Style School – Vienna Lager

The first of the pale lagers, the Vienna Lager is perhaps one of the most important styles in the history of beer. This makes it even more surprising that it has only recently been resurrected from the verge of extinction by passionate homebrewers and a handful of awesome small breweries. How did this beer develop, why did it disappear, and what on earth is a “Mexican Vienna Lager”?

When Anton Dreyer travelled Europe on a beer apprenticeship, he and his comrade Gabriel Sedlmayer II were fascinated with the malting technology being developed in Britain, producing startlingly pale and clean flavoured malts for brewing with. So much so that they allegedly went to the length of stealing wort samples for further analysis. Upon arriving back in their respective hometowns, they both went to work on creating their own pale malt using these techniques. The resulting malts were named Vienna and Munich malts respectively. Dreyer wasted very little time throwing the new malt into his mash tun, the resulting beer being the traditional Vienna Lager.

Not long after this, the pilsner was born, and the helles followed close on its heels. These even paler more brilliant beers took some of the spotlight off the slightly darker Vienna, and the richness of the Munich style Marzen allowed it to fill its own corner of the beer market leaving the Vienna stuck somewhere in the middle. By the time World War 1 had finished, Austria’s economy was ruined and the last of the authentic Vienna lagers ceased production.

Across the planet in the new world, colonialism had spawned a spinoff beer in Mexico. A wave of Austrian immigration following a brief military occupation in the late 1800s had brought a bunch of brewers in with it. A combination of local water source, ingredient prices and accessibility, and local tastes had morphed it into a far darker and more corn laden drink than its ancestor from the homeland. However, for the bulk of the 20th century, these Mexican style “Vienna lagers” were the only Vienna lagers being brewed, and as such, wore the label exclusively. Thankfully, with the homebrew scene full of beer geeks and history nerds, we have seen a resurgence in the original beer and can go back in time to taste the hype.

To brew one of these beers the old-fashioned way, all you need is Vienna malt, and a good noble hop. Hallertau, Tettnang and Saaz all produce great results. In terms of technique, decoction would definitely be appropriate here if you felt inclined. If not, a stepped mash moving through the 50s Celsius into a 30 minute rest at 64 degrees, and a 30 min rest at 71 degrees with a 10 minute mashout at 78 would be ideal. If this isn’t achievable shoot for a single step at 66 degrees Celsius for a balanced brew with good fermentability. It is worth keeping an eye on mash pH as well, subbing a small amount of acid malt for some of your vienna should see you straight, or else a calculated acid addition in the mash liquor is worthwhile to avoid a high pH mash..

These beers are dryer than their Bavarian cousins and should have more of a hop presence to them. A late edition will probably yield too much flavour. If you can’t help yourself, keep it to under 0.5g/L, and shoot for an overall BU:GU ratio of 0.5:1 (25IBU for a 1.050 beer). Ferment with a good quality lager yeast that will highlight the malt flavour and allow it to attenuate as fully as you can manage. You may need to intervene with temperature adjustments to get it all the way down to the 1.010-12 you are shooting for here. Carefully lowering your temperature down to lagering temps will help keep the yeast active and the beer will continue to dry out in the keg as it ages.

Recipe: Danube Believe It?


Expected OG


Batch Size


Expected Bitterness

10 EBC

Expected Colour


Assumed System Efficiency (measured post boil)

1. Grain

  1. Best Vienna Malt – 4.6kg (98%)
  2. Acidulated Malt – 100g (2%)

2. Mash Schedule

  1. Dissolve and add 2g calcium chloride and 2 g calcium sulphate to the mash water. These salt recommendations are for soft water like Melbourne water or rain water. If your water is different you may need to change salts accordingly.
  2. Dough in at 40 degrees Celsius.
  3. Bring up to 64 degrees for a half hour rest

  4. Bring up to 71 degrees for a half hour rest

  5. Bring up to 78 degrees for a 10 Minute mashout

3. Boil – 60 Minutes

4. Hops

  1. Hallertau (5.4%) – 33g @ 60min (25.3 IBU)

5. Extras

  1. Kettle Finings: One half Whirlfloc tablet or 2.5g GelBrite, 10 mins from end of boil
  2. Yeast Nutrient: 1tsp, 10 mins from end of boil

6. Fermentation

Pitch a very strong starter of Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager. We recommend using wort as close as possible to your beer for your starter and pitching the whole starter at high krausen. Shoot for a higher cell count than your pitching calculator recommends. Pitch at 10 degrees. Hold It there for the full fermentation if possible. If your beer is stuck at too high a terminal gravity, add a degree at a time up to but not exceeding 15 degrees. This may also be necessary if detecting Diacetyl in your samples. If your pitch is strong enough these interventions shouldn’t be needed.
For the dried yeast option, use 3 packs of 34/70 yeast. Pitch and ferment at 10 degrees C.

When it comes time to lager, take off a degree a day until you hit lagering temps. 5-6 weeks should be plenty of time to lager.