How to Brew Vienna Lager | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: April 29, 2020

When exploring the history of the Vienna Lager, we first learn about the history of kilning malt. However, before we dive into this newly discovered kilning process, we run into some people that were pretty insurmountable to this beer.

In 1820, Franz Anton Dreher passed away and left his son, Anton, the keys to his brewery, Klein-Schwechat Brewery.

Young Anton is merely ten years old when his father passes away. Later in the 1820s, Anton began his brewing education with the goal of taking over the brewery himself.

While beginning his apprenticeship in breweries in Europe, Anton meets Gabriel Sadlmayer II, the son of Gabriel Sadlmayer, owner of the famous Spaten Brewing Company. The two hit it off and become good friends.

When exploring the history of the Vienna Lager, we first learn about the history of kilning malt. However, before we dive into this newly discovered kilning process, we run into some people that were pretty insurmountable to this beer. In 1820, Franz Anton Dreher passed away and left his son, Anton, the keys to his brewery, Klein-Schwechat Brewery.

Young Anton is merely ten years old when his father passes away. Later in the 1820s, Anton began his brewing education with the goal of taking over the brewery himself.

While beginning his apprenticeship in breweries in Europe, Anton meets Gabriel Sadlmayer II, the son of Gabriel Sadlmayer, owner of the famous Spaten Brewing Company. The two hit it off and become good friends.

The New Kilning Process

In the early 1830s, a new kilning process became the new way of handling malt in England. Since then, malt was kilned directly over fire, leaving it with a rather toasty and smoky profile.The British started to refine the way malt was kilned.

The British used hot air instead of direct heat. This caused a lighter color on the malt and a more distinct profile.

The Birth of Two New Beer Styles

Using their newly found knowledge, Dreher creates an amber malt that is lightly caramelized. This is what becomes Vienna malt. He then pairs this malt with a lager yeast. This beer is a reddish-copper lager that profiles the slightly bready malt.

This beer was released in 1841 as a Vienna style lager. Sedlmayr was not to be outdone. He began experimenting with hot air kilning. He too included his new kilned malt with some lager yeast. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Munich Märzen was born.

The Effects of War

World War I left Austria in financial trouble and the Vienna lager quickly disappeared. However, the style wasn’t to be forgotten. In 1861, Napoleon III invaded Mexico after Mexico’s President Benito Juarez refused to pay European countries. This invasion and occupation created a rebirth of the Vienna Lager.

As Maximilian I, from the Austian Royal House, was the leader of this newly gained land. As a result, many European brewers found their way to Mexico and subsequently brought a large influence for the Vienna lager style.

As this style grew in popularity, even in post-prohibition America, it was Mexico that kept this style alive. However, additions of adjunct cereals, especially corn, was used to bulk up the grain bill.

In 1926, Cerveceria Modelo opened in Mexico City and began brewing their example which was called Negra Modelo. Over the years, the style became even adopted by American craft beer brewers.

Vienna Lager  Style Profile and Characteristics

Appearance

Color ranges from orange copper to light amber with hints of red. The head of a Vienna lager is off-white in color and soapy and thick and has great head retention.

Aroma

Maly aromas consist of toast and bread. The malt aroma should not be caramel and no roasted notes. Clean lager character with light floral and/or spicy hop aroma.

Mouthfeel

Carbonation is medium-light to moderate body which leads to a smooth creaminess.

Taste

Malt flavor is toasty without any caramel or dark roasty notes. Hops presence remains low, but there’s enough hop bitterness to balance out the malt presence. Clean lager character with no phenols or esters being detected. Finish will be dry and crisp with a noticeable hop bitterness in the aftertaste.

Food Pairings

Vienna lagers pair well with bratwursts with some sweet mustard. It also pairs well with spicy chicken wings, venison and grilled meats. Seafood works well too with this beer. The sugars that develop from grilled vegetables pair well with a Vienna lager.

Vienna Lager By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 9-15 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.055 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.014 FG
  • IBU Range: 18 – 30
  • ABV Range: 4.7 – 5.5%

Tips for Brewing your own Vienna Lager

Grain

The grist for a Vienna lager is made up with, of course, Vienna malt. Depending on whom you talk to, a Vienna lager recipe can be extremely easy. 100% Vienna malt and you call it a day. However, like most styles, the recipe has evolved just a bit.

Some award winning beers have been made by adding Pilsner, Munich and Vienna to the grain grist. The Pilsner malt makes for a soft profile and lightens the beer’s color quite significantly. Munich malt will indeed deepen the beer’s srm color and add a slight deep malt flavor. Using all three malts create a much more complex profile.

As for specialty malts, a small amount of lighter crystal/caramel malts, black or chocolate malts would be acceptable. These dark malts used sparingly will impart a reddish hue to your beer. 3% or less of Melanoidin malt will give some color and a warming, malty character.

Personally, I tend to side with the guys from The Brewing Network podcast, The Session. They have always preached 97% Vienna malt and 3% Pale Chocolate. I have tested this out and love the outcome.

If you are interested in replicating the Mexican example of a Vienna lager, the outcome will be slightly sweeter and darker. Some Munich malt and some Cara or Crystal malts will be used. Also up to 20% of the grist can be made up of flaked corn.

Hops

The hop bitterness for a Vienna lager should be enough to counter the maltiness of this style. However, the bitterness should never overwhelm the palate. Although flavor and aroma additions are not totally necessary, some brewers will just a small amount at the end of the boil.

Your typical German noble hops are going to be at play here. Saaz, Tettnang, Spalt, and Hallertauer. In a pinch, Liberty, Mt. Hood, and Willamette will work as well.

Yeast

When deciding on a yeast for a delicious Vienna lager, a lager yeast used to make malty European lagers will be your choice. Wyeast Munich Lager 2308, Wyeast Bohemian Lager 2124, White Labs Oktoberfest/Märzen 820, White Labs South German Lager 838, or White Labs Bavarian Lager 920 all will be solid choices.

If you are looking for dry yeast, Saflager W34/70 or Mangrove Jack Bohemian Lager M84 will be the yeast to use. Be sure to use a yeast starter for this beer; as you will want to assure fermentation takes off as soon as possible. A yeast starter will be good insurance for this brew day.

Fermenting and Lagering

Follow the temperature ranges on the desired yeast that you choose for this brew day. Usually primary fermentation will be around 50°F and 55°F(10°C-12°F). Raise your fermentation to around 60°F(10°C) for a diacetyl rest and hold it there for 3 days.

After the d-rest, rack to a secondary and get that beer off the yeast. This will be time to lager your beer. One to two months of lagering at 35°F and 40°F(1°C-4°C) will do the trick.

Martin Keen’s Vienna Lager Beer Recipe

Grain

56% 6 lbs Vienna Malt

37% 4 lbs Munich Type I

5% 8.0 oz Caramunich I

2% 2.0 oz Chocolate Malt

Hops

0.75 oz Perle Pellets – Boil 60.0 min

1.00 oz Tettnang Pellets – Boil 10.0 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg German Lager (White Labs #WLP830)

Mash at 152F for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins

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This week I’m brewing a Vienna lager and where better to learn how to brew one then in the Austrian Capital itself? Yeah, that would’ve been good.

Hello, I’m Martin Keen and I’m very much at home taking The Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 different beer styles. And today I am brewing Vienna lager and also taking a look at carbonation.

The ingredients for this beer are milled in here, but I’m going with is for the base malt. I have a combination of Vienna and light Munich malt. So I have six pounds of Vienna malt and then four pounds of light Munich.

Now the style guidelines do allow some caramel and some dark malts to add some sweetness and color to the beer. But we definitely want to stay away from any sort of toastiness. So for the specialty malts, I am using eight ounces of CaraMunich I, one and two ounces of chocolate milk for color mashing in here at 152 Fahrenheit for 60 minutes looking to get an original gravity of 10 52 which should give me a beer at about 5.4% ABV.

So this one smells so good.

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Now the story of how Vienna lager came to be is pretty interesting and it starts in 1830s England. Where are new kilning technology is gaining popularity to dry malt using hot air instead of the traditional way to do it, which is directly over a fire, which would create kind of a smoky profile to the malt.

A profile that I’m well aware of having just brewed a smoke beer. Now a guy called Franz Anton DRI discovered this technology when visiting these English breweries and took it back to his father’s brewery with him where the head brewer there replicated the process and created an Amber slightly caramelized malt called vienna malt. When combined with lager yeast, the beer that they made was sold as lager-Vienna type and Vienna lager as we know it today was born.

So the mash went well, hit my numbers. I’m now draining into the bottom kettle and heating up the wort. While that’s going on, let’s talk about bubbles.

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Down the years I’ve used a number of carbination techniques. When I started on bottling, I would just add a little bit of sugar in with the beer at bottling time and let whatever yeast was left do the work. That worked reasonably well, but it was pretty inconsistent.

Some beers would be super, super fizzy and some would be quite flat. That is until I had a batch of Belgian triple that turned into a case of bottled bombs where the combination was so strong that the bottles ended up actually exploding in my cupboard. I have not tried that combination method since.

When I moved on to kegging, I actually went out and bought a little gizmo called a Blichman quick carb. Now this can carbonate a flat keg of beer in about 45 minutes and it absolutely worked. You’d run the beer through the quick carb. It would run through a carbonation stone and you could set the pressure and that would set exactly how much carbonation you would end up getting. So that certainly works, but it was something that you had to set up and sanitize and then take down and clean.

It was just, there’s a lot of work. It’s really hard, actually, to beat the convenience of my current method, which is the set it and forget it – Forced carb method. Now, while different beers traditionally have different levels of carbonation, I am a simple man and I typically just have pretty much the same amount of carbonation in all my beers. I like them to be pretty fizzy with a nice foamy head on top.

Lazy Man’s Force Carbonation

So here’s what I do. The lazy man’s method for force carbonating. I’ve got a keg of beer right here. It’s a German pills and thanks to the magic of video, you might’ve seen me taste this beer several weeks ago, but as of right now, I’ve never tried it and it needs to be carbonated. My gas cannister stays connected to four regulators here and one of them I have set at all times to 40 PSI.

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That’s this guy. What I’ll do is I will put the 40 PSI pressure into the keg and leave this connected for 36 hours. Hey Siri, remind me to turn off the gas in 36 hours. There we go. 36 hours seems to be about the right number. When the time gets done, I will just pull the valve to release the pressure, set it to serving pressure and try it needs a bit more than I’ll put it on for a few more hours, but typically 36 hours seems to do it, so there you go. The lazy man’s beer force carbonation.

Now the style guidelines recommend using continental hops. We want to get a robust hoppy flavor without having any sort of floral aromas. So I’m using for my bittering hops perle hops. I have 0.75 ounces of perle hops, which will go in at 60 minutes. Then at 10 minutes, I have one ounce of Tettnanger hops.

Gravity finished on the money at 10 52 I’ve run out of ice, so I just use the groundwater’s to chill the wort and I got down to 67 Fahrenheit that is now in my fermentation chamber, chilling to 50 Fahrenheit. At which point I will add my lager yeast.

This is German lager yeast WLP 830 then sit back and let that ferment when it’s done. I’ll give it the old 40 PSI. Lazyman forced carbonation treatment.

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It’s tasting time! Lauren, welcome back. Thank you for having me. I wasn’t sure if you’re coming back after the last experience of the smoke beer.

Yeah. So this beer has come out at 10 12 for a 5.2% beer and it’s looking a similar color to the smoked beer, but I think a little bit clearer. What do you think about appearance appearance wise? Yes. I mean I can see the color. Um, but definitely clearer, it does have quite a caramelly looking color to it.

Yeah. Sort of an Ambery coppery color that’s pretty attractive color. I think. I like the look of this. Yeah, it looks pretty nice. Okay. How about the aroma? I smell, I smell sweetness. Yup. Yup. You’d expect to get a sort of a very malti um, aroma off this I’m getting very sweet malti as well. Yeah, no, there’s definitely a sweet like tones to it.

Yup. I’m interested to see what tastes like. All right, let’s give it a try. So what you would expect from a beer, like this is quite a malti character to it, which I mean, I think we got that from the smell. Yeah, definitely. Definitely go back to it. Uh, and just a little bit of hop bitterness to it as well.

So this is not going to be sort of like a floral hop at all, but just a bit of, um, bits of us in, in the taste. Are you getting any of that? I am. Um, uh, yeah, the hops bitterness kind of lingers and then it like subtly goes away. Yup. So it’s, it’s, uh, to me quite bready, uh, malti a little bit bitter.

It’s just a lot of characteristics that are really like in a beer. Slight best interest of that. It’s very slight. It’s just, it’s a little bit there. Right. This is not an IPA. No and I love IPAs. I can’t wait for those. It’s so long until I get to do IPS, but I can’t wait I want one so bad.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.