By John Fortunato
Once amongst the most popular beer styles in Austria and Germany, Vienna lagers fell out of favor after World War I. Occasionally nebulous in nature, coppery clear Vienna lagers may not demand the regional nor national admiration trendy pastry stouts, fruited sours and New England IPA's now enjoy, but there's always room for a lighter bodied thirst quencher.
While stylistically bigger and bolder stouts, India Pale Ales and sour ales have taken center stage gaining massive U.S. popularity since the brewpub revolution took hold 'round 1996, less expressive and less expansive lagers and pilsners have comparably 'paled' both in hue and mass acceptance. But there is still a captive audience for milder kolsches, witbiers, hefeweizens and pale ales. As for the latter, pale ales were originally influenced by the pale malt found in Vienna lagers.
In 1841, brewing buddies Anton Dreher (Vienna-based Schwechat Brewery proprietor) and Gabriel Sedlmayr (Spaten Brewery owner) went to England to discover newfound barley kilning methods, leading to the invention of Vienna and Munich-styled amber lagers.
Sometimes stylistically indeterminate, it's usually the lightly kilned caramel toasting and slightest dry bittering of soapier-headed Vienna lagers that differentiate these Austrian brews from the leafier rustic crisping, tenuous red-orange fruiting and lower hop IBU's many Noble or Tettnang-hopped Munich-styled amber lagers regale.
Furthermore, its oft-times the sweeter Easter breading and delicate floral spicing that slightly set apart German Oktoberfests from similarly designed Vienna lagers. The only true Munich Oktoberfestbiers hail from Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Hofbrau, Augustiner and Lowenbrau.
In an added twist, Austrian immigrants brought the Vienna style to Mexico in the 1890's and soon a Munich-styled lager, Negra Modelo, a local dunkel-styled 'dark ale,' became the country's best-selling beer. Presently, adjunct cereal grained Mexican-styled Vienna lagers such as bland Dos Equis Amber and drab Modelo Victoria receive massive mainstream acceptance.
Meanwhile in the US recently, several fine amber lagers such as iconic pastry-like cereal grained Samuel Adams Boston Lager, dusky toffee-spiced Yuengling Traditional Lager and buttery white breaded Heavy Seas Cutlass compete for space.
If we split hairs and try to separate Munich amber lagers and Oktoberfests from similarly stylized Vienna lagers, there are a few worthy standouts and a lot of indistinct fodder.
Arguably, California's Sierra Nevada Vienna Lager is the finest and best known of the classic Austrian style. Its fruitier alacrity, leafier hop resin and sturdier baked bread backdrop retain a crisply clean finish.
Though registered as an amber lager, Ohio's Great Lakes Elliot Ness, arguably fits Vienna lager perimeters better with its honeyed cereal graining receiving floral-spiced dried fruiting above an emphatic molasses-dripped chocolate base amber lagers lack.
An understated gem, Massachusetts' Jack's Abby Saxony, merges damp grain musk and sourdough breading with orange pekoe tea mossing.
Not quite as rewarding, muted nutty grain toasting, frugal dried fruiting and light fungi musk define New Hampshire's Smuttynose Pinneped, but diacetyl buttering lowers its overall appeal.
Briskly clean New York-bound Yonkers Lager places caramel spiced citrus alongside earthen Noble hop astringency atop honeyed biscuit buttering.
Sourdough breaded cereal grains and nutty dried fruit spicing faded into dank cardboard-like pasting for dankly floral Magnum-Tettnang-hopped Flying Bison Rusty Chain, Buffalo's best selling beer.
Vermont's dewy mineral grained Von Trapp Vienna Lager took a slightly different approach, plying raw-honeyed citrus souring, dry earthen musk and grassy fennel to biscuity flouring.
Underwhelming Virginia-based Devils Backbone let timid chestnut, pecan and almond sweetness and tea-like earthiness bedeck the slimmest toasted caramel spicing.
Indifferent barley-oats toasting and phenol orange spicing waver for Minnesota's August Schell Firebrick Vienna Lager.
Directionless Chicago-based Metropolitan Dynamo Copper Lager lacked sufficient Vienna malt sweetness and its musty orange-oiled lemongrass tartness turned mucky.
For a decent changeup, wintry coniferous minting spiked the mildewed orange chocolate truffle dankness detailing Wyoming's Snake River Vienna Lager.
If you enjoy easygoing brews then bottom fermented, lightly kilned, lagered yeast-induced Vienna lagers may be your thing.
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