In 1841, Austrian brewer Anton Dreher brought the first Vienna lager into the world. At the time, Dreher’s Schwechat Brewery, near Vienna, was part of his family’s extensive brewery holdings, the largest in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Dreher brought the Vienna lager to market during the same year a rival brewer submitted the Marzen, and one year before the first blond lager, or Pilsner, was brewed and sold in the Czech Republic.
Pilsners and Marzens survived and thrived, but outside of one notable exception — Samuel Adams Boston Lager — the Vienna lager style has lingered on the margins of the beer world, brewed in unexpected places like Mexico and represented by brands like Negra Modelo and Dos Equis.
There’s no need today to brew Vienna lagers (there’s no need to brew double-IPAs either, I suppose), but back before the introduction of the style in 1841, all beers were brewed with a darkish hue. According to “The Oxford Companion to Beer,” the malt kilns used before that time were direct-fired, meaning some of the malt was under-roasted, while some was burnt. When indirect-fired, heated-air kilns were introduced, pale malts — and eventually pale lagers — became possible.
That’s a long way of introducing the Vienna lager, a style that, while brewed with sweet, roasted Vienna malt, manages to finish dry. The Schwechat Brewery is still in existence; closer to home, Pioneer Brewing has released Into the Woods, a double Vienna lager that references and plays off of that tradition.
Pioneer Brewing was founded in Sturbridge by brewer Todd Sullivan. The company was purchased by Rapscallion Brewery last year, but Sullivan is back on his own again, having recently moved Pioneer’s operations to Connecticut, where he lives and contract-brews out of East Hartford’s
Into the Woods is part of Pioneer’s Manifest Destiny Series, a series that plays on Pioneer’s theme of blazing a trail into the unknown. The brew pours a dark chestnut color into a tulip glass, owing to the Vienna and Munich dark malts. Scattered, tiny bubbles float to the surface. Toasted biscuit, some orange peel, and banana esters make up the nose.
There’s a sweet, bready-toffee thing going on in this beer, expected for the style and amplified by the “double” designation. At 9 percent alcohol by volume, Into the Woods sneaks up on you. It’s a great sipper, made even better when shared.
Path of the Unknown is the second of three beers in the series. This one is also designated as an imperial, though this time we’re dealing with an American brown ale.
Brewed with brown malt, chocolate malt, victory malt, wheat malt, and crystal 150 malt, Path of the Unknown is heavily-hopped with Columbus, Nugget, Cascade, and Willamette. This is a brown ale in name only, pouring as black as a starless night on the frontier.
I’m usually a fan of hoppy, dark beers, and this one doesn’t disappoint. At 10 percent alcohol it’s another one to be careful with, but bursts of dark chocolate, coffee, and sappy pine make it well worth the journey.
Switchback to the Bay State
Switchback Brewing Co., a popular newcomer on the burgeoning Burlington, Vt., beer scene, is entering Massachusetts.
Switchback has appointed Chicopee’s Williams Distributing company to bring its flagship ale to Western Mass. The beer will be arriving this month in Hampden and Hampshire counties.
“We’ve been getting phone calls from fans, bars, and restaurants in Massachusetts for years wanting to know when they will be able to get our beer,” says owner Bill Cherry.
Switchback recently expanded its brewery operation, in addition to opening a new tap room earlier this summer. While the unfiltered ale is a welcome addition to the Massachusetts beer scene, if you’re ever up near Burlington, the Extra Pale Ale and Slow Fermented Brown Ale are worth checking out.
Narragansett names shark
In conjunction with the re-release of the limited-edition 1975 “Jaws” can, Narragansett partnered with the University of Miami and asked fans to name a shark sponsored by the school’s conservation program. The name came down to two expectedly “Jaws”-themed names in Quint and Hooper, and Quint ultimately prevailed. Quint, a 9-foot great hammerhead shark, was tagged off the coast of Miami, and can be tracked online at narragansett
beer.com. The “Jaws”-themed cans are available through the end of August.