Beer Style 7A: Vienna Lager
There are dozens of beer styles and we know it can get a little confusing, so each week we profile a particular style of beer in the Devil’s Peak Beer Guide. We’ll outline styles from the 2015 BJCP guidelines, offering both a technical and somewhat anecdotal overview of the dozens of beer offerings from around the world.
Vienna Lager, sometimes referred to as an “amber lager” or “pre-prohibition lager” is a traditional style of Austrian lager developed by Anton Dreher in 1841.
While its popularity in most Europe has waned, North America still boasts quite a large number of modern day examples. Brought over from with Austrian immigrants to the United States and Mexico in the 1800’s, Vienna Lager was a popular pre-prohibition style of beer but was soon overtaken by the traditional German lagers of Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller when the alcohol ban was lifted.
Traditional malts include Pilsner, Munich and Vienna which are brewed with a decoction mash. This is a multi-step form of mashing where the brewer does not add additional water or heat to the mash tun. Instead, about a third of the mash is moved to another pot, heated to conversion temperature, boiled and put back in the mash tun. What does this mean for the end product? Lots of things. But for our purposes, just know that it helps add a crisp, malty characteristic to the beer that can’t really be achieved any other way. It helps to make a Vienna Lager a Vienna Lager!
Expect subtle hop flavours with a crisp, malty backbone and bit of lingering sweetness.
Popular commercial examples of the style include Dos Equis from Mexico (Austrian immigrants!), Sam Adams Boston Lager, and Third Shift Amber Lager.
Here’s the vital stats, straight from the BJCP Style Guidelines.
Overall Impression: A moderate-strength amber lager with a soft, smooth maltiness and moderate bitterness, yet finishing relatively dry. The malt flavor is clean, bready-rich, and somewhat toasty, with an elegant impression derived from quality base malts and process, not specialty malts and adjuncts.
Aroma: Moderately-intense malt aroma, with toasty and malty-rich aromatics. Clean lager character. Floral, spicy hop aroma may be low to none. A significant caramel or roasted aroma is inappropriate.
Appearance: Light reddish amber to copper color. Bright clarity. Large, off-white, persistent head.
Flavor: Soft, elegant malt complexity is in the forefront, with a firm enough hop bitterness to provide a balanced finish. The malt flavor tends towards a rich, toasty character, without significant caramel or roast flavors. Fairly dry, crisp finish, with both rich malt and hop bitterness present in the aftertaste. Floral, spicy hop flavor may be low to none. Clean lager fermentation character.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body, with a gentle creaminess. Moderate carbonation. Smooth.
Comments: A standard-strength everyday beer, not a beer brewed for festivals. American versions can be a bit stronger, drier and more bitter, while modern European versions tend to be sweeter. Many Mexican amber and dark lagers used to be more authentic, but unfortunately are now more like sweet, adjunct-laden Amber/Dark International Lagers. Regrettably, many modern examples use adjuncts which lessen the rich malt complexity characteristic of the best examples of this style. This style is on the watch list to move to the Historical category in future guidelines; that would allow the classic style to be described while moving the sweeter modern versions to the International Amber or Dark Lager styles.
History: Developed by Anton Dreher in Vienna in 1841, became popular in the mid-late 1800s. Now nearly extinct in its area of origin, the style continues in Mexico where it was brought by Santiago Graf and other Austrian immigrant brewers in the late 1800s. Authentic examples are increasingly hard to find (except perhaps in the craft beer industry) as formerly good examples become sweeter and use more adjuncts.
Characteristic Ingredients: Vienna malt provides a lightly toasty and complex, Maillard-rich malt profile. As with Märzens, only the finest quality malt should be used, along with Continental hops (preferably Saazer types or Styrians). Can use some caramel malts and/or darker malts to add color and sweetness, but caramel malts shouldn’t add significant aroma and flavor and dark malts shouldn’t provide any roasted character.
Style Comparison: Lighter malt character, slightly less body, and slightly more bitter in the balance than a Märzen, yet with many of the same malt-derived flavors. The malt character is similar to a Märzen, but less intense and more balanced. Lower in alcohol than Märzen or Festbier. Less rich, less malty and less hop-centered compared to Czech Amber Lager.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.048 – 1.055
IBUs: 18 – 30 FG: 1.010 – 1.014
SRM: 9 – 15 ABV: 4.7 – 5.5%
Commercial Examples: Cuauhtémoc Noche Buena, Chuckanut Vienna Lager, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Figueroa Mountain Danish-style Red Lager, Heavy Seas Cutlass Amber Lager, Schell’s Firebrick
Tags: standard-strength, amber-color, bottom-fermented, lagered, central-europe, traditional-style, amber-lager-family, balanced