As this is the Oktoberfest season I thought I would tell a short story on the origins of Oktoberfest. No, not the party but the beer.
Right to the point, English Pale Ale was the forerunner of Oktoberfest and Vienna (Austrian) bier. Yes, I said that and a sober man I be. In the 1830’s two continental brewers, Anton Dreher (from Vienna) and Gabriel Sedlmayer II (from Munich) visited England to learn brewing techniques. They were very good brewers but wanted to see and learn more. They knew something was brewing in England (sorry, I just had to use that line) so in the 1820’s and 30’s they went on a massive tour d’ brew. Beer was made using brown malt for centuries as that was pretty much it. Brewers knew of pale malt but it was hard to make and expensive. The first pale beers on the continent were Dreher’s Vienna and a Pilsner from Bohemia in 1842. English country gentlemen were making pale ale since the early 1700’s.
Sedlmayer continued to brew brown beer in Munich but he developed consistent brews by using bottom-settling yeast. His methods produced beers that allowed the malt to fully express itself as opposed to the top-floating yeast that gave fruity flavors. Dreher as well as the English were using “top-fermenting” yeast in their brewing but Sedlmayer was exploring the use of “bottom-fermenting” brewing. The brewers of Munich were using bottom yeast sine the 1400’s. But it was not known in Austria until much later.
In Vienna, Dreher attempted to brew English-style ale using the new pale-malt. It did not sell well but that was probably due to regional taste. He then made a lager (and history) when he combined pale-malt and Sedlmayer’s brewing method. This March beer had a good body and clean taste, but what made this different was the copper color. It took the name Vienna to distance it from all other German Märzenbiers that were still brown in color. Vienna malt takes its name from the city as that is where it was developed. Taken to the Munich Oktoberfest Dreher’s beer was excitedly received by the patrons who proclaimed it the official Oktoberfest bier. And that is why Oktoberfest beer is not (or was not) quite the same as Märzenbier.
In Pittsburgh one can enjoy a fine Vienna beer made by Penn Brewery in Deutschtown.