Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Tag: Vienna

Pre-Lager Brewing in Bohemia


Almost exclusively, Czech brewing means lagers, beers produced with bottom-fermenting lager yeasts at colder temperatures and over longer periods of time. Today, some 95% of Czech production is composed of golden lagers, while about 5% is dark lager. The few beers made with top-fermenting yeasts — ales and wheat beers, brewed at warmer temperatures and usually over shorter periods of time — now make up less than one half of one percent of Czech production. And yet just a little over 140 years ago, ales and wheat beers were still the standard here.

But then came a change in Czech brewing which was so sudden and so severe that it counted as news even on the other side of the world. An article in the New York Times of December 3, 1876, detailed the “complete revolution” in brewing that was then taking place in Bohemia, the western half of today’s Czech Republic, noting the shift away from what it calls “high fermentation” breweries (meaning ales) to the new, “low fermentation” breweries (producing lagers). As the article shows, the arrival of lagers was swift and merciless, killing off more than 260 ale breweries between 1860 and 1870 in Bohemia alone.

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Vienna and Vienna Lager


I have a story about new restaurants in Vienna in this weekend’s NYT. This is another Choice Tables feature, not a beer story, but I had to include the very good Rotes Zwickl from Ottakringer, which I liked a lot as the house beer at the excellent restaurant Österreicher im MAK (whose taps are pictured above). In the story, I wrote that this is one of the few beers in Vienna to come close to the nearly extinct Vienna lager style. Before any BJCP-style-guidelines-citing readers comment that a red Zwickl isn’t anything like Vienna lager, I’ll quickly link to Conrad Seidl’s piece on a real Vienna lager from Brauerei Villach, in which he writes (my translation):

“…but in Vienna, the local beer style was no more. Of Austrian beers, Hadmar (Bierwerkstatt Weitra) and the Rotes Zwickl from Ottakringer came the closest.”

What is interesting about the Vienna lager style is that, after it died out at home, related beers continued to exist in a couple of places: Mexico, for one, and in the Czech lands. (As Ron Pattinson wrote, “Vienna lagers aren’t dead: they’ve just moved over the border.”) In fact, this is one of the four current Czech beer trends I mentioned in The Truth about Budvar and in a post on Prague’s newest brewpub, Bašta.

Nope, those beers aren’t dead. They’re absolutely thriving here.

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