry malt using hot air instead of direct heat, imparting a lighter color to the malt and a more delicate profile. Dreher and Sedlmayr learn of this new technology while visiting English breweries. It seems they may have even gone as far as stealing samples of wort and yeast from some of the breweries for later analysis. They take what they learn, legally and illegally, back to their respective home cities; and in 1836, Dreher takes his place at the head of his father’s brewery. Using his newly gained knowledge, he starts experimenting with the English way of kilning and creates an amber malt that is just slightly caramelized. He calls it Vienna malt and promptly combines it with lager yeast, brewing a reddish-copper lager with a delicate slightly bready malt profile. He releases the beer in 1841 as “Lager Vienna Type” or Vienna style lager. Meanwhile, Sedlmayr is doing his own experimenting with hot air kilning. His creation is a malt kilned to a slightly higher degree. Not to be outdone he, too, combines his new malt with lager yeast and the well-known Munich Märzen is born. According to research done by Ray Daniels for his book Designing Great Beers, Märzen was a term first used in Vienna, not Munich, to describe beers made in March and then cellared in caves. Also, Sedlmayr decides to market the new beer as “Marzen gebraut nach Wiener Art,” or “March beer brewed in the Viennese way.” These two pieces of information seem to indicate he may have been imitating these earlier Viennese Märzens and it was only his new malt, and maybe the times, that made his beer famous instead of these earlier Viennese renditions. The two beers have very similar, to the point of being expected, idea among many brewers that to make a Munich Marzen out of a Vienna lager recipe really all that is required is to switch the Vienna malt for Munich. Though not quite so simple, it does illustrate how closely related the two beers are. The Munich Märzen is slightly sweeter on the finish, carries less of a hop presence, and is generally slightly higher in alcohol. World War I left Austria in economic tatters and Vienna lager, its popularity already fading, completely disappeared from its mother country. But an earlier fortuitous migration of Austrian brewers had already set the style to blooming on another continent. In 1861, Napoleon III invaded Mexico after President Benito Juarez refused to continue to pay interest to European powers. The invasion and subsequent occupation brought about the Second Mexican Empire, and installed Maximilian I, from the Austrian Royal House, as a puppet ruler. His reign was short and, ultimately, ended with his execution by Mexican forces, but the 3 years he was in power brought an influx of European brewers. Of these brewers, a man named Santiago Graf seems to have had the largest influence. Other iterations of the Vienna lager style would make an appearance and have great popularity in post-prohibition America. But, it would be Mexico that kept the style alive, even as it changed it. Adjunct cereals, especially corn, started making up more and more of the grain bill, creating a beer with far less of the defined but delicate malt backbone found in the original examples. In 1926, Cerveceria Modelo opened in Mexico City and soon it was producing its own adjunct-laden example of the style, Negra Modelo. It is still popular today. In recent decades even the authentic Vienna lager has found a new bastion of burgeoning fame among the American craft beer movement. Style Profile & Characteristics Quick Characteristics Color Range: 9-15 SRM Original Gravity: 1.048-1.055 OG Final Gravity: 1.010-1.014 FG IBU Range: 18-30 ABV Range: 4.7-5.5% Appearance: Light amber red to orange copper with soapy and thick head. Great retention and clarity. Aroma: Malty aromas will be moderate with toast or bread notes; Caramel malt aromas should be minimal; Roasted malt aromas are not appropriate for this style; Clean lager with possible hop aromas. Flavor: Delicate malts with toasty notes; Caramel or roasted flavors should not be present; Balanced hops with slight bitterness and possible floral or spicy flavors; No phenols or esters; Dry and crisp finish. Mouthfeel: Carbonation will be moderate; Body will be medium-light to moderate; Should be smooth and creamy. Serving & Storage Temperature: 45-48°F Shelf Life: 4-6 Months Suggested Glass: Flute or Pilsner Glass Food Pairings: Bratwursts, Spicy Chicken Wings, Venison, Fish & Chips, Mild Pepper Jack and Gruyere Cheeses, Coconut Flan, Almond Biscotti The guidelines for the Vienna Lager are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Vienna Lager should represent, and give you a better idea of what to expect upon tasting. The BJCP classifies the Vienna Lager style as an “Amber Bitter European Beer” and it can be found in their guidelines as category 7A, next to Altbier (7B) and Kellebier (7C). Appearance: Head is soapy and thick, slightly off-white, and has great retention. Color ranges from an orange copper to a light amber shot through with red. Aroma: Malt aromas of toast and bread come through at medium intensity, but malt should not take on any major caramel notes, and absolutely no roasted aromas. Carries a clean lager character with possible light floral and/or spicy hop aromas. Mouthfeel: Moderate carbonation pushes a medium-light to moderate body, displaying a smooth creaminess. Taste: Malt flavors come first with a delicate and complex toastiness without displaying caramel or darker roasty notes. Hops give balance to the malt with just enough bitterness and hop flavors, if present, should be floral, slightly spicy, but remain low. Clean lager character; no phenols or esters. Finish will be somewhat dry and crisp with both the malt and hop bitterness remaining noticeable into the aftertaste. Food Pairing: The lightly malty, bready backbone of this beer works well with many of the same pairings as Märzen/Oktoberfest. It will pair great with bratwursts and a little sweet mustard, spiced chicken wings, venison, and just about any grilled meat. Seafood can work here to; think battered-fried fish and chips or crab cakes with just a bit of spice to them. The sweet flavors that develop when you grill vegetables also work extraordinarily well with the soft malt. If looking to build a before dinner cheese plate around Vienna lager Emmental, mild pepper jack, mild Gruyere, and Stilton will all work great. As to dessert, find something light but slightly nutty like coconut flan or almond biscotti to match the lightly sweet malt. Serving: For best presentation and greatest appreciation, Vienna lager should be served at around 45-48°F in a flute or pilsner glass. They are best stored at serving temperature, away from light, and enjoyed within 4 to 6 months. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples of the Style Dock Time from Stony Creek Brewing Company (Branford, CT) World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2016. Available: Year Round. Puesta del Sol from Weldwerks Brewing Company (Greeley, CO) World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2016. Available: Rotating on tap. Vienna Lager from Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Lexington, VA) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2015 and World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. Available: Year Round. Oktoberfest from Stoudts Brewing Company (Adamstown, PA) World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2016 and Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2015. Available: Seasonal. Firebrick from August Schell Brewing Company (New Ulm, MN) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2015 and World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. Available: Year Round. Danish Red Lager from Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company (Buellton, CA) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2014 and World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: Year Round. Grumps from Platt Park Brewing Company (Denver, CO) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014. Available: Rotating Tap. V Twin from Motorworks Brewing Company (Bradenton, FL) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: Year Round. 6 Other Vienna Lagers To Try Ellot Ness from Great Lakes Brewing Company Vienna Style Lager from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Boston Lager From The Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) Kill Your Darlings from Thornbridge Brewing Company Big Bark Amber Lager from Live Oak Brewing Company Negra Modelo from Grupo Modelo Tips to Brewing Vienna Lager If you’re interested in brewing your own Vienna lager at home, here are some general tips to help you brew the best possible beer. Shop for a Vienna Lager Brewing Kit on Amazon Grain Bill: The main ingredient of any good example of Vienna malt is, of course Vienna malt. Depending on whom you ask, a Vienna Lager recipe in its simplest and, some may consider best form, would be 100% Vienna malt. This malt brings the rich toasty slightly nutty malt aspect. Interestingly, many Vienna lager recipes — some of them award winning — cut the Vienna extensively creating a mixed grain bill of Pilsner, Munich, and Vienna. The Pilsner malt brings a softer profile and lightens the beer’s overall color. Adding Munich would darken the beer’s color while adding slightly more melanoidin-rich deep malt flavors. Using all three can create a complex complementary profile. Other specialty grains that may find their way in are Crystal/Caramel malts, and perhaps black or chocolate malt. I would recommend sticking to the lighter crystal malts to keep from getting too much of a caramel profile. The dark malts are used to shift the color into a reddish spectrum and shouldn’t come through in the profile at all. How you use these specialty malts is going to depend a lot on what the base of your grain bill looks like, but I wouldn’t go higher than 10% all together here and stay below 1 oz. per five gallon batch for the dark malts. A small portion of melanoidin malt (less than 3%) is often added to give a warming malty character. This is especially important if doing a simple (single step) infusion mash to add needed complexity. Though the modern recipes of homebrewers and professional brewers alike would tend to disagree, in my own opinion, sticking to Vienna malt alone will get you were you want to go just fine — maybe a smidge of black malt if you want a reddish color and a bit of melanoidin for complexity. Don’t go overboard with your grain bill is all I’m getting at. Another addition that seems common in many modern Vienna lager recipes, but ultimately unneeded if you formulate your grain bill correctly, is either dextrin malt or a small portion of wheat. This would be used to buoy the body somewhat, which should not be an issue if you work to keep your mash temperatures in the right range. Mexican examples are often slightly darker, and a little sweeter. If trying to brew a modern Mexican example, this might be the place to throw in some Munich malt and possibly Cara or Crystal. They also often include corn as an adjunct grain. This will actually lighten the body of the beer and is something noticeable in the profile of many commercial examples brewed in Mexico. If you want to make this version you can add up to 20% corn in the form of grits or flakes. Remember, if you use grits you’ll have to do a cereal mash to make the starch available. The flakes can be added directly to your mash. For extract brewers, you’ll likely want to start with an ingredient kit, ideally one for Vienna Lagers, or find a malt extract that is at least partially produced from Vienna malt. I know Weyermann carries one called Vienna Red. To add some body and complexity you could also do a partial mash with a measured amount of Vienna malt, or a mix of Vienna/Munich. Hops: Hop bitterness for the style should be enough to downplay the maltiness a bit, but should never overwhelm it completely. An average bitterness to gravity (BU:GU) ratio of 0.50 works well. Though flavor/aroma additions aren’t necessary many brewers will add at least one small addition near the end of the boil. In Designing Great Beers, Ray Daniels points out that generally, there seems to be a greater emphasis on aroma than flavor when it comes to hops and this style. For hop selection, you should be looking for a variety with mid to low alpha acid hop with a mild profile. The German noble varieties, Saaz, Tettnang, Spalt, and Hallertauer are the go-to hops for a Vienna Lager. Other varieties that would likely work include Liberty, Mt. Hood, and Willamette. The Mash: The mash can go several different ways depending on how enthusiastic you are and how authentic you want to be. A decoction mash would be historically accurate, but with today’s well-modified malts a step infusion or even a single infusion mash will do the trick. Shoot for a 152°F saccharification temperature if you are doing a single infusion and mash out at 168°F. Argument for a decoction mash could be made for adding complexity and a rounder mouthfeel to a grain bill consisting solely of Vienna malt, though even here it may not be necessary. If you want to try this I would think a single or double decoction would be adequate. According to Ray Daniels, boil times of 30 minutes are average for the first two decoctions. The Boil: Boiling times range between 60 to 120 minutes, with a good middle ground being 90 minutes. Add your bittering hops one hour before flame out and your aroma hops between 10 minutes and flame out. Yeast: When researching your yeast look for one that is often used to make other malty European lager styles. In this case any yeast used to make Octoberfest/Märzen, Bohemian Pilsners, Bocks, or Helles will likely do the trick. Liquid yeasts worth taking a look at include both Wyeast Munich Lager (2308) or Wyeast Bohemian Lager (2124). A few others you could consider include White Labs Oktoberfest/Märzen (820), White Labs “South German Lager” (838) or White Labs Old Bavarian Lager (920). Dry yeasts that could work include Saflager W-34/70 or Mangrove Jack’s Bohemian Lager (M84). Be sure to cast enough healthy yeast; 1 1/2 to 2 times as much as you’d usually use. If using liquid yeast, make a larger starter than usual. If you are using dry yeast, rehydrate and cast 2 to 3 packets. Cool the wort as quickly as possible through the use of an immersion chiller, or whatever your preferred method of cooling, but you want to drop it down to fermentation temperatures in the shortest time as you possibly can. Fermentation and Lagering: Be sure your yeast starter or rehydrated yeast is at the same temperature as the wort before pitching, otherwise you may shock the yeast. The easiest way to do this is to get your yeast started and pitchable early enough that you can put it in the refrigerator for a few hours before using it. Primary fermentation should be between 50°F and 55°F. If your yeast strain requires a diacetyl rest, hike the temperature up to around 60°F and hold it there for 2 to 3 days at the end of primary fermentation. After fermentation is complete, rack to a secondary and lager it for 1 to 2 months at 35°F to 40°F degrees. When it is ready to package, shoot for 2.4 to 2.6 volumes of CO2. The success or failure of a Vienna Lager recipe hinges on good yeast management and fastidious temperature control. The recipe you brew does not have to be complicated. As long as you practice good brewing technique, pitch plenty of healthy yeast, and regulate fermentation temperatures well, you’ll come out with a fine example of this toasty, crisp, and refreshing beer and join the legacy of those keeping the Vienna Lager style alive today. Cheers!