Historical(ish) Vienna Lager

I’ve been working my way through the excellent Vienna Lager book by Andreas Krennmair, which presents a fresh, historically grounded account of the development of this classic style. It’s a relatively short, highly readable piece of work, and of course it has some recipes in the back. Although we can’t directly reproduce historical beers–so much has changed with ingredients and procedures–we can create an approximate copy fairly readily.

My recipe is pretty similar to that presented by Krennmair, although I made some modifications for ingredients and process. The original recipe (p. 144 in his book) uses a double decoction and 90 minute boil, along with WLP820 (Oktoberfest/Marzen yeast). I converted to a batch sparge, to streamline the brew day, and also raised the mash temperature a fair bit. The original recipe claimed a final gravity of 1.018, and I really have no idea how one could reach such a high final gravity, even with the hotter decoction rests. The main mash sat around 149° in Krennmair’s version, and the math (and enzyme chemistry) don’t work out for me. So, I raised the mash temperature in my batch to target 156°.

The recipe from Krennmair has many parallels with “Nothing But Vienna” by Gordon Strong, which I brewed some time ago (as “Decoction Envy Vienna Lager“, and it turned out pretty well!). Strong’s recipe is also just Vienna malt, with Sterling instead of Saaz. I did that last batch as a decoction, but decided to be a bit lazy this time around. I’ve tried decoction mashes, and they’re fun every once in awhile, but too much bother sometimes. Batch sparge all the way for this brew!

Historical(ish) Vienna Lager

  • 11 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 1.5 oz. Saaz hop pellets (5.3% alpha), first wort hop, 60 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. W34/70 lager yeast (Saflager)

Target Parameters

  • 1.051 s.g., 1.014 f.g., 4.8% abv, 5 SRM, 28 IBU
  • Infusion mash, 156°, batch sparge; 60 minute boil
  • Claremont water, with Campden tablet to remove chloramines, lactic acid to neutralize carbonates, adjusted to target water profile of 50 Ca, 30 Mg, 81 Na, 68 SO4, 90 Cl, 30 HCO3, 25 ppm alkalinity, 53 ppm effective hardness, -29 RA.


  • The night before brewing, I took 9 gallons of hot tap water and added 7.5 mL of 88% lactic acid, to neutralize the carbonate load.
  • On brew day, I mashed in with 3.75 gallons of water at 166°, to aim for 156° mash temperature. I added 7 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust the mash pH. I hit 157°, which was down to ~153° after 45 minutes.
  • After 50 minutes, I added 1.5 gallons of water at 200°, to raise the mash temperature to 168°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. I added the hops to the kettle at this point.
  • Next, I added 3.75 gallons of water at 185°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.6 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.042, for 77% mash efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, adding 2 g of gypsum at this time. During the 60 minute boil, I added finings per the recipe.
  • Next, I chilled to ~84°, let it settle for 45 minutes, and transferred to the fermenter. I moved this into the fermentation chamber, and let it chill down to 54° before pitching the yeast. This was about 8 hours after flameout.
  • I brewed this beer on 22 August 2020. Starting gravity was 1.050, pretty darned close to my target.
  • I started fermentation at 54°, and raised the temperature to 56° on 31 August, 58° on 2 September, and hit 60° on 4 September 2020. I held at this temperature for 12 hours, before starting the trend back down. It was at 57° on 5 September, 50° on 6 September, 45° on 7 September, 40° on 8 September, and 35° on 9 September. The final step was down to 32° on 10 September, and I held it there until kegging on 27 September 2020.
  • At the time of kegging, the beer had a really nice flavor but still a fair bit of haze. I did a semi-closed transfer, straight out of the fermenter into a CO2-purged keg.
  • Final gravity was 1.015, for 4.6% abv. I lagered in the keg for about a month at 33°, before it went on tap.


  • Appearance
    • Brilliantly clear, gold colored beer, with persistent white head. It looks really nice in the glass!
  • Aroma
    • Malty, fresh bread aroma, with no hop character.
  • Flavor
    • Malt forward flavor, with a bready quality to it. Bitterness is fairly strong too, maybe a little more than I would really like for this beer. There is not a lot of character to the bitterness, beyond a slight spicy quality.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium body, off-dry finish, with moderate carbonation.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is a pretty decent recipe, but nothing exceptional. For whatever reason, the hop level comes across as a bit more than I really care for, and is almost a bit harsh at times. I blame the gypsum addition for that. I think trying to increase the sulfate level was a bit of a mistake, even if it brought the water closer to what it “should” be for Vienna water. I feel like a yeast that accentuates malt character a bit more would be do some good here, and perhaps a slight reduction in the hop level, too, as well as a minor amount of melanoidin malt. As far as lager character, it’s clear and cleanly fermented, and the reduced oxygen transfer has paid off with a super fresh taste even after nearly two months in the keg. Minor flaws aside, this is still a pretty easy drinking beer!
  • Overall
    • 6/10

Competition Results: Palaeotis Pils and Take Two Vienna Lager

I submitted my recent Vienna lager and German pils for the 2017 Romancing the Beer Competition, hosted by Thousand Oaked Homebrewers. I was pretty happy with these beers, and was pleased to see that the judges agreed! Take Two Vienna Lager earned an honorable mention in the Amber and Dark Euro Lagers category (out of 15 entries), and Palaeotis Pils placed third in the Euro Lagers category (out of 18 entries).

Let’s take a look at the overall results, and see how they stack up against my own tastings!


Take Two Vienna Lager

This beer averaged 37.5 (from scores of 37 and 38), falling at the upper end of the “very good” range by the BJCP guidelines.

Overall, the judges thought it hit most of the notes for the style. Hops were noted as nicely balanced against the malt. I was curious to see that the judges were split on mouthfeel–one thought it was pretty much perfect for the style, and the other scored it as slightly thin and watery. Similarly, the judges were split on the maltiness–one thought it was right on point, and the other thought it a bit lacking.

One judge picked up slight estery notes (or possible acetaldehyde). I suspect that this corresponds with a brief period in early fermentation when I lost temperature control due to a power outage.

Based on my tasting, it’s interesting that the recipe doesn’t terribly fit what I like in a Vienna lager (in terms of just a little bit too malty and roasty) compared with what the judges liked in a Vienna lager. I won’t likely brew this recipe again, but I am tempted now to brew something for competition more in line with my preference and see what happens!

Palaeotis Pils

I’m really proud of how this beer turned out. It came across really well on my personal tasting, and was absolutely enjoyable when it was on tap. It may not have won top tier in the category, but the judges comments make me feel like I’m on the right track. The beer averaged 38 (individual scores of 37 and 39), right at the base of the “excellent” score range.

Aroma scored well, although both judges said they were looking for a little more malt character. In terms of the hop aroma, both seemed okay with it (but one noted their perception of a tiny hint of vegetal character and that the overall hop aroma was a bit heavy). Appearance was nailed, and flavor was also pretty solid, with a balance between hops and malt. Interestingly, one judge noted perfect carbonation and the other thought it was a bit low. One thought the finish could be a touch more crisp.

So, if I brew this again, what should I change? I might add a touch of melanoidin malt, or else I might perhaps lengthen the overall decoctions. Another option might be to use a different base malt–perhaps one of the “standard” offerings from Weyermann rather than the Bohemian floor-malted version. I would probably also reduce my late hop just a touch, to about 2/3 or 3/4 of what it was originally. And, I suppose I would reduce the bitterness a tiny bit, too–maybe down to 28 or 30 IBU rather than 34. This would let the malt shine through a bit more. Another alternative (and something I might try) would be to up the overall malt bill and initial gravity a tad. I suppose I could carbonate more strongly or package more carefully, too, but given the split judging assessment, I’m not too worried about it yet.

I’ll be trying a slightly modified version of recipe again soon!

Beer Tasting: Take Two Vienna Lager

20170128_132534My latest Vienna lager ran out just a few days ago, but not before I worked in a beer tasting as well as a submission to a local beer competition. This batch earned an honorable mention (i.e., 4th out of 15 entries) in a combined Amber and Dark Euro Beers table at the 2017 Romancing the Beer competition. Tasting notes below were completed before competition results were announced, and I have not yet been able to compare my impressions with those of the judges.

  • The Basics
    • O.g. = 1.052; f.g. = 1.013; 5.1% abv; 12 SRM; 25 estimated IBU
  • Appearance
    • Deep amber, brilliantly clear beer, with a persistent ivory head.
  • Aroma
    • Slightly toasty, with a spicy and mildly floral hop note.
  • Flavor
    • Toasty maltiness, with the slightest hint of a caramel note at the very end of the finish. Hoppiness is subdued but noticeable.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Slightly dry, medium-light body.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is a good Vienna lager, but not a great Vienna lager (in my opinion). The slight touch of caramel on the taste throws it a bit out of style for me, and also isn’t quite what I wanted in the beer. The color is apparently within the bounds of the BJCP style guidelines, but darker than I really desire for this kind of beer. I suppose it falls within the realm of “North American Craft Vienna Lager.” For the next time around, I would reduce the melanoidin and Carafa II malts to lighten the beer and reduce any caramel notes. All that said, if I set aside stylistic preferences this is an exceptionally drinkable brew, and it was quite popular at a recent get-together.
  • Overall
    • 7/10

Lager / Pils Update

vienna_lagerThings have been moving along on my latest Vienna lager (Take Two Vienna Lager) and German pils (Palaeotis Pils). The two beers are in the same fermentation chamber; because the pils was brewed most recently, the temperature control regimen has been dictated by that batch.

For these brews, I elected to use a fast lager schedule. The pils was brewed on 9 December, with a starting gravity of 1.048. When I checked the beer on 16 December, the gravity was down to 1.020. At 57% apparent attenuation, this exceeded the recommended 50% threshold for temperature ramp-up, so I was clear to go. I didn’t bother to check on the Vienna lager, because it had been in there for a week extra and high krausen had long since passed. So, I figured it was more than safe to ramp that one up too.

At this point, I turned off the fermentation chamber to let things free-rise for the first day. Because my garage temperature was fairly cool, the temperature in the fermentation chamber hadn’t exceeded 55° after 24 hours. So, I added the heating pad and set the temperature for 68°. The temperature probe was loose, so that it would sense ambient temperature in the chamber, for a slower rise in the fermenters themselves than if the probe was attached to a fermenter directly.

I checked the pils again on 24 December, at which point the gravity was 1.011, and this was unchanged two days later (5% abv, with the 1.048 starting gravity). The Vienna lager (depicted in the photo) was at a final gravity of 1.013 (5.1% abv, following a starting gravity of 1.052). So, on 26 December I set the fermentation chamber to 34°, still leaving the temperature probe loose so as to ensure a slower temperature drop in the fermenters. I filled the airlocks with vodka, to avoid having the sanitizer water sucked in as things cooled.

After 24 hours of cold-crashing, I added gelatin, with 1/2 tsp. in a half cup of water for each batch. I’ll let things settle for a few more days before kegging and carbonating.

Take Two Vienna Lager

My previous attempt at a Vienna lager was pretty darned tasty, but a little short of the style in terms of coloration. For my next round, I elected to throw in a few additional dark malts, as a short-cut to something more on style. Additionally, I decided on a straight-forward infusion mash, rather than messing around with decoction. The decocted lager I did before was really tasty, but also a bit of work, and I wanted a quicker brew session for this batch.

The recipe was modified from one by Andy Weigal that medaled at NHC in 2015. I simplified the grist slightly (replacing the portion of pilsner malt with Vienna malt, and using regular Munich malt instead of Munich II). Additionally, I switched to Saaz alone for aroma and bittering.

Take Two Vienna Lager

  • 9.5 lbs. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.75 lbs. Munich malt
  • 0.25 lbs. melanoiden malt
  • 0.175 plbs. Carafa Special II malt (Weyermann)
  • 1.25 oz. Saaz hop pellets (5.6% alpha acid), 60 minute boil
  • 0.25 oz. Saaz hop pellents (5.6% alpha acid), 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. German lager yeast (White Labs WLP830), prepared in starter to target ~390 billion cells
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient, boiled in 1/2 cup water and added to chilled wort

Target Parameters

  • 152° mash, batch sparge, 60 minutes
  • 1.051 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 5.2% abv, 25 IBU, 12 SRM, 6 gallons into the fermenter


  • Five days in advance of brew day, I prepared a 3.5L starter, using 2 packages of yeast and 353 g of extra light DME. After 2 days, I decanted 1L of the starter to set aside a 125 billion cell culture for later use. The remainder was cold-crashed for 3 days, with supernate decanted.
  • On this batch, I followed a water treatment popularized by Gordon Strong. I added 1/4 tsp. of phosphoric acid per five gallons of brewing water, and also added 1 tsp. of calcium chloride to the mash. I am a little surprised by his minimal treatments (especially on the acid additions, given their likely minimal effect on mash pH), but figured I would give it a try.
  • To start the mash, I added 3.6 gallons of water at 167°. This slightly overshot my mash target of 152° (hitting 156°), so I added a half gallon of cold water. This undershot my mash target, so I added a half gallon of boiling water to finally hit the mash target temperature about 25 minutes into. Close enough, I figure.
  • After collecting the first runnings, I added 4.25 gallons of water for the sparge (followed by vorlaufing) and collected the second runnings.
  • All told, I collected 7.5 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.045. This equates to an efficiency of 85%. Perhaps it was so high because my mash ended up relatively thing…I’m not certain.
  • 20161202_224854I boiled the wort and added hops and other ingredients per the recipe.
  • After 60 minutes, I removed the hops, chilled the wort, and transferred to the fermenter. Once the temperature had dropped to 56°, I pitched the yeast.
  • I will be fermenting this at 52° for ~10-14 days. I brewed this on 2 December 2016.
  • Starting gravity was 1.052, right about at my target. Not too bad! The wort is a deep amber color…a bit darker than I expected, but still looks to be within BJCP style.