At first glance, a Vienna Lager recipe may resemble that of an Oktoberfest, and although there are similarities between these beers including both being amber lagers from Germany; a Vienna Lager recipe will produce a significantly lighter and more sessionable beer with a lighter mouthfeel and color as well as a lower alcohol content or ABV.
When compared to traditional German beers the Vienna Lager would fall squarely in the middle between Pale Lagers and Oktoberfest. It has a maltier or more roasted flavor and amber color compared to the former but is nowhere near as rich or caramel-tasting as the latter.
In this article, we are going to explain the characteristics of this beer style, as well as provide you with tips to make your own Vienna Lager, and lastly, we will give you one of our favorite recipes for this style of beer.
Vienna Lager Characteristics
If you are a fan of British beers then a Vienna Lager recipe could be described as being very similar to a Special Bitter recipe if it was brewed using lager yeast, put through the lagering process, and carbonated at a higher level.
Appearance – The head is quite noticeable being thick and having good retention, color-wise it is white to off-white. The clarity of this beer is clear to brilliant and its carbonation level is medium with rising bubbles being visible. Its color is typically described as amber however it can range from copper to a reddish brown.
Aroma – The aroma is typically described as having toast or bread-like characteristics, but it can also have a lightly roasted malt aroma as well.
Taste – Like the aroma the toastiness of bread-like flavor will be most noticeable, there will not typically be a high degree of roast or caramel flavors like its darker cousins however they can be present. There is a slight sweetness to the beer that is balanced nicely by the bitterness from the hops and like most lagers, there will be no esters or phenols flavors.
Mouthfeel – The mouthfeel is smooth with the beer having a soft body and the carbonation level being medium with a crisp and dry finish.
Tips to Brew a Vienna Lager Recipe
Although we will provide a recipe at the end of this post if you wish to modify it to your liking or create your own recipe the following tips will help you brew as close to a traditional Vienna Lager as possible…
Grain Bill – It goes without saying that the main ingredient in a Vienna Lager recipe is going to be Vienna Malt. In fact, many traditionalists will tell you that it is the only grain you require in the recipe as it will provide just the right amount of the required toastiness and bread-like characteristics.
Other brewers go the almost opposite route and reduce the Vienna malt significantly, replacing it with a mixture of Munich, Marris Otter, and Pilsner. The Marris Otter brings the bread-like flavors, while the Munich will provide the darker color while adding malt flavors and Pilsner adds a degree of softness to the flavor as well as balancing out the color by providing a lighter shade.
With some recipes, you will find specialty grains added to the grain bill, typically some Crystal or Caramel malts (under 10% of the grain bill). Be careful using dark crystal or you will end up with too much of a caramel flavor for this beer style. If you wish to increase the body of the beer you can add a small amount of dextrin or wheat malt.
Surprisingly Mexico brews more Vienna Lagers than anywhere else, the versions brewed there do tend to be a little sweeter tasting and darker colored. If you are looking to brew a Mexican Vienna, plan to use Crystal malt and possibly include Munich as well. Like most lagers brewed in North America corn is also included in the recipe, some versions will use up to 20% of their grain bill
Hops – Vienna Lager recipes do not call for large amounts of hop additions. The beer is not meant to be bitter nor does it have strong hop flavor or aroma characteristics. The hops are added as a means to balance out the sweetness from the malt as such the majority of the hops additions are at the start of the boil, some brewers will add a small addition towards the end of the boil but rarely is this beer dry hopped.
The typical German noble hop varieties such as Hallertauer, Saaz, and Tettnang are typically used, however, you will also commonly see other mid to low alpha acid hop varieties such as Willamette and Liberty used also.
The Boil – A standard 60-minute boil will suffice unless you are using Pilsner malt and then 90 minutes is recommended. Hop additions are bittering hops at 60 minutes and aroma hops at 10 minutes and at flame out if you are doing a 3rd addition.
Yeast – When choosing a yeast any Lager yeast strain will work. Some brewers prefer to use the same strains of yeast that they would use for malty lager styles such as Marzen and Bock yeasts. Wyeast and White labs both make a few liquid yeast options. If using dry yeast then go with Saflager W-34/70.
When pitching your yeast for this beer if using a liquid yeast then make a yeast starter and use 2 times the amount of yeast you typically would. If using dry yeast then pitch 2 packets.
Fermenting – Read the back of the yeast packet for details on the ideal temperature range to ferment at, the range will typically be between 50 – 55℉. As fermentation is getting close to being done raise the temperature to 60℉ and keep it there for 3-4 days or until fermentation has finished, this will result in a very clean beer and attenuated beer.
Lagering – After primary fermentation is completed, transfer your beer to a secondary fermenter or carboy and lager it at 35 – 40℉ for approximately 6 weeks. Go here for detailed instructions on lagering your beer.
Vienna Lager Recipe
Batch Size: 5.5 gallons (fermenter)
5oz CaraMunich 1
5oz Crystal 75L
1oz Willamette (60 min)
0.5oz Saaz (10 min)
Mash at 152℉. Perform mash out by raising the temperature of the mash to 170℉ and holding it there for 10 minutes. Sparge with 170℉ water. Bring wort to a boil, and boil for 90 minutes. Chill wort to yeast pitching temperature, transfer to your primary fermenter and pitch the yeast. Ferment at 48 – 55℉. After 3 – 4 days raise the temperature to 60℉ until fermentation is finished. Transfer to secondary fermenter and lager for 6 weeks. Bottle or keg.
The Last Call
Feel free to modify this Vienna Lager Recipe as you wish; there is some freedom to change some of the ingredients and still stay within the guidelines for this style of lager. If you enjoy lagers this recipe will be sure to become one of your favorites.
P.S. For more beer recipes be sure to check out our gift on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your smart device and get Big Robb’s top 5 favorite recipes from his brewpub. Cheers!