Moonlight Sonata Vienna Lager is one of my (Ben’s) favorite beers. We brew this one in the mid-fall to early winter, right on the heels of Flannel Pajamas Oktoberfest/Märzen, and that affects the way we make it. Vienna lagers, Märzens, and Oktoberfests are closely related (sometimes brewers refer to them as VMO’s), and even though the Festbier variety has drifted farther away from Märzen over the last couple of decades, that’s still true.
So, in order to keep those two beers as different as they can be while staying true to style, we make Flannel Pajamas as light in color and body but as high in alcohol as the style allows, and Moonlight Sonata is as dark in color, full in body, and low in alcohol as a Vienna can be. This also fits nicely with the seasons we release these beers in.
Moonlight is as authentically German/Austrian as a beer brewed in the US can be. Almost all the malt we use for this beer is German – pilsner malt forms the base, while Munich and Vienna malts add a bit of sweetness and full maltiness. Malt is really the star of this show, but we use just enough noble German hops to provide balance, and a very clean-fermenting German lager strain presents a neutral canvas for that palette of malt flavors.
We enhance that deep maltiness in the brewing process. Our love for authentic German beers led us to purchase a brewhouse that allows for an old-fashioned German mashing process called decoction. I won’t nerd out too much here, but the basic idea is that 200 years ago the malt in Germany required some extra care from the brewer to make good beer with it. The brewers figured out that if they mixed the mash at a cool temperature, then pulled part of it out and boiled it, then added that back to the mash to raise the temperature of the whole thing, they got good results.
Nowadays, the malt is great and we don’t have to do decoctions for technical purposes, so hardly any American brewers do it. A fair amount of German brewers still do, though, partly because it’s tradition and partly because a side effect of decoction mashing is a deep, complex malt character that became part of the malty German beer styles. In my opinion, there’s no other good way to get those particular flavors, so we do it the old-fashioned way. Lots of American and German brewers make lovely beers without doing decoction mashing, but I personally think there’s a little something missing from them.
Moonlight Sonata is delicious with burgers, grilled chicken, mac and cheese, reubens, and most firm, aged French or German cheeses (like Gruyère, Emmenthal, Bergkäse, Tilsit…).
For a flavorful yet delicate beer like this, what better name than a beautiful and contemplative piano sonata by one of Vienna’s most famous residents, Ludwig van Beethoven.
ABV: 4.5%, Bitterness in IBU: 28, Color SRM: 16, Fermentation Temp: 12C, Grain to Glass: 6-7 weeks