What Is A Vienna Lager?

Continuing my years-long journey of exploring the types of lagers with more minutia than anyone ever should, I bring to you my next article covering the Vienna lager.

The Vienna lager is, in my opinion, underproduced in the USA and, as a result, under enjoyed. That being said, there are still wonderful places in this country where you can find an excellent Vienna lager.

Alright, no more introduction. Let’s talk Vienna lagers.

Vienna Lager History

As a surprise to absolutely nobody, the Vienna lager comes from Austria, potentially even Vienna!

For an actually useful background, Vienna lagers came to be around the same time the Pilsner did. What an awesome time it must have been to be a beer fan, assuming you lived in or around Bavaria. 

The Vienna lager made a splash pretty quickly as a “light” beer. Of course, by today’s standards the Vienna lager isn’t light at all, but it was a revolution in beer lightness at the time. 

But just like the Avatar in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Vienna lager vanished. Sort of. It really has dropped off the map. But why?

Well, Vienna lagers are not the easiest beer to make. They’re traditionally made with Vienna malt, Vienna Lager yeast, German hops…you know, regional ingredients. Ingredients that aren’t from the North America region.

But even if we don’t have many truly traditional Vienna lagers in the USA today, we do have some wonderful offshoots that are just as loved, if not more.

What Does a Vienna Lager Taste Like?

Vienna lagers are recognizable by their amber color and malt-forward flavor profile. The malts are really the main flavor you want in a Vienna lager — think toasty, caramelly, malty goodness.

The color of the Vienna lager is really what made it a famous beer style. While distinctly darker than other lagers today, the Vienna lager was a famously light-colored beer when it came out.

Most Vienna lagers are going to come in around 5%-5.5% ABV, though I’m sure there are brewers out there that would love to push that ABV higher or lower.

Vienna Lager vs Other Lagers

Ok, remember earlier when I said that we have some wonderful offshoots of the Vienna lager? Well, now I’ll elaborate!

Vienna Lager and Pilsner

The Vienna lager and Pilsner are practically twins. Not because they’re similar, but because they were first made around the same time, around 1840. 

Outside of that, many brewers today might substitute ingredients from each traditional recipe with the other. For example, a brewer might use Vienna malts in their Pilsner, or Pislner malts in their Vienna lager.

Outside of this fun interchangability, Vienna lagers are going to be a bit maltier than Pilsners, and the modern Pilsner is much lighter in color.

Vienna Lager and Mexican Lager

Ok, now we get to the really fun comparison: Vienna lagers and Mexican lagers. In the past I’ve blanket statemented to people that they’re basically the same. And that blanket statement is sort of true, to an extent.

The Mexican lager draws a lot of inspiration from Vienna lagers. I’ll get into the history in another article, but long story short is the Vienna lager started to get popular in the US, so US brewers tweaked the recipe a bit. This tweaked recipe made its way to Mexico and got tweaked more — specifically, there was a tweak that added Mexican-native corn to the recipe (something brewers still do today to save on costs).

The result was the Mexican lager that ended up having not that much in common with the Vienna lager it was based off. But if the ultimate form of flattery is imitation, then the Vienna lager must be one of the most flattered beers out there.

Thomas Short
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