Who doesn’t love German beer? Most of us look forward to fall, when, on the heels of pumpkin ale, we enjoy pints of Marzen for Oktoberfest. German beer may not be on your radar during other months of the year, but it should be. And Austrian beer is in the same boat.
While Germany produces a fair amount of delectable ales, their lagers have a history as remarkable as their taste. The Vienna lager, in particular, shares a common bond with the Marzen, having been released to market at approximately the same time.
The TapRm team is made up of beer lovers just like you. We scour the country looking for the most promising up-and-coming craft brews that our consumers will enjoy. Here, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about Viennese lagers, including a recommendation for one you can try right now.
The Difference Between Lagers and Ales
If you’re a beer novice, it’s helpful to understand the difference between lagers and ales. The biggest difference between these two types of beer is how they are fermented. The fermentation process occurs after the grains have been malted, mashed, and boiled. Once the grains are strained from the boil, the remaining liquid is called the wort.
Fermentation begins in the wort, either when the temperature is still hot from the boil or has cooled.
Ales are fermented using a method called top-fermentation. During top fermentation, a yeast called saccharomyces cerevisiae, or “S. cerevisiae,” is added to the boiling wort (the sugar-water mix that eventually becomes beer) when it is hot, between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ales ferment more quickly than lagers, and the fermentation begins on the top of the wort, giving this type of fermentation its name.
Lagers are fermented with a yeast called saccharomyces pastorianus, or “S. pastorianus.” This is also simply referred to as “lager yeast.” Lager yeast is added when the wort is cool, usually between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because the wort is cool, the lager yeast settles to the bottom of the wort, and fermentation begins there. Thus, lagers are considered bottom-fermented. Lagers take longer to ferment because of the cool temperature. The beer itself must be “lagered” for a period of time (usually months) before it is considered fully fermented.
Because Vienna lager is, obviously, a lager, it is fermented using the bottom fermentation method.
What Is A Vienna Lager?
In short, a Vienna lager is very similar to a Marzen. Its color ranges from copper to reddish-brown, and its most notable flavor is its malt character. The maltiness of a Vienna lager is sweet but balanced with the low bitterness from the inclusion of European hops.
A Vienna lager is a highly approachable beer that is crisp, clean, and versatile. It has the classic, flavorful biscuit-like notes you can expect from a malt-forward lager and a sweetness that helps it finish smooth.
The History of Vienna Lager
That Vienna lager and Marzen are so close in both ingredients, process, and flavor is no accident. The two men that created these styles of beer, Anton Dreher and Gabriel Sedlmayr, were close friends who studied beer brewing together.
Before Vienna lager and Marzen appeared in Germany and Austria, most beer consumed in the region was dark, toasty, and heavy. In Great Britain, however, beer was much lighter in color, and the malt flavor was better controlled and more predictable than the beers produced in Germany.
Intrigued by the way the Brits were brewing their beer, Dreher and Sedlmayr traveled there to learn their methods. The biggest difference in process was the way in which the grains were dried for malting.
In Germany, malt was still dried over an open flame. This was fraught with problems. Scorching, uneven malting, and lack of ability to control the malt flavor made the resulting German beer unreliable to the brewer (and the drinking consumer).
In Britain, the malt was air-dried, using hot airflow. This gave the brewer more control over the beer's outcome and created more predictability with the evenness of the malt. The resulting beers were lighter and had a consistent and reliable flavor.
With this knowledge in hand, both men went back to their own breweries and created the Vienna lager (Dreher) and Marzen (Sedlmayr). Both beers were met with wide success, and although Marzen is more popular than Vienna lager today, it is still enjoyed worldwide.
The Rebirth of Vienna Lager
Even though the craze for Vienna lager in Germany faded (ironically, it’s no longer even produced there), it enjoys popularity in other parts of the world.
Through the foreign leadership of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria, who ruled as Emperor of Mexico, Vienna lager became a staple in the region and is still enjoyed there today.
Today, through the efforts of small craft brewers in the United States, this bready beer with a strong malt aroma is making a strong comeback. By using Dreher’s recipe as a road map, craft brewers experiment with different variances in the grist and different hops to produce Vienna lagers with a slightly more nuanced flavor.
What’s Inside the Vienna Lager
The ingredients of the Vienna lager remain similar to what was originally used in Dreher’s flagship recipe. Vienna malt and Vienna lager yeast are standard, but craft brewers often experiment with the flavor by adding in Munich malt, Pilsner malt, and even a small amount of wheat in the grist.
In terms of hops, German Noble hops are the most commonly used, although Saaz hops can be used as well. These hops offer a more mild hop flavor and low bitterness, balancing well with the sweet maltiness of the lager. It’s important for a Vienna lager to keep a very low bitterness, so you’ll never find a Vienna-style lager that focuses on hop bitterness. It’s relatively popular with homebrewers.
What Can You Expect From a Vienna Lager?
When sampling a Vienna lager, you’ll initially be met with all the malty goodness typical of a brown ale. The balanced, low bitterness of the hops provides a bit more crispness, and the finish is mild and smooth.
Classically, a Vienna lager is copper to reddish-brown. This places it in a category slightly darker than a pale ale, yet not nearly as dark as a porter or stout. Thus, a Vienna lager is still considered a light-colored beer.
Vienna lager is also clear, with zero haze or sediment. Unlike an IPA, the Vienna lager is virtually transparent.
On the nose, Vienna lager features an extremely malty aroma. The subtleness of the hops makes it virtually indistinguishable. You’ll get a nice, toasty maltiness with a sweet finish.
Vienna lager usually ranges between 22-28 IBU’s, making it low bite and easy to drink. The hops in a Vienna lager create a delicate and predictable balance with the malt, not overshadowing the sweet, toasty flavor. Hop flavor in a Vienna lager is low.
Typically described as a soft, medium-bodied beer, Vienna lager has moderate carbonation that makes it light, crisp, and refreshing.
The flavor of a Vienna lager is malty sweetness with a slight spice finish, provided by the inclusion of European hops. You’ll taste biscuit, cracker, and possibly even bread. Generally found with an ABV of between 4.5% and 5.5%, this lager is completely sessionable and pairs well with virtually any dish.
Vienna Lagers To Try Right Now
Don’t wait until October to try a great Vienna lager or any German beer for that matter. TapRm is your gateway to the best renditions and recreations of the German classics. Two breweries we love, Flagship Brewing Company and Zelus Beer Company, are excellent craft brewers who have produced some amazing German lagers worth sampling.
You’ll also find a surprising number of Mexican brewers who create this style of beer, in part due to the large number of immigrants who immigrated there from Austria in th 19th century.
Flagship Brewing Company Metropolitan Lager. This classic Vienna lager has an ABV of 5.6, slightly higher than the norm but still completely approachable. With a golden amber hue, you’ll notice the toasted Vienna and Rye malts both on the nose and palate.
German noble hops balance the Rye malt and create a flavorful and aromatic experience you’ll find smooth, crisp, and perfectly balanced.
Zelus Beer Company Weekender. While not an actual Vienna, this German lager pulls its flavors from several different styles of German beer in a beautiful blend of maltiness and biscuit-like flavor.
Malted with Vienna, Munich, and Pilsner malts and hopped with Hallertau, you’ll find this lager to be extremely malt-forward, with a sweet, toasty flavor that makes it easy to drink.
August Schell Brewing Company Schell’s Firebrick. This refreshing beer has a light hop aroma and a subtly malty flavor.
Our selection of lagers and craft ales is always expanding and changing. If you see something you like, grab it! Because we work with smaller breweries, supplies are usually limited and sometimes seasonal. But you can still find delicious Austrian and Bavarian-inspired beers.
Vienna, But Right In Your Own Home
You don’t need to wait for a German vacation, or even a local Oktoberfest celebration to sample a great Vienna lager. You only need to check out the latest offerings at TapRm, whether you’re in the market for dark lagers, amber lagers, Boston lagers, and so much more. Unlike your local grocery store, we work with the best craft and microbreweries all over the nation to bring you a new beer that is complex and unexpected.
By building a better beer infrastructure, we’re changing the way you drink beer — it’s not just about a keg at a party anymore. We make your favorite craft brewer from the opposite side of the country as accessible to you as your local pub. By connecting obsessive brewers with passionate beer drinkers, we’re challenging the way beer is consumed and experienced. We think that’s a good thing.
So go ahead. Have a Vienna lager in the spring. TapRm has the beer you want, delivered right to your front door.