A short history of the Vienna Lager

Once upon a time there was a brewer

Anton Dreyer, who inherited a brewery when he was just 10 years old, is the brainchild behind the Vienna Lager. In the 1820s Anton was travelling Europe on what was officially a kind of apprenticeship, but sounds suspiciously like a years-long brewery crawl.

Along the way Anton met up with another young brewer, Gabriel Sadlayer, and they joined forces and headed off to England. Remember, that in this period of brewing history, English brewers were all about creating ales, while in the German-speaking countries in Europe, it was all about lagers. Also at the time, a new technology was emerging in England. Instead of using direct heat to to dry malts, brewers were experimenting with using dry air.

Why does this matter?

More control over the colour of the malts means less ‘smokiness’, and gentler, more subtle, delicate malts.

What happened next?

Anton and Gabriel proceeded to steal samples of their hosts’ malt in canisters they had designed especially for the task. Gabriel is reported to have said “It always surprises me that we can get away with these thefts without being beaten up.”

Anton and Gabriel survived, apparently scot-free, and headed back to their respective breweries, in their respective hometowns (Vienna and Munich).

Gabriel used this contraband to create a Munich malt resulting in the creation of style we know now as Märzen or Oktoberfest. That’s a another story for another day, so for now, we will say auf wiedersehen to Gabriel.

Back in Vienna...

Now at the helm of the Klein-Schwechat Brewery, Anton continued to experiment with the English way of kilning and created a slightly caramelised amber malt that he christened Vienna Malt. He combined that with traditional German lager yeast and in 1841 the Vienna Lager was born.

For about 60 years the Vienna Lager was popular, and gold-medal-winning, in Austria and other parts of Europe. Then it mysteriously disappeared completely after World War I. No one really knows why.

But don’t worry

In the early 20th century the style popped up again in Mexico. Yes, Mexico! Far from its European origins, the style was lovingly nurtured by Austrian brewers that immigrated to central America. Using local ingredients such as corn, the Mexican version is considered to be more robust than the original, but just as delicious. You’ll probably even heard of some of the more popular examples such as Negro Modelo and Dos Equis Amber.   

That’s not the end of the story

As these beers were exported across the border Vienna Lagers were quickly embraced by pioneers in the US craft beer industry. These days hundreds of American craft breweries, including big names such as Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada and The Boston Beer Company all have a Vienna Lager on their books.

And in New Zealand a small number of craft brewers, including the team here at Tinker Tailor are spearheading the Kiwi-comeback of the Vienna Lager.

Vienna Lager craft beer in a glass