Vienna Lager – A Smooth and Balanced Beer for Every Occasion

Nov 2023 | Last modified: November 13, 2023 | 6 min read | By Rick Weninger

Looking for a new variety of beer to try? Look no further than Vienna Lager, a lesser-known style of beer and sometimes labeled as “seasonal.”

However, it’s a gem with a rich history and exceptional taste known for its clean, lager character.

Vienna Lager in a glass

Join us in exploring its secrets, tasting recommendations, and brewing expertise in this article!

What is a Vienna Lager?

Vienna Lager is originally called “Lager Vienna Type.” It has a malty aroma, a moderate body, and a low to medium-low hop bitterness.

In the “dark lagers” category, it has a clean lager character with a slight sweetness. Often somewhat darker than a typical base malt beer (such as Pilsner beer style), it will usually have a good malt aroma and subtle caramel notes.

What’s the Profile of a Vienna Lager?

  • Color Range: 9-15 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048-1.055 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.014 FG
  • IBU: 18-30
  • ABV: 4.5 to 5.5

Brief History of Vienna Lagers

Vienna-style lager was first introduced in 1842 by Anton Dreher, a brewer who inherited his father’s brewery in Austria. Using new kilning technology and specialty malts, he produced a medium-body brew with a lighter color and crisp finish.

The Klein-Schwechat Brewery planned to export it worldwide, but WWI interrupted it. However, the French invasion of Mexico brought the Vienna Lager back to life, and soon, Modelo Brewing Company in Mexico was brewing it with a corn-heavy toasted grain bill and rich malt flavor.

Prohibition in the USA also drove customers across the border, and America soon had a strong following for Vienna Lager.

What Sets Vienna Style Lager Apart from Other Beers?

Vienna Lager is a unique beer that falls between an amber and a pale ale. It has a lighter body than amber ales and is less bitter than most pale ales.

Some beer lovers compare it to Märzen beer, which was developed by Gabriel Sadlmayer, a friend of Anton Dreher who created Vienna Lager. Like Märzen, Vienna Lager has a distinctive malt flavor and hop aroma.

When it comes to Vienna Lagers, you can expect a sweet, malty aroma with a mild roasted character from the dark malts. It has a clear, copper to reddish-brown color and may have light floral notes.

Brewing Your Own Vienna Lager

The favorite recipes of the Vienna Lager style are the use of heritage ingredients like Vienna malt (from German two-row barley) or German Noble hops. For yeast starter, choose a lager yeast. Vienna Lager yeast is the most traditional.

Top brewers advise developing the biscuit and toast notes but keep a low ester on the nose. A hint of honey, with mild floral or spice notes, creates a very sessionable beer. The use of Munich malt will darken the complexity, and any caramel malts should be used sparsely. Blends of lighter malts (such as Pilsner malt or German Pilsen malt) reduce the malt aroma.

The experts note that any dark malts should be held back from changing the beer’s color profile past any notable degree.

If you’re interested in replicating the Cerveza Vienna versions, 20% of the grist should encompass flaked corn, the dry malt topped up with Crystal, Munich, or Cara blends.

Mexican beer examples often show a slight malt sweetness compared to traditional recipes. Keep light hop bitterness for Mexican styles and medium-light hop bitterness otherwise.

What Are the Best Vienna Lagers?

Vienna Lager gets labeled in different ways for marketing purposes. Although it might seem like you’re hunting around for one, they are frequently wrapped in a misleading label. Don’t be surprised to find them listed as an “Oktoberfest” variety.

Brewers south of the border (in Mexico City, for example) are still commercially brewing very popular Vienna Lager recipes like Modelo Negra cerveza.

Vienna Lager, Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Virginia USA. 5.2% ABV

The sweet, bready malts and balanced bitterness brought out by Continental hops make this a deceptively smooth brew.

Munzler’s Vienna Lager, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, North Carolina USA. 4.9% ABV

This lager reflects the original Schwechat Vienna Lager characteristics. While showcasing some of the darker malts, it remains reddish-brown, crisp, and smooth on the finish.

Yuengling Traditional Lager

Yuengling Traditional Lager is a post-prohibition American recipe, resurrected in 1987 at D.G. Yuengling Brewery (America’s oldest brewery).

This popular amber malt beer has roots in German immigrants in America, who kept the Vienna Lager style alive. A slightly sweeter traditional lager, it hits the mark exceptionally well when paired with grilled meats.

FAQs Related to Vienna Lager Style

Vienna Lager has gained popularity, so it’s natural to have questions.

In this section, we’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Vienna Lager so you can get to know this beer style better.

Are Vienna Lagers Best for Autumn or Winter Drinking?

If this is starting to sound like a very drinkable beer that would be right at home at an Autumn festival or Oktoberfest, you’re getting the picture. The malt flavor might steer it toward Autumn marketing but don’t worry. There is a Vienna-style Lager suited to any season.

Are There Challenges in Brewing Vienna Lagers?

The challenge lies in the relatively simplistic makeup. Light, crisp, and free from any dominating esters, this beer doesn’t provide hiding places for rogue flavors (from adjunct cereals, for example). They are traditionally bottom-fermented.

Clarity is a famous characteristic of the classic style recipe, creating a potential challenge for new brewers. Purists are quick to criticize any editions that stray from the defined flavor profiles, so brewers are sometimes hesitant to take on a Vienna Lager recipe. Great recipes abound, though, and tons of great tips from the experts.

What Else Do I Need to Do When Brewing a Vienna Lager?

Diacetyl rest is considered essential, stopping unwanted yeast flavor. This extra step is where many small-batch brews find themselves leaping away from the purity of a Vienna Lager.

After the primary fermentation, yeast rest comes into play. The finish will then display a gentle creaminess and moderate carbonation.

Mexican versions still carry the distinct roasted corn characteristics and reddish hue. With either version, a slight malt sweetness is important.

What Are Some Good Food Pairings?

Vienna Lager is a great beer to pick for spicy foods, such as spicy chicken wings or chili-pepper calamari.

It’s also good to accompany your backyard grilled meats and summer salads, especially corn on the cob, for this type of beer because of its crisp, refreshing makeup.

Being a bit stronger, it pairs excellently with sweet mustard, pretzels, and German sausages, too.

Wrapping Things Up

With Vienna Lager varieties, you can expect to try a range of delicious beers.

Some common characteristics exist between the types, of course. A notable degree of maltiness occurs, and a light amber or copper color will be present. Hop aroma will prominently feature, with mild hop bitterness.

Now that you know some tasting notes, a bit of the history, and you have some recommendations to try, it’s time to start sampling.

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