Showing posts with label vienna lager. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vienna lager. Show all posts

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Book Review: Vienna Lager

 A few months ago I bought "Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer" by Andreas Krennmair and have thoroughly enjoyed dipping and and out of the book for inspiration and plans for the upcoming winter lager brewing season. It was on the basis of having enjoyed it so much that I ordered his latest book, "Vienna Lager", from Amazon within moments of him announcing it's release on Twitter.

A few days later it dropped through the door (figuratively speaking), and just last night I finished it. Sure it is not a weighty tomb, but I have read it in snatches as life allows, even so, a month is pretty good going by my standards these days.

What we have here is the life and story not just of the Vienna Lager style, but also a deep dive into the life of it's creator, Anton Dreher - he who went wandering around British breweries with Gabriel Sedlmayr, filching samples with Bondesque contraptions as they went. Scion of a family of innkeepers and brewers, Dreher built the largest brewing company on mainland Europe in the 19th century, at its height boasting 4 breweries, one each in Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, and Italy.

Andreas then follows Vienna Lager on its journey from its Austrian homeland to the New World, as it became an established part of the German brewing world in both the US and Mexico, and thence onward to its acceptance within craft beer.

While being focused on Dreher and Vienna Lager in particular, the book gives the reader an insight into the massive changes wrought on the European brewing industry in the second half of the 19th century. Not only are we talking about the introduction of three of the most influential beer styles, but also the introduction of English malting techniques that allowed maltsters to create consistent pale malt, and thus the world was set on the path of pale lager domination.

Andreas' book is full of fascinating technical detail, the kind of thing that very much appeals to the technical writer in me. At the same time he succeeds to keeping the technical details accessible and not overwhelming. An added bonus for homebrewers, and possibly commercial brewers looking to re-create history, is a selection of recipes for Vienna lager through the ages, naturally the early ones of just Vienna malt and Saaz hops appeal to me most of all, and perhaps this winter will finally see me take the plunge into decoction mashing.

What Andreas has done here is write the definitive guide to Dreher and his Vienna Lager, and made a valuable contribution to knowledge of the development of pale lager in general. It is an excellent read, go and buy it, now.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Falling Into Von Trapp

Lager is kind of my thing.

I can't think of a single warm fermented beer style that I would rather drink than a well executed cold fermented style. Sorry folks but your New England IPAs just don't compare to the height of craft brewing that is an Old School Czech pale lager. If you think that you foreign extra stout with gorilla snot and dingleberries can hold a candle to schwarzbier then you are in for disappointment.

Most of my favourite breweries are those that brew lager, giving it the deference and respect it is due, even those like Sierra Nevada who are better known for their ales do some magnificent lagers as well. This year I added a new to me brewery to my list of go to purveyors of fine decocted booze, Von Trapp Brewing from Vermont (yes, that Von Trapp family and yes they do decoction mashing).


Since trying their Oktoberfest back in the appropriate season, I have been on something of a Von Trapp kick. Other than my 10 days in central Europe, I have probably indulged in at least one six pack of their various beers each weekend since September, and in keeping with my worldview these days I haven't really taken notes other than when needed for other projects and schemes.



Something that each of the beers I have tried so far shares is that it is an excellent example of whichever style it is. For example I am actually fairly confident that had Beer Run had any more of the Oktoberfest when I decided to do my mass tasting that it would have been in at least the final 4, possibly the top 2.


Most recently I have been revelling in Tr?sten, a rauchbier that unlike many an American made smoke beer is actually worthy of the name. Sure it might not be a full frontal assault on the senses a la Schlenkerla, but it is a beautifully smokey dark lager that could easily become a regular in winter for me, and may even be used to soak the raisins, sultanas, et al in the fruit cake I plan to make this weekend for my father-in-law and I.

Of the regular styles available my go tos of late have been Helles and Dunkel, both of which I would put right up there with the best versions available back in Germany and which, as a side note for us Czech beer fans of the world, make a delightful ?ezané pivo, or black and tan.


If you live in any of the states where Von Trapp is available, I recommend getting out to the store and stocking up, and if said store isn't carrying these superb lagers given them earache until they relent! I have been desperately trying to avoid cheesy Sound of Music references, but truly these are a few of my favourite things! Whilst in the mood for cheesy puns, yes I am happy to declare myself a Von Trappist too.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Golden Leaves of Vienna

Sadly this is not an Evan Railesque travelogue of drinking eponymous lager in the capital of modern Austria. Though when the boys are a bit more grown up a tour of the drinking cultures of central Europe sounds like a grand plan, after all them turning 18 and me 60 coincide quite nicely, and in winter as well so a tour of the Christmas markets could be fun. Anyway, I digress.

As you well know, dear regular reader, I am a big fan of Devils Backbone Brewing just down the road from us here in central Virginia. They were one of the first breweries we visited after moving here from the Czech Republic (sorry, but bollocks to Czechia) and have been a constant, and consistent source of lager beers to keep the lagerboys (and girls) amongst us happy. Of course I should also mention that Jason at Devils Backbone has been kind/crazy enough to brew a couple of my beer recipes at the brewpub.

Unlike many a craft brewery, Devils Backbone's flagship beers are lagers, the trailblazing Vienna Lager and the one time bestseller at the brewpub Gold Leaf. Between them they have picked up 13 gongs at various competitions, including the World Beer Cup. For a long time though if you wanted some Gold Leaf you had to go to the brewpub, which is no great travail, but the days of an hour's drive for a couple of pints are gone for the time being, twins eh? Those days though are over for a reason other than parenthood, Devils Backbone now package Gold Leaf.


Gold Leaf, described on the can as a "Golden Lager", is very much in the tradition of central European every day beer, which given Gold Leaf's nicely modest 4.5% abv makes it a grand session beer. I imagine the starting gravity is around 11° Plato - I can't remember who told me this but if you take the ABV and times it by 2.5 then you have an approximation of the starting gravity. Made with 4 different malts, and 3 hop varieties, including 2 of my favourites (Tettnang and Saaz), to give you 21 IBUs, it is a very easy beer to drink, and that my friend is it's charm.

No doubt I sound like something of a scratched record on this, but I have no time for the vast majority of silly shit beers, you know the kind of thing, porter with peanut butter, IPA with breakfast cereal, gose with fruit, anything you care to mention with vanilla. Gold Leaf is the kind of beer I love to drink, simple, classic, flavourful without being challenging, refreshing, and ideal for sitting on the front porch on a Sunday afternoon. Best of all right now, it is available in our local Wegmans as a 15 pack of cans for $15, you really can't beat that.

Unless of course you want something a little stronger, then get a 15 can pack of Vienna Lager for the same price and pour three into your 1 litre ma?....


Friday, March 23, 2018

Old Friends: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

I am going to make an assumption with this post, namely that you have been reading Fuggled for a while and thus it will come as no surprise to you that I am a devotee of lager. There is just something about most lager styles that I find appealing, given a choice between some trendy glitter bomb juicy IPA and a pint of Miller Lite, I am likely to take the Miller Lite more often than not.

When Mrs V and I made the move from Prague to central Virginia we knew that finding a good local lager was high on our list of priorities. For a while we bounced around Blue Mountain's Classic Lager, Starr Hill's Jomo Lager, and the beer that is today's Old Friend, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager. Eventually Vienna Lager won the day and became my standard lager in the fridge. I really can't think why I stopped keeping a six pack of it in the fridge, probably something to do with the well made contract brewed lagers that I could buy at Trader Joe's.

Being a central European style lager, it seemed only right to pour it into my half litre mug from the lovely Purkmistr in Plzeň that I got at the first Slunce ve Skle festival a decade ago. What a glorious deep copper beer with orange edges and half inch of off-white head that leaves a fine tracery of lacing down the glass.


I had forgotten just how much I loved the aroma of Vienna Lager, laden with a smell that I can only describe as like large amounts of honey spread on freshly toasted bread. Floating around in the background is a lovely floral hoppiness that reminded me of walking in the Czech mountains in the height of summer, side note I have always loved the Czech word for flowers, 'kyti?ky'.


Anyway, before I lapse into a Bohemian revelry, we should actually drink the beer, that is after all the whole point of this most wonderful of liquids. Teacakes, that's what I get, teacakes freshly taken out of the oven, spread with more honey, and then snaffled with all the delight of an illicit, though simple, pleasure. There is a light citrusy bitterness to the beer that gives the beer a balance that makes it thoroughly moreish.


That thing I mentioned earlier about there being something about most lagers that I find appealing, it is the clean bite that comes with a well made, properly lagered beer. The best way I can think of to describe the perception I am thinking of is that it is a tight snap that leaves the palate waiting for more. Drinkability, that is ultimately what love about lager styles, I find them more drinkable than many of their top fermented cousins.

With it being Friday, I might just swing by the shop and pick up a 6 pack of Vienna Lager to enjoy this evening once the boys have gone down for the night...every prospect pleases.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Viennese Whirl

I was running early for work, and by work I mean a shift behind the bar at Starr Hill, so I pottered into a supermarket near the brewery to peruse the beer selection, you know, just in case. In many ways it was a fairly standard Harris Teeter beer aisle, and fair play to them they generally have some good beer. In with the cases was Sierra Nevada's 'Fall Pack' mix case, a selection of 4 beers, 3 bottles of the Pale Ale, Tumbler, Oktoberfest, and Vienna. Having not had the Oktoberfest at all  or the Vienna in quite some time, I got myself one and drove off to work.

As I drove home after work, I decided that a blind tasting was in order. I recalled Sierra Nevada's Vienna Lager being rather nice when I had it on draft a few years back at a Beer Run tap takeover (they also had Torpedo on cask, and it is much better than the kegged product), so I decided to compare Viennas. To that end I got another couple of representations of the style, and with the aid of my beautiful assistant, Mrs V, set to comparing the following:
Here are my notes, in the style of Cyclops as usual.


Beer A
  • Sight - amber, large fluffy head, lots of carbonation
  • Smell - dominated by bready malts, light honey notes, some earthiness
  • Taste - juicy cereal/graininess, soft caramel like sweetness, gentle hop bite, clean
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Notes - slightly slick mouthfeel, bit on the watery side but nicely refreshing

Beer B
  • Sight - orange/copper, large slightly off white head, no noticeable bubbles
  • Smell - grain, general sweet aroma, light toast, grass
  • Taste - clean malt flavour, bready, slight syrup, undertones of earthy hops
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Slightly on the sweet side, medium bodied, nice carbonation, easy drinking

Beer C
  • Sight - rich copper, medium sized ivory head
  • Smell - some toast, juicy sweet honey
  • Taste - richly malty, honey/maple syrup, fresh scones, clean crisp hop bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Complex array of malt flavours, balanced really well with a clean hop bitterness, refreshing and moreish, slightly slick mothfeel
Rather than try to identify the beers, I decided to just note the order in which I preferred them, and was as backward as C, B, A, which turned to be as follows:
  1. Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
  2. Starr Hill Jomo Vienna Lager
  3. Sierra Nevada Vienna

All three beers are perfectly drinkable, but Devils Backbone's Vienna, as befits a multiple award winning beer just stands out with its complexity. It really is one of the best lagers in general in the US in my utterly unhumble opinion.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mmmmm.....Lager.

You know me by now, unless this is your first visit to Fuggled, in which case welcome, I am a lager drinker, nay a lover of lager. Whether it is a Bohemian Pilsner, Schwarzbier, Vienna or Baltic Porter, the lager 'family' of beers is the one I like to spend as much drinking time as possible with. That's not to say that warm fermented beers aren't wonderful as well, but just that beer that takes its own sweet time to be ready is my preferred tipple. Given a bank of taps pouring pale ales in various states of Indianess, stouts, porters, brown ales and wheat beers, if there is a solitary good lager available then I will gladly ignore everything else, even if it is super rare, super strong and aged in gorilla snot barrels.

Without being mean, any brewer can chuck more hops into the kettle, or add spices to secondary and get something that is at least drinkable, but it takes a master brewer to have the confidence to brew a great lager, such as Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Victory Prima Pils, or Kout na ?umavě 18° (it also takes a master brewer to do the whole extra hops and spice thing well without turning the beer into a flavour mess). We can argue all day about the merits or otherwise of decoction mashing, for the record I think it makes a better beer though I know at least one of my favourite lagers is done with infusion mashing, but one thing is clear, lager is a labour of love, and if a brewery does it properly then it ties up capital and equipment for a very long time.


Take Budvar for example. I remember reading that each batch of their flagship 12° lager takes 102 days to make, from start to finish. Primary fermentation lasts 12 days and then the beer sits in the lagering tanks for 90 days, that's three months, 12 weeks (1 week for each degree of Plato as used to be the norm), just sitting around. Would most people recognise a difference if they brought it out after 60 days? Probably not, but some traditions are worth keeping regardless of what science tells us with numbers.

Brewing, any brewing, is not just about the numbers. Sure your pilsner might have a starting gravity of 1.048 (12° Plato), you might even have gone crazy and hopped it to 40 IBUs but it might still suck because there is too much alcohol from the yeast over attenuating and making it thin in the body (more alcohol is not always a good thing). Perhaps you used some high alpha hops for bittering rather than Saaz all the way through. Perhaps you didn't wait for the lager to tell you when it was ready and just pulled it from the tanks after 28 days regardless. Lager, in  my thoroughly unhumble opinion is not something to be taken lightly, and one of the reasons I brew them so infrequently is simply because I want to do them justice and I don't really have the equipment to do so.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy living in this part of Virginia, I have access to great local lager whenever I want it, made by brewers who do it properly and rightly win awards as a result.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Union Drinking

Some time back in the Spring I had a Skype chat with my best friend. At the time he was living in Kyiv, Ukraine and during the conversation he was drinking his homebrew pale lager which reminded him of Staropramen. Eventually it transpired that he would be back in the States for a few months, he being American, and that we should get together for a lads' weekend in his hometown of Baltimore.

Thus on Friday morning I took my first train ride in the US, to get from Charlottesville to Washington DC, where once he was finished with work for the day we would meet to make our way up to Baltimore and perhaps have a pint or two over the coming days. With several hours to kill in DC before meeting up, I hopped on the Metro (btw - I love public transport, civilised places have public transport) with the intention of going to Churchkey and sitting with my book for a few hours. Having walked for about 20 minutes from the nearest Metro station, I discovered that Churchkey doesn't open until 4pm. It being only 12.30 I headed back to Union Station to see if I could find one of the pubs I had read about. Just an aside, I know far too many pubs that don't open at a reasonable hour like 11am, I am yet to work out why such places are adverse to the capitalist notion of making money.

Having made it back to the Union Station area, I headed in the vague direction that I remembered there being somewhere to drink from Google Maps. I don't have smart phone and so the idea of navigating by phone is something I don't do. Anyway, half an hour of concerted bimbling lead me to The Union Pub, where I sat gazing in wonder at the Devils Backbone Vienna Lager tap in front of me, I had found my place. There I sat, reading the occasional snippet of David Hume's 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion' and feeding money into the juke box - if anyone reading this was assaulted by my choice in music - The Smiths, Rammstein, Die Toten Hosen and Gerry and the Pacemakers, then let me apologise.

Spending a few hours sat a bar, with good beer and a good book really is one of my favourite things to do, and I think whenever I head up to DC again, The Union Pub will be my first choice place to go. They have a really good selection of beer, a nice atmosphere and from my experience of one afternoon, excellent staff. I was almost tempted to get my friend to meet me there rather than at Union Station, but as he had said to me earlier in the day, if we met in a pub we would probably never get to Baltimore...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Austria. Thuringia. Bavaria. California?

There are some breweries that never, ever, fail to impress, or at least make beers that I enjoy and want to drink multiple pints of. Word on the street is that one such brewery is looking to open an East Coast operation and one of the options is just a few hours south of where I live. I am, of course, talking about Sierra Nevada, who, rumour has it, have a site near Roanoke as one of their options for the new operation.


My first beer from Sierra Nevada is the one in the picture, sat in the magnificent, and sadly defunct, Sheridan's On The Docks in Galway, watching Ireland play New Zealand with the supreme company which is The Tale of the Ale's Reuben and his wife. Before splashing the cash to buy it, I had sent a quick message to Evan Rail to ask his opinion, and he was right, it was a delight.


Since moving to the US, I have enjoyed every Sierra Nevada beer I have encountered, from the comforting autumnal Tumbler to the smooth yet zingy Glissade. Their stout and porter both make regular appearances in the cellar and the fridge, and I'm even partial to a drop of their IPA, Torpedo.

On Thursday night, there was a Sierra Nevada invasion at Beer Run. Every tap, including the hand pull was dedicated to Sierra Nevada. On a side note, I enjoy these "tap takeovers" because you get to see how good a brewery actually is as a result of lesser known beers being available. Having dropped Mrs V off at the library so she could crack on with her latest paper for her Masters degree, I headed over for a couple of pints.


A quick glance at the menu revealed the words that immediately make me want to try a beer, "lager", "pilsner", you know by the now the stuff I like. So a pint of Vienna Lager was ordered. I had never seen a Sierra Nevada Vienna Lager before, hardly surprising as it is one of their "Specialty Drafts" according to their website. 4 mouthfuls later and the glass was empty. That is one delicious beer, clean and crisp, yet laden with toasty malt sweetness. Had it not been for the limited time available to me, and the dark winkings of the Schwarzbier, I could have drank that all night. But turn to the dark side I did. The Schwarzbier was, um, schwarz, and roasty, full of flavour and just bursting with goodness and again with a nice clean finish. Perhaps this explains my love of lager, I like clean flavours. My final pint was the FOAM Pilsner, a German Pilsner, and a very decent brew it is too. Had it been served in a biergarten in Central Europe it would have been the lubricant to a night of conversation and revery.

I also did a side by side tasting of Torpedo, one from keg and one from cask. The cask version was sparkled, as is the correct method, and the difference was startling. The hop aromas were much more pronounced in the cask version than the regular keg, and the body slightly fuller. Whilst not a cask fundamentalist, if I was I would be pretty much teetotal in this country, I am yet to be convinced by the argument that keg is better for highly hopped brews. Every time I have the opportunity to compare the same beer side by side from keg and cask, it was been a highly hopped pale ale, and the cask was won hands down.

My only wish is that these lagers were more regularly available in this neck of the woods. It is clear that not only do Sierra Nevada make some exceptional ales, their lagers are right up there as well, but sadly not getting the distribution and praise they clearly deserve.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Nature of the Relationship

It is clear that beer doesn't exist within a vacuum, in the sense that brewers don't sit on the steps of their brewhouse and invent entirely new beers without the years of knowledge and expertise the brewing community has acquired. The development of Pilsner was not a case of Josef Groll going into isolation and suddenly creating this pale lager that would revolutionise the beer map in Europe. He bought with him the tools and knowledge of centuries of Bavarian lager brewing to create a beer using the ingredients native to Bohemia - which raises the question again in my head, what was pre-1842 Pilsner beer like?

Tmavé is similar, in that at around the same time as Baltic Porter went from being primarily warm fermented to cold fermented, so did it. Putting pay in many respects to the lunacy of labelling tmavé as either a dunkle or a schwarzbier, it is neither, though possibly related to both. It would almost be like calling the English language either French or German because it is influenced by both. Personally I have a notion that the old Pilsner beer was a warm fermented tmavé, but I can't prove that at the moment.

There is, however, a third common beer style in the Czech lands that deserves more attention than it gets, polotmavé - literally a "half-dark". From my understanding of the style, it was an old lager style which went belly up and was eventually resurrected by Staropramen when they brought out Millenium back in 2000, replete with misspelling. These days Millenium is known as Granát, Czech for garnet, and that has become a fairly common name for breweries making a polotmavé, the other being "Jantar", which means "amber".

Something I am researching and trying to figure out at the moment is the relationship between Vienna lager and polotmavé, if such a relationship exists of course. Yes, there is a overlap in terms of colour, but is that where the relationship ends? Vienna lager was, at least in the 19th century, made with mostly Vienna malt, if not entirely, yet polotmavé appears to be made with the same malts as tmavé but proportionately less of the dark caramel and black malts.

All this theorising about cold fermented beers of varying traditions is really making it a necessity in the near future to work out a suitable method for fermenting and lagering so I can put my theories to the test. One idea I have is to brew a single gallon of them at a time, ferment in the fridge - a 1 gallon jug will stand up quite nicely. Then for lagering, pack ice into a bottling bucket, put the jug into the bucket and then surround and cover with more ice, and store in my cellar - changing the ice as required.

Any thoughts?

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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