On Dancing In The Brewhouse – Juggling Pots and a Step Mash

Last winter, I got my house in order, both mentally and physically, enough to brew a series of real cold-conditioned lagers. Like many home brewers, I had mostly avoided lagers in general, unable to control the temperatures well enough in my brewing area to assure consistent cold. But rearranging rooms and furniture some enabled me to keep a back room right around 42 – 44°F during the winter (it gets up to nearly 60 in the summer).

I brewed a Pilsner, a Bock, a Rauchbier, a Munich Dunkel and a Helles, a Dortmund, a Schwartzbier… One brew I was not particularly happy with however was my Vienna. It was OK, drinkable, but had no character. Making it worse, as Spring came around, my friend Walter won big with his Vienna at a state-wide competition. I had to try again, but I had to wait for cold. Well, it’s mid-November and I have a room at 45°F. Time for another try.

Normally, for almost every brew, I use a simple infusion mash. One temperature, one mash-in, nice and simple. With modern malts, this is generally fine for all styles of beer. But since I wanted this Vienna to be a little special, I decided to try a (still simple) step mash. The first step is a combination protein and saccharification rest, the second is for dextrinization. In other words, the production of fermentable sugars is separate from the unfermentables (dextrines) that contribute to the body and mouthfeel. I wanted this brew to have a strong malty character, so this mash schedule (as well as the addition of melanoidin malt to the grain bill) should help. A long boil is essential also to caramelize and sweeten.

The biggest challenge? Timing and having enough pots. I had to heat three separate quantities of water, to different temps and all pretty much at the same time.

Vienna Lager
5 gallons, all grain


  • 9 lbs. Weyermann Vienna malt
  • 1/2 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1/2 lb. 150°L crystal malt
  • pinch black malt
  • 1/2 oz. Sterling hop pellets (@7% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8.3% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 12 quarts water to 142°F. Mash in grains, hold 15 minutes at 135°F. Heat another 2 quarts water to 172°F. Add to mash, add heat and raise temperature of whole mash to 160°F. Cover and hold at 160°F for 45 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 170°F. Transfer mash to mash/lauter tun. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting approximately 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boiling, add 1/4 oz. Sterling pellets. Boil 30 minutes, add 1/4 oz. Perle pellets. Boil another 30 minutes, add 1/4 oz. each Sterling and Perle. Boil 30 more minutes (90 total), remove from heat and chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast and seal. Ferment warm (65°F) for three  days, then move to a cooler spot (50°F) for a week. Rack to secondary, condition cold (38 – 42°F) for four to six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age warm for three days, then move bottles to cold for three weeks.

OG: 1060
IBU’s: 23

Notes on style: This is an old story to most beer geeks, of course, but the Vienna style is all but extinct in Austria. In fact, Walter, who is himself Austrian, had never heard of the style until moving to the States and beginning to brew at home. But, the story goes, when Mexico was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, brewers were brought from Austria to keep the Mexican Austrians supplied with beer. One of those breweries, established in the mid-1800’s, was Modelo, whose Negra Modelo is probably the best remaining example of the Vienna Lager style. (Dos Equis is another example, although a bit less authentic.) Deep amber to almost reddish brown, Vienna Lagers emphasize clean malty flavor with bitterness only serving as a contrast. They are somewhat similar to the Märzen/Oktoberfest style, although generally lower in gravity and a bit more bitter.

Notes on step mash: The recipe above probably doesn’t seem that much more complicated than a normal infusion mash. I am happy to say that, in the end, it probably only took me an extra 20 minutes and did seem to work. I won’t know for sure how the beer came out until January. Hmm… maybe I’ll do a decoction next time?

Notes on yeast and pitching: The yeast used here is one of White Labs’ Platinum Series, a rotation of seasonal yeasts. This one is recommended for dark lagers. I will probably re-pitch it in a Munich Dunkel next week, barring any weirdness in this batch.
I wanted to make sure it got a good start, so I did make a larger slurry (over the course of three days I fed the yeast small doses of weak wort); here again, timing was crucial, and when I pitched the yeast it was incredibly active in the jar.

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