NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Vienna Lager has been reclassified as Style 7A in Category 7 Amber Bitter European Beer which groups amber-colored, evenly balanced to bitter balanced beers of German or Austrian origin.
Vienna lager is becoming a popular style with homebrewers. Becoming rare these days commercially, there are still a few classic examples made in Mexico as a result of immigration of Austrian brewers during the last part of the 1800s.
The styles there are not truly to style however since the breweries are using adjuncts which thin out the maltiness and add some sweetness to the beers.
Vienna Lager Description
Aroma: Medium intensity German malt, either Vienna malt
and/or Munich, with a light toasty profile. This beer has a similar
aroma to the Oktoberfest but not quite as intense. As with all lagers,
you will find a clean lager character with no fruitiness, esters, or
diacetyl. You may note some aromas from noble German hops, but these
will be low to none at all. Any caramel aromas are inappropriate so
keep kettle caramelization to a minimum.
Appearance: Again, similar to Oktoberfest with a light red to
amber or copper color. Clarity should be brilliant with a large
off-white head that lingers.
Flavor: Being a malt-focused beer, you will first notice a
fine malt complexity from the use of several different malts. These can
include Vienna, Munich, Pilsner and sometimes wheat and dextrin malts
are used as well. The Vienna malt will impart a light toasted character
to the beer. There should be no roasted or caramel flavors evident.
Vienna lagers finish rather dry with just enough firm hop bitterness to
balance the complex malts. When hop flavor is present, it will be from
noble hops and may be low to none in intensity.
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is medium light to medium with a
mellow creaminess. There will be moderate carbonation and a smooth
medium-crisp finish. There may be some warming sensation from alcohol.
Overall Impression: This beer is characterized by the toasty
complex maltiness with subtle hops and a crisp finish. There is
sometimes some residual sweetness.
Comments: Brewing this beer may present some problems. The
problems lie in figuring out where the beer should fit in the style
range. On one end is the American version which is stronger, drier and
has more bitterness, the Mexican version which has been commercialized
with heavy use of adjuncts, and the European versions which will be
sweeter and less attenuated. To find some middle ground, it's best not
to brew this beer with caramel malts. To distinguish the Vienna lager
from an Oktoberfest, keep the finish dry by pitching plenty of healthy
yeast. Watch your fermentation temps and let the fermentation finish.
Look for a combination of Vienna, Munich and Pilsner malts which will
give you a nice bready, toasty character but that will still finish nice
Ingredients: Mostly Vienna malt which imparts the light
toasty, melanoidin-rich malt profile. Use the freshest ingredients you
can find with continental malts when available. Noble hops provide the
characteristic balancing bitterness and flavors Vienna lagers are known
for. The water profile in Vienna is medium-hard with high carbonates.
You may use caramel and darker malts if you must for sweetness and
color, but be extremely cautious. You could push the beer into the
Oktoberfest category. Remember, there should be no caramel or roasted
character to this beer.
Commercial Examples: Great Lakes Eliot Ness (unusual in its 6.2%
strength and 35 IBUs), Boulevard Bobs 47 Munich-Style Lager, Negra
Modelo, Old Dominion Aviator Amber Lager, Gordon Biersch Vienna Lager,
Capital Wisconsin Amber, Olde Saratoga Lager, Penn Pilsner
References: Information for this page was adapted from the BJCP Style Guidelines for 2008, The Beer Advocate Vienna lager description, and Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.