Learning The BJCP: European Amber Lagers

As some of you may know, I’m planning to take the BJCP Tasting Exam in a few months. So, I thought I would share my “hardcore” lead up to that here. Granted, the information that I’m posting is not necessary for the tasting exam but this is the way I learn and it should be helpful to those in the future and to those who just want to learn more about beer. I plan to go into each of the categories, and I will probably make posts on different specific topics. But this is just the start. So, here we go!

European Amber Lagers
Category 3 of the BJCP covers European Amber Lagers. The two Subcategories take you into the world of the Vienna Lager and Oktoberfest/Marzen. I think I may have picked a bad time to start studying, because while it is easy to find a Vienna Lager, I missed out on Oktoberfest season. I know I had some good ones, though.

In short, The Vienna Lager (Category 3A); is a soft, elegant, dark golden to light brown beer with a maltiness that dries out in the finish to avoid becoming sweet, with a nice toasted character. This doesn’t really tell you much, but when you think about some that you may have tasted before, it all makes sense. Negra Modelo, Dos Equis Amber, & Samuel Adams Boston Lager are the beers I picked to sample.

The Vienna Lager was first introduced by Anton Dreher after he and, Gabriel Sedlmayer first recognized that there was an actual difference between ale and lager yeast. Though, the Pilsner was the first traditional lager beer.

In the 1830’s Dreher produced the first amber lager when he wanted to combine the crispness of a lager with the color of an English Pale Ale. He named the style after the suburb of Vienna where his brewery was located, Schwechater Lagerbier.

As time went on, the Vienna Lager style started to die off. They say that it went entirely extinct in Europe after World War I. Immigration kept the beer alive elsewhere. As brewers were moving to the United States, they brought with them the styles that they were accustomed to and made necessary changes to incorporate local ingredients. Due to the number of brewers established in the North and Midwest, the brewers carrying this style decided to go South; some into Mexico, Central, and South America. At this time refrigeration was a real thing and it made industrialization and brewing lager beer more accessible.

Prohibition killed the style in the United States, but it did not effect the Mexican culture surrounded by this beer. It even became a traditional part of their culture. Over time though, some examples of the style began to see the use of adjuncts.

Dos Equis Amber

The characteristics of this style that should be noted while judging a Vienna Lager are:

Aroma: Moderately rich German malt, light toasted character, low to no Noble hop aroma, clean lager character, i.e. no yeast character, and THE AROMA OF CARAMEL IS INAPPROPRIATE.

Appearance: Light reddish amber to copper color, brilliant clarity, & large, off-white, persistent head.

Flavor: Soft, elegant malt complexity. A toasted character but no roast or caramel flavors. A firm enough hop bitterness to provide a balanced finish. Low to no Noble hop flavor. No Fermentation Characteristics. Fairly Dry Finish with both malt and hop bitterness present in the aftertaste. There should be no other flavor characteristics.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body, moderate carbonation, slight alcohol warmth is ok, a gentle creaminess, no astringency, smooth with a moderately crisp finish.

*NOTE*: These are the baseline characteristics for the style. There is room for variation but you must also know what is inappropriate. Read into, and understand, the guidelines. Not only the guidelines.

Oktoberfest & Marzen

Everyone always asks why Oktoberfest (Category 3B), is held in September, so I thought I would go into that a little bit to start.

The first Oktoberfest was October 12th, 1810. It was held as a celebration to Crown Prince Ludwig and his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildurghausen. The celebration went on almost annually. In 1819 it was declared that it would be held annually. They extended the total time of the festival and bumped the dates up a couple of weeks to take advantage of the better weather in late September and early October. There were some years where it was cancelled due to war or disease, but it held on strong over time and is now probably the biggest beer festival in existence.

Marzen was a German term that classifies any strong, “keeping” beer, that is brewed in March and stored for the length of the summer. Marzen and Oktoberfest are now essentially one in the same. The Oktoberfest style is defined as, “Smooth, clean, and rather rich, with a depth of malt character. This is one of the classic malty styles, with a maltiness that is often described as soft, complex, and elegant but never cloying.”

Marzen is what was thought be served at the original Oktoberfest celebration and throughout the time until Josef Sedlmayr, in 1871, first created the beer. It is unknown if he originally intended for this beer to be used at the festival, but it was sold there and became extremely popular. Other breweries began to brew the Oktoberfest style and further increased its popularity. By technicality, only beers brewed by Munich breweries can be called Oktoberfest and all others must indicate that it is just in such style.

This is an Oktoberfest, I promise. The characteristics of this style that should be noted while judging a Oktoberfest are:

Aroma: Moderately rich German malt, light to moderate toasted character, NO HOP AROMA, clean lager character, i.e. no yeast character, and THE AROMA OF CARAMEL IS INAPPROPRIATE.

Appearance: Dark gold to deep orange-red color, brilliant clarity, & large, off-white, persistent head.

Flavor: Initial malty sweetness, distinctive and complex maltiness often includes a toasted aspect. Hop bitterness is moderate, and noble hop flavor is low to none. Clean lager character with no diacetyl or fruity esters. Balance is toward malt, though the finish is not sweet, moderately dry. NOTICEABLE CARAMEL OR ROASTED FLAVORS ARE INAPPROPRIATE.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, medium carbonation, creamy texture, and smooth. Fully fermented, without a cloying finish.

*NOTE*: These are the baseline characteristics for the style. There is room for variation but you must also know what is inappropriate. Read into, and understand, the guidelines. Not only the guidelines.

If you are studying for this exam and you have any questions, or need help, please let me know! I have quite a few resources I am using that I can share. It may even help me along in the process!

Two good sources for information are the Upstate New York Homebrewers Association, and of course, the Beer Judge Certification Program’s Website.

Next Up: You Will See.


Learning The BJCP: European Amber Lagers

6 thoughts on “Learning The BJCP: European Amber Lagers

  1. For Oktoberfest, I never noticed the \”Noticeable caramel or roasted flavors are inappropriate\” part until you pointed it out. It is interesting to be that in the ingredients section of the style guideline it says \”possibly some crystal malt\”. Not sure how you add crystal malt without getting caramel flavor. I guess the key is to keep it subtle. Given that description, I think my Oktoberfest style lager probably has too much Caramunich Malt in it. I'll have to re-evaluate my recipe next autumn. Thanks for pointing that out.Excellent post. Cheers!


  2. Yeah, I think you are right. As you know, you can add a couple of ounces of black patent or something in to darken a beer but not impart the flavor noticeably. So I'm thinking it's something like that. Give your beer a great base and then add some Crystal/Caramel to adjust the hue. Small amounts, pretty beer.Cheers! And thanks for reading!


  3. Interesting category to start off with. When do you take the test? I have been thinking about getting different certifications such as the BJCP and Cicerone paths. Maybe I should get on that…


  4. I'm hoping to take the tasting Exam in May. I've already completed step one of the Cicerone program. I actually need to get back to my blog. My PC kind of got screwed up a little bit so I've kind of been out of it. Cheers!


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