Invented in the 1840s by Austrian brewing magnate Anton Dreher, the Vienna lager style was one of the most popular of its day. The story goes that Dreher was touring Britain, visiting breweries and stealing wort in a hollow cane, an early bit of industrial espionage. He took what he learned there and made an amber lager roughly modeled the English pale ales he had sampled and swiped. I can’t be sure of the truth of this story, but that’s the story.
At any rate, the style gradually went out of favor in Europe and by the early/mid 20th century was gone from the continent. The style survived in central America where expatriate German brewers were still brewing it. Even there Vienna lager underwent a gradual transformation from a full-flavored, all-malt lager to an adjunct-laden shadow of itself. In the 1980s however, upstart American craft brewers re-discovered the toasty, amber lager and revived it. There are now several fine examples brewed in this country, including Capital Wisconsin Amber, Schell’s Firebrick and Great Lakes Eliot Ness Amber Lager. The latter is the one I just sampled. Here’s my notes:
Aroma: Toasty bread-crust and earthy spice. Aroma is light overall.
Appearance: Medium amber and brilliant. Long-lasting, creamy, ivory-colored head.
Flavor: Fuller flavor than most of the style. Sweet caramel and toasted bread-crust malt dominate. Moderate bitterness balances. Spicy/herbal hop flavors keep it refreshing and accentuate hints of roast. The crisp, dry finish lingers on toasty malt.
Mouthfeel: Medium body, but full for the style. Medium carbonation. Crisp.
Overall Impression: A very nice, full-flavored Vienna lager. I love toasted flavors in malt and this beer has them in spades. Refreshingly dry finish makes this a very easy beer to drink, sessionable except for the 6.2% ABV.