Shout-Out To Vienna Beer, 1867


In 1867 a florid travel account of Vienna must have opened a few eyes in upstanding Philadelphia, in whose press it appeared on January 5 in the Evening Telegraph. The tour included the Volksgarten, or Peoples’ Garden, where beer and food were consumed in the open air.

The Peoples Garden is still a major attraction in Vienna although it seems large-scale beer bibbing is gone from the scene.

While disavowing an ability to describe the taste of Vienna lager, the correspondent did a pretty fair job nonetheless:

The Austrian malt liquor is not, except in the cities, a common drink for the humbler classes; for wine, even out of the grape countries, is a cheaper beverage. Tastes can neither be disputed nor be described, and so those whose ill luck has prevented them drinking Vienna beer must be satisfied to hear that it is less bitter, less “capiteux”, and more ethereal in flavor than Bass and Allsop, weaker in alcohol, and more neutral in taste than other German beers; above all, that, when poured into a glass fresh from a cask just brought up from the ice-cellar, it glows like fluid amber, and is crowned with a delicate beading of bubbles, which are true bubbles of the air, and not, like the soapy foam of Scotch ale, bubbles of the earth.

To sip from a glass of Lager, puffing wreaths from a cigarette of choice Latakia, while you gaze vaguely up to a sky flaming with the gold and crimson of a Danubian sunset, and catch the rhythm of waltzes and mazurkas – this is the perfection of ignorant and mechanical bliss. And nowhere else is such blessedness so surely to be found.

“Ignorant and mechanical bliss” – that was the 19th century equivalent of chilling out. I find myself defeated by bubbles of the air and bubbles of the earth. If you can help, let me know.

The writer, clearly of British origin, felt constrained to point out that Barclay Perkins’ brewery (in London) produced almost three times what Anton Dreher’s brewery did and employed a proportionately larger work force. Still, the writer was seduced by Vienna beer, of that there can be no doubt.

A much later writer, Michael Jackson, who inaugurated more or less the Vienna beer renaissance, noted in early writings that Vienna had stopped making Anton Dreher’s foundational amber lager. He even wrote that Austrian brewers disputed with him whether amber Vienna beer had ever existed as a style. Maybe it’s different now, in Vienna, some 40 years on, and anyway craft brewers around the world regularly offer fine examples of Dreher’s ethereal lager.

Still, you can probably find it more easily in a California strip mall, or numerous corners of Toronto, than the stately city of its origin. It’s an irony not quite dispelled by the fact that, at the right time of year, the blueness of their respective sky bears a marked resemblance.

Note re images: the first image above, of the modern Volksgarten in Vienna, is used under and pursuant to Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 40), whose text is linked in the source of the image in Wikipedia, here. The second image was sourced from the website, here. Used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.