We can thank Anton Dreher for Vienna Lager. It was a road-trip visiting European breweries with Munich’s Gabriel Sedlmayr (see post 162) that showed both guys different malting and brewing techniques and enabled them to produce paler malts than they had previously used. Each of them named those malts after their home cities and each brewed rich amber beers—which were a change from the typical dark lagers.
Dreher’s beer was a success and the taste for paler lagers quickly spread. We can link this to the birth of golden lager in Pilsen, to the beers that emigré brewers were making in America in the 19th century—and which craft brewers still make today—and, a little more unexpectedly, to a taste for those amber lagers in Mexico.
Visit To Vienna Lager In Vienna It’s Harder Than You Think Photo Gallery
Today if we say “Vienna Lager” to a beer drinker or brewer, they have a certain expectation of an amber-ish color, a toasty and nutty body, and a clean, dry finish, probably with an ABV in the 5.0% range.
But go to Vienna and it’s almost impossible to find a “Vienna Lager.” Through the flows of beer history, styles and tastes have changed, following fashions and cultural shifts. For Vienna Lager it transposed to Märzen (with some links to Oktoberfest, though probably via German brewers and not Austrian ones), a style that is, in essence, very similar. And you can find Märzen in Vienna— it’s a core beer for many breweries—and, in fact, these have more likely become Vienna’s beer, or Vienna Lager (it’s all just semantics, really).
For the best we can put forward as Vienna Lager, there’s Ottakringer’s Wiener Original, which uses Vienna malt and Saaz hops, and is based on a recipe that’s over 100 years old. Or there’s Hoffstetten’s Granitbock, which isn’t called a Vienna Lager but is effectively one, and has the amber color, just-sweet caramel-y malts, and a deep bitterness.
As for the Märzens, which you should try, look to the Salm Bräu brewery for one of the best examples of what is a more typical Vienna-style lager. It has a full and smooth richness from the colored malts, that toasty nuttiness, a powerful flavor (thanks to being over 5.0% ABV), and the distinctive depth and complexity of noble hops.
What the craft beer world thinks of as Vienna Lager is unlikely to be what the beers of old would’ve tasted like—it’s a modern interpretation of the style, forged by beers like Brooklyn Lager and Great Lakes Eliot Ness. To drink a Vienna or Märzen in its home city is to find a lager that’s elegant, yet still has a great, expressive flavor from the malts, which is what ultimately makes these beers special. Just don’t go to Vienna expecting to see lots of beer called Vienna Lager.
A glass of Vienna lager being poured. If you find a bar selling this style, make sure you stick around as it might be the only chance you get to try the increasingly rare lager being served in its home town.