Let’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.