Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Makes It So "Vienna"?

Capital's Winter Skal is a Vienna Lager. We saw on Monday that New Glarus' Snowshoe ale was similar to Vienna Lager, only it uses ale yeast. And we pointed out that there is such a thing as Vienna malt that is frequently used in Vienna lagers and red or amber ales (and many other types of beers as well). Vienna malt is considered a specialty malt (as opposed to "base malt") although it can be used for up to 100% of the grain bill of a particular beer. It has a maltier flavor and aroma than typical American base malts like a 2-row or 6-row base malt. It also has a slight dry, biscuity, breadlike flavor and aroma and gives a golden amber color. These flavors and aromas are derived from a slight high-temperature roasting (like in an oven) once the malt has been dried; this roasting process reduces (though does not usually eliminate) the fermentability of the malt, but adds color, flavor and aroma.

Why Vienna?

Well, RateBeer tells us that the Vienna lager was "given this name because the style was developed around Vienna, Austria." That seems rather obvious. The question still remains why Vienna? And what gives it these characteristic flavors?

For the first part, we look to Wikipedia, which tells us that the Vienna lager was invented in 1841 by Anton Dreher in Vienna, Austria. Beer Advocate tells us that the Vienna lager typically uses a German-style triple decoction mash to emphasize the maltiness and that the style is similar to, but not quite, an Oktoberfest or Marzen. Finally, the BJCP tells us that the Vienna Lager is "soft and elegant" with a light toasty aroma and a dry finish. Overly caramel flavors should be avoided; Vienna, Munich, Pilsner, and 2-row malts can be used.

Capital Winter SkalCapital Winter Skål (BA.RB.)
Appearance: a thin bubbly white head and a highly carbonated light, watery-copper body
Aroma: malty and sweet, with a slight dry, metallic brightness
Flavor: not as strong as malty as one might think, but a light brassy-maltiness; the finish is quick and dry
Body: the carbonation keeps the medium body from settling and the flavors from fully realizing themselves, though it keeps the finish clean
Drinkability: while I could drink these in moderation, I'm not sure I'd want to
Summary: light and thin, the carbonation keeps the flavors from settling; while this could be a really good beer, like Capital's Oktoberfest, it ultimately feels more like a play at consumer appeal and in the end sacrifices the soft, subtle complexity typical for the style.

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