Bridging the Gap Between Summer Ales and Oktoberfest: Vienna Lager

Autum colours in the mountains.
While summery weather closed its tab early this year, fall has stumbled its way into the bar ready to keep the party going. For me, times such as these are always a little awkward in terms of beer selection. Summer seasonals like kölsch, saisons, and IPAs just don’t suit the cooling weather, but fall seasonals like pumpkin ales, Oktoberfest/Marzen, and brown ales are just a little out of place when I’m still wearing shorts and flip flops. That’s why at this particular part of the year, my go-to beer is the Vienna Lager.

Vienna Lagers have an interesting history. Invented in 1841 in Vienna, Austria by Anton Dreher as a response to the new and wildly growing pilsner style, the Vienna Lager was a lager that utilized slightly more kilned malt, known as Vienna malt, that gave a toastier and more complex malt flavor and a light amber color. However, Vienna Lager soon fell flat as a style in its native Vienna due to the near fanatic European response to the pilsner style. Thus Vienna Lager brewers migrated to Mexico, of all places, in the late 1800s, where they re-popularized their style. To this day, Mexico is one the major producers and drinkers of the Vienna Lager style. Beers like Mexico City’s Negra Modelo and Monterrey’s Dos Equis Amber Lager are enduring and popular examples of the Vienna Lager style, though regrettably slightly watered down by grain adjuncts like corn and rice. The Vienna Lager style, in its original form, should be a lighter and more thirst quenching version of an Oktoberfest or Marzen beer. It features a subtle malt complexity with prevailing flavors of toasted bread and a slight nutty character. Medium levels of carbonation, medium to light body, and a very balanced finish make this style a very thirst quenching choice. The combination of malt flavor, easy drinkability, and thirst quenching capability make it a perfect choice for those late summer/early fall nights when you’re not sure whether or not to bring a light jacket out with you.

One thing to keep in mind with this style is that it is not one that will ever knock your socks off or blow your mind with taste, creativity, or strength. This is as easy drinking of a style as they come, with a short finish and crisp mouthfeel. When approaching these beers listed below, my only recommendation is to try to appreciate them for what they are: an easy drinking session beer with subtle complexity. With that being said, if you are interested in grabbing a six pack of something good for your early fall football tailgate or dinner party, look no further than these beers below.

Beers To Try:

Abita Amber
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Pours amber-gold with a clean lager aroma with prevalent bready and nutty aroma. Overall very balanced and thirst quenching, this Vienna Lager is definitely worth a try!

Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager
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Great balance, great flavor and great drinkability. Toasty, warm, bready, and a little nutty with a crisp and slightly bitter finish solely to curb the sweet malt flavor, Devil’s Backbone’s flagship is one of the better Vienna Lagers on the East Coast.

Blue Point Toasted Lager
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The name says it all. The first word that should come to mind about Vienna Lagers is “toasty”. This beer exhibits the toast front and center with bready and biscuity undertones. Very balanced overall and a fantastic choice for a non-craft drinker or weekend football tailgate.

Great Lakes Eliot Ness
Probably the standard by which all present day Vienna Lagers should be judged. Caramel notes play along with toast and even slight raisin and walnut hints. More full bodied and certainly more flavorful than the above beers, this beer is a world class Vienna Lager.

Beer and Food Pairing

Vienna Lagers traditionally pair well with most bar or tailgate foods. Chicken wings or fingers, burgers or sliders, BBQ pork, chips and dip, and especially pizza all work well with the crisp and cleansing mouthfeel and toasty, malty taste. Due to its historical popularity in Mexico, it also pairs well with most any Mexican dish and can usually be found in authentic Mexican restaurants. This is one of those beer styles where you almost can’t go wrong with pairing it with any substantial dish. Get tailgating, and get drinking Vienna Lager!


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