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.

Procedure

  • 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.

Tasting

  • 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

Beer Tasting: Decoction Envy Vienna Lager

20161106_140947My first attempt at a Vienna lager has nicely cleared and conditioned, turning into one delicious beer! My overall evaluation is below.

  • The Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.055; final gravity = 1.014; abv = 5.4%; estimated IBU = 29
  • Aroma
    • Spicy hop note, really delicious, with a slight crackery aroma behind that for the malt.
  • Appearance
    • Light gold, crystal clear, with frothy white head that is incredibly persistent. The beer is definitely paler than a Vienna lager should be, though.
  • Flavor
    • Bready and crackery maltiness at the forefront; really, really nice. This is balanced against a decent bitterness. It comes across as a somewhat dry beer, which is within line for a Vienna lager. The finish is very clean; no abnormal esters or phenols on this thing!
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium body, moderately dry on the finish, with moderate carbonation that seems about right for this beer.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • On its own merits as a beer, I’d give it a 9.5/10, but in terms of color it misses the mark for a true Vienna lager as defined by BJCP. If I do this again, I would add a slight bit of dark malt for coloration (maybe 2-3 oz. of debittered black malt), but maintain the overall process of decoction. The head and head retention are pretty amazing (almost too amazing–it’s hard to get a good pour!), and I would bet that is the result of the decoction process. I’m quite surprised that the beer didn’t darken up more during the decoction–maybe I should have boiled long enough, or didn’t boil intensely enough? The yeast I used on this one worked out really well, and the water build also seems to have been just the ticket.
  • Overall: 
    • 8/10

Vienna Brown Ale

viennaMany of my recent brews have explored styles that are new to me–saison, Bohemian pilsner, witbier, and altbier, to name a few. This has been a ton of fun (and produced some tasty results), and I am ever-searching for new ways to expand my brewing repertoire further. For the next round of exploration, I want to really delve into Vienna malt. My standard base malt has been American 2-row, and last winter I spent a bit of time playing with Maris Otter too. I’ve certainly brewed with Vienna malt as a minor ingredient, but still don’t feel like I have a good handle on its flavor characteristics. Time to change that!

Descriptors for Vienna malt are typically vague–phrases like “full-bodied” and “golden colored” don’t really tell me much about the flavor itself. “Toast” and “biscuit” aromas are also supposed to be present. I’m not yet confident what this means within this particular malt, so I need to find out firsthand.

Thus, I recently purchased a 55 pound bag of Weyermann Vienna Malt from my local homebrew shop. I plan to do a whole series of brews with it during the rest of 2016. First up is a brown ale, then an IPA, and after that a classic Vienna lager (because it would be a shame not to!).

My brown ale recipe for this time around is fairly simple, veering towards the malty side (which I like in a brown ale). I have a good feel for what the various crystal and chocolate malts taste like, so this batch makes a solid first chance to get my brain cells around the overall properties of Vienna malt.

Vienna Brown Ale

  • 9.5 lbs. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.5 lb. chocolate malt (Briess)
  • 0.25 lb. crystal 40 malt
  • 0.15 lb. de-bittered black malt (Dingemans)
  • 0.5 oz. Nugget hops pellets (13% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 tablet Whirlfloc, 10 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Nottingham dry yeast (Danstar)

Target Parameters

  • 1.051 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 5.1% abv, 24 IBU, 23 SRM, 5.5 gallons into the fermenter

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 4.1 gallons of water at 163°, to hit 154°. This was down to 151° after 45 minutes. After 60 minutes, I added 1 gallon of water at 190°, to hit a mash temperature of 155°. I waited 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 3.3 gallons of first runnings. Then, I added 3.7 gallons of water at 182°, to hit 166°. After 10 minutes, I vorlaufed and drained the mash tun.
  • In total, I collected 7.1 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.039, for 71% efficiency.
  • I boiled the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops and Whirlfloc per the schedule. The wort had boiled down to around 6.25 gallons (unchilled) by the end of the time.
  • After 60 minutes, I turned off the flame and chilled the wort to 80°. I transferred the wort into the fermenter (5.5 gallons total), and pitched the dry yeast directly. I sealed up the fermenter, and will begin fermentation at 68°.
  • Starting gravity was 1.048, slightly below my target of 1.051. I brewed this batch on 20 August 2016.