Tasting Two Modern Viennas, And The Historical Ottakringer

img_20160924_162623_editLet’s drill down on historical Ottakringer. In one of Ron Pattinson’s always-impressive tables, two samples from the brewery are included in a group of Vienna beers analyzed in the 1870s. As Ron notes, the data was from Julius Thausing’s brewing text of 1882. This was an English translation of the original German, edited with another by Anton Schwarz, the influential American brewing scientist.

(Schwarz was born and educated in what is now the Czech Republic but made his career in the United States. I’ll have more to say on him soon, but he had studied law before mastering a rather different field, chemistry. He was of Jewish background, one not commonly encountered in the brewing and allied fields. It’s something he shared with fellow-brewing scientist Max Henius and indeed the Kuffner family who owned Ottakringer from 1850 until they were forced to sell in the Nazi era).

The first Ottakringer in the table, sourced at a hotel in Vienna, had an ABV of 4.89 and FG of 1015.70. The second, from the brewery’s taproom, had ABV of 4.15 and a gravity of 1009.80.

The first has lower final gravity than Dreher’s beer I discussed yesterday (1019.76) but one may note the Dreher is almost a point higher in alcohol, 5.64%. But 1015.70 is considerably higher than modern Ottakringer’s 1007 while the modern beer is higher in alcohol by about a half-point…

The second Ottakringer from the 1870s is closer to the modern in FG, almost 1010 FG vs. 1007, but that is still 3 points different – and the oldie was weaker by more than 1% abv.

I think it can be seen the 19th century Ottakringers had to be much richer in taste.

As for Dreher, Ron – see his table under “Schwechat” – gives gravities for three of them, all about 1017, so three points less than the Dreher the British analyzed in 1869. But the 1869 beer was 5.64% abv – higher by at least a point than any of those three beers. So the difference in FG is not as significant as may seem and anyway 1017 FG is a rich beer, I think most would agree. To get a sense of what this means, modern Pilsner Urquell is 1015 FG and 4.4% abv. Dreher’s beers in the 1870s analyses were about the same alcohol but richer even than Urquell, a beer few would call dry…

Viz. the modern Ottakringer Vienna, even if you took the mid-point in FG of the brewery’s 1870s beers, or 1013 (to round a bit), again that is a much fuller body than 1007 would produce.


Comparing now Ottakringer’s current Vienna to a local craft version (the beers pictured), I would say the Ottakringer has the edge. It is simply more complex even while not being particularly rich. The Lake of Bays one, perhaps a bit on the dark side for the style, has a good rounded taste. Indeed it’s fuller-bodied than the Ottakringer, but less impactful albeit (presumably) non-pasteurized vs. the pasteurized import.

All modern Oktoberfest- and Marzen-designated beers provide another basis of comparison to the Ottakringer as these styles are all related. Their history is complex and a bit tangled, but broadly I think it is fair to say they are in the same family. The signature (IMO) is a caramel edge but without the pronounced dark toffee of Munich dunkel. A pils or helles beer is drier than either with little or no Maillard notes.

“Vienna”, it should be stressed, was primarily based on the malt type. The beers of Vienna in the 1800s could be of different strength, hence the different designations in the table linked (Export, Lager, etc.). As Thausing’s book makes clear, Vienna lager (in the broad sense) also had particularities of mashing and hopping method. But the malt was the key and in this sense, the colour and flavour of Ottakringer’s recreation are authentic albeit the beer could – should IMO – be richer in taste.



5 thoughts on “Tasting Two Modern Viennas, And The Historical Ottakringer”

  1. Knowledgeable-sounding modern home brewer decoction for Vienna lager: http://beerandwinejournal.com/vienna-recipe/

    Julius Thausing’s (1882) discussion of decoction brewing, following which he gives a detailed description of Vienna’s method: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.17461931;view=1up;seq=437

    They are basically similar as I read them, both involve raising the mash to 167 F (one says 168 F).

    Thus, while I agree like should be compared to like, I doubt what Ottakringer did was much different to 19th century decoction in the city.

    Therefore, the old beer had to be sweeter if both worts pre-fermentation have the same proportions of maltose and other simple sugars vs. dextrin.


  2. Mouthfeel is somewhat related to gravity, but the alcohol does affect the gravity more than the mouthfeel I think. A stronger brew with the same final gravity would actually feel bigger as there are more proteins and/or complex sugars, but they offset the lighter alcohol (in a gravity measurement). If you were to increase the FG in the stronger brew, it would seem even bigger. But then as you continue to increase strength, at some point (beyond 5% abv) the alcohol becomes drying and does seem to lighten the body. That’s my subjective assessment anyway.

    It is interesting how different brews feel different, and trying to strive for that balance myself. Continental malt often has more protein than our better domestics, so there’s more mouthfeel without excessive sweetness.

    Right now I’ve got a homebrewer Vienna style lager on tap. I think it was about 70% Weyermann Vienna and 30% Weyermann Munich I. It’s about 9.5 SRM and hazy as hell, so I’m calling it a Kellerbier! I guess I should’ve done a protein rest to reduce the chill haze, but it has such a great mouthfeel and flavour that I don’t really want to fine it with gelatin.

    • Derek, thanks again. One factor that I think may explain why high FG beers may not have been as sweet as appears at first sight is, the more dextrin in the wort and finished beer, the lower (weaker) the attenuation will be. I’ve been reading that in the 1800s, in general German brewers wanted high-dextrin mashes, presumably to lend a feeling of weight and substance to the beers, the “nourishing” factor one constantly reads about. As is well known, dextrin is not sweet in and of itself, it is more a feeling of mouthfulness. So, a high-dextrin 1015 pils may not be that much sweeter – in a linear sense – than a 1008 pils which is low-dextrin. But surely it will taste “bigger” and in practice more satiating. See this modern test here of two beers made the same way except for mashing temperature – the high mash one was lower in alcohol and apparently fuller in taste (weaker attenuation) but the testers varied quite a bit in their reaction, the person who conducted the test didn’t think they were all that different but the reaction can’t be easily summarized one way or the other.

      Somehow I think net net, moderately attenuated beer has to be fuller and richer than higher attenuated, but I do see that it’s not a simple question of comparing FG numbers – the mashing regimen needs to be looked at for beers then and now. http://brulosophy.com/2015/10/12/the-mash-high-vs-low-temperature-exbeeriment-results/

      I guess if the mashing system, especially temperature, was similar for the Ottakringer recreation as would have been used in the 1800s, then yes a difference of 1007 FG vs. 1016 and higher is significant. If the temperatures were quite different, then there still must be a difference IMO but how much is open to question…


  3. You’re right that the style truly relies on the malt. I’m not familiar with the lake of bays, but a lot of domestic brewers use domestic malt, with a bit of crystal for that caramel flavour and body. Unfortunately they just don’t have the same depth as the originals. Sure the Vienna/Marzen/Oktoberfest doesn’t have the meaty or roasty melanoidin character of a dunkle, but it still has a bready backbone to support the light caramel sweetness. I really enjoy these brews when they’re done right!

    • Thanks Derek. There is some melanoidin in the Ottakringer, but I’d assume relatively little.

      Quick question: in your view, assuming one wants to maintain the same fullness of taste as in a 4 per cent abv beer but just make it 5 per cent, do you think the FG should rise in proportion to the increase in alcohol, or 25 per cent in that case? Does it work in a linear sense like that? Or not necessarily?

      Putting it a different way, is a FG an absolute value so that an Urquell at 1015 FG would have the same richness of taste even if it was 5.5 per cent abv but still 1015 OG?


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