The road to red Oktober
What color were Anton Dreher's first lager brews?
In 1840/41, Anton Dreher began to brew lager in Vienna. Unfortunately, accounts of brewing at that time are always very vague about the aroma, colour and taste of the beer. Brews subsequently made to commemorate this period have always been amber red, and I have always believed that was the colour of Dreher's lager.
Again, judging from what little we know of his process, and of the beers that have since proclaimed themselves to be of the Vienna style, I believe these beers typically to have been malt-accented, perhaps with some barley-sugar aroma and flavour, but with a good hop balance.
He feels that the nearest beer to this style currently being produced in Vienna is the Marzen of the brew-pub Siebenstern, in the street of the same name.
The Austrian beer writer Conrad Seidl recently wrote to me with three historical references that in various respects bear out this belief. He feels that the nearest beer to this style currently being produced in Vienna is the Marzen of the brew-pub Siebenstern, in the street of the same name. Marzen because the beer was originally hid down in March and matured until September.
In 1842, in Pilsen, Bohemia, Josef Groll (or Grolle) produced the world's first golden lager. It is hard to believe, but accounts from that time seem to suggest that the pale colour -- which made the beer so startingly different at the time -- was a happy accident.
The local barley was very low in protein, and that would have helped clarity. The brewery, which was brand new, had British-inspired maltings, using indirect heat, which produced a pale kilning. While other brewing cities had water high in various minerals, Pilsen's was very soft. In particular, it was innocent of limestone, which brings colour from the malt into the beer. The plentiful local hops were used lavishly, and that would also have helped clarify the beer.
At a time when metal tankards and stoneware stains were being replaced by mass-produced glass, sparkling golden lagers would eventually dominate.
Pilsen's hoppy examples were eventually joined by maltier golden lagers from the Munich area and something between the two (with a slightly higher gravity and firmer, "hard water", body) from Dortmund. Alongside them, the darker styles survive, albeit as specialities.
The classic Marzen-Oktoberfest style today is an amber-red brew of about 1055 (5.75 per cent ABV), malt-accented but with a good hop balance. Unfortunately, this style is becoming very hard to find at the festival.
In 1858, Gabriel Sedlmayr's brother Josef introduced the Vienna style of lager to Munich as a seasonal speciality at the famous festival that starts in September but takes its name from October, when it finishes. The classic Marzen-Oktoberfest style today is an amber-red brew of about 1055 (5.75 per cent ABV), malt-accented but with a good hop balance. Unfortunately, this style is becoming very hard to find at the festival. Some have the gravity, but most are less malty than in the fast, and golden in colour.
Lowenbrau is launching such an interpretation in Britain on September 18 (day one of the festival) for a limited period. This beer is golden, quite firm-bottled, with a good malt background, and well-hopped. Medium-strength, lightly malt-accented lagers of this type are offered at many festivals in Germany. Often, they are identified simply as Festbier. There are also stronger seasonal lagers, sometimes golden or amber but often dark, in the Bock range.
I hesitate to mention this, but the easiest place to find a proper amber-red, malty Oktoberfest beer these days is in a lager-brewing micro in the United States.
Published Online: MAY 31, 2000
Published in Print: SEPT 1, 1995
In: What's Brewing
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