Few immigrant beers have had a more lasting impact than Vienna lager, Austria’s grandest contribution to the brewing canon. In 1841, renowned Austrian brewer Anton Dreher developed a malty amber brew that stood at the crossroads of sweetness, bitterness, and refreshment. It became one of continental Europe’s favored styles in the second half of the 19th century before falling from popularity, pushed aside by paler beers such as pilsner. Vienna lager may have faded away if not for Austrian brewers who immigrated to Mexico, their homegrown lager finding new fans in North America.
The import’s legacy still endures south of the border, notably in the DNA of Negra Modelo and Dos Equis. Modern American brewers have seized upon the copper lager’s combination of flavor, moderate alcohol, and food-friendliness, its soft and bready malt character making it an ideal ally for grilled vegetables, sausages, and chicken wings alike. With cheese, there’s no shortage of pairing avenues to take. Malty sweetness makes Vienna lagers a fine foil for spicy cheeses such as pepper Jack, while the style’s caramel complexity and palate-cleansing ability nicely complements a nutty aged Gruyère or cheddar.
Five to Try
Devils Backbone Brewing Company
Old-world lagers are the specialty at Virginia’s Devils Backbone, including this copper-toned standout. It has garnered countless medals thanks to a textbook approach that smoothly balances rich caramel with a clean, snappy finish.
Try it with: 15 Fields Cheddar
August Schell Brewing Company
Established in 1860, the family-owned Minnesota brewery is one of America’s most venerable. Named after the bricks that originally lined the brewery’s boilers, this refreshing reddish lager offers a light malt sweetness offset by a subtle bitterness.
Try it with: Roth Grand Cru Surchoix
von Trapp Brewing
Descendants of The Sound of Music’s von Trapp clan operate the Vermont-based brewery that concentrates on the cold-fermented beers of Germany, the Czechia and Austria. This amber Vienna-style lager brings to mind biscuits and caramelized sugar, with an aroma of freshly clipped grass.
Try it with: Tillamook Pepper Jack
Oskar Blues Brewery
The can-mad Colorado brewery uses native malts and European hops to make this thirst-crusher inspired by Mexican-style Vienna lagers. The light-bodied amber offering drinks surprisingly velvety with some neat flavor notes, notably walnuts and cocoa.
Try it with: Le Gruyère AOP
Heavy Seas Beer
For more than 20 years, the pirate-themed Baltimore brewery has proudly embraced a renegade spirit in its lineup of flavor-charged beers like Vienna-inspired Cutlass. Crystal malts supply the smooth and toasty amber lager with a delicate saccharine quality that’s complemented by Germany’s earthy Tettnang hops.
Try it with: Tickler Cheddar