Goats & Rabbits West Side Lager

I’ve been trying to pay a little less attention to style guidelines in my brewing, and come up with crowd-pleasing variations that either attempt some new techniques or offer a unique stamp. Lately, I’ve brewed a Classic American Pilsner with home-grown hops, which added a funky citrusy, pineapple flavor, and I doubled the oatmeal, and toasted it, when I made an oatmeal stout a couple weeks ago.

Yesterday, I tackled Vienna Lager. You’ve tasted Vienna Lager at its best if you’ve had a Boulevard Bob’s 47 (though most people think it’s an Oktoberfest, because that’s what the label says). Back in the day, Dos Equis Amber was a good example, as well, but recipe changes have dumbed it down into an off-color mass-market lager. The Beer Judge Certification Program still lists Negra Modelo as a leading example of the style, but it lacks the malt complexity that makes the style special.

Vienna Lager isn’t brewed in Vienna, though that is where it originated. A few decades after Anton Dreher used the newly-isolated lager yeast to create a toasty, malty, balanced amber lager, political instability in Austria convinced Santiago Graf and a few of his brewing cohorts to move to Mexico, where they perfected the style in the late 1800s.

Making a Vienna Lager is pretty simple. While some brewers like to employ a blend of lighter and darker malts, I like to keep it simple and use Vienna malt – a lightly kilned, slightly toasty malt that fits the style perfectly. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of Munich or Victory to the mash to bring out a bit more toastiness.

Yesterday, I wanted to make a beer that reflected the development of the style and pays homage to the Mexican immigrants that have been part of Kansas City for over a hundred years. i stuck with Vienna malt, but added two pounds of Piloncillo sugar, a pre-Columbian form of unrefined sugar you can buy in most Mexican grocers in a hard cone. I’ve used it in my brewing before, and it adds a richness in flavor, and the yeast ferments the sweetness away, producing an extra kick of alcohol.

Most brewing purists would refuse to add sugar to a Vienna lager, and they are correct in their strict interpretation of the rules. But, in making what I will call West Side lager, I thought that adding a little “illegal” Mexican influence would only enrich the beer and make it stronger.

In a few weeks, after the beer finishes fermenting, I’ll raise a toast to the West Side of Kansas City, and the fact that strict application of made-up rules in immigration or in brewing only hurts us all, and that if history had seen such arcane and expensive immigration laws when our country was brave and growing, Kansas City wouldn’t have railroads, Mexico wouldn’t have Vienna Lager, and I’d be stuck on a potato farm in Ireland.

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