The Vienna Lager is a crisp, clean, and incredibly drinkable beer first brewed in Europe in the 19th century. When we talk about a Vienna Lager, we’re diving into a history of malted grain. It gets its name from the Vienna malt that is used as the primary source of sugar for the production of this style of beer.
Vienna malt came about after new kilning technology came to England. Kilning is the process of malt production where the grain moisture content is reduced, stopping the germination process. This is done by passing heated, dried air through a shallow bed of malted grain.
Previously, all malt was
The Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that give browned food its distinctive flavor (think seared steaks, toasted marshmallows, or malted grain), was not as intense and lighter-malted grains became available.
Around this time, Anton Dreher was traveling with his friend Gabriel Sadlmayer II of Spaten Brewery to learn about the brewing process in order to take over his family’s brewery, Klein-Schwechat Brewery. During his time in England he learned about this new process of kilning grain. There are even reports that they went as far as stealing samples of wort and yeast from breweries they visited to take back for analysis.
Once back in Vienna, Dreher began to experiment with this new English process. He started creating very lightly kilned grain. Eventually, he settled on an amber malt that is just slightly caramelized. Not surprisingly, this new malt became known as Vienna malt. Subsequently, he combined this lightly kilned malt with lager yeast and in 1841, the reddish-copper Vienna style lager is born. This revolution in beer led to Anton Dreher becoming known as the “king of beer.”
Unfortunately, the Vienna lager did not last long. World War I left the entirety of Europe in tatters and the already waning Vienna Lager almost completely disappeared.
However, thanks to an earlier migration from Europe to Mexico, this style of beer was able to make a comeback and thrive once more. In 1861, when Napoleon III invaded Mexico, a new regime was established there and Maximilian I, from the Austrian Royal House was brought in to rule. Although, his reign was short, it brought an influx of art, food, and craft from Austria, including brewers.
Vienna Lager, the beer of choice at the time, led to various iterations of it being produced in Mexico. In Mexico, the Vienna Lager had an easily available adjunct, flaked Maize, added to its grain bill. This adjunct allowed it to be lighter and more easily drinkable than the original produced in Vienna. In 1926, Cerveceria Modelo opened in Mexico City and began producing an adjunct version of the Vienna Lager, Negra Modelo, which is still produced today. Now, with the boom in American Craft beer, it is possible to find the Vienna Lager on tap in your local brewery or in bottles at the store.
This style of beer is very similar to the Marzen or Oktoberfest style, which reportedly came about from Sedlmayr’s experiments with the new kilning method. He developed a Munich malt, which is kilned to a slightly higher degree. He then used lager yeast to create what we know today as Marzen. It is thought that Sedlmayr decided to market his beer as “Marzen gebraut nach Wiener Art” or “March beer brewed in the Viennese way,” suggesting he was copying Dreher’s Vienna Lager.
The Vienna Lager should have a thick, long lasting off-white head and should be orange copper and clear. Malt aromas of toast and bread come through predominantly with a light floral or spicy hop character. The beer should be creamy with a complex toastiness and bitter hop balance. It pairs well with bratwurst, chicken wings, or just about any grilled meat. Vienna lager can pair well with a mild Gruyere, Pepper Jack, Emmantal, or Stilton.
A Local brewery from Bradenton FL, Motorworks Brewing Company, won a bronze medal for V Twin, a Vienna Lager at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014 for their rendition of the style.