Last Updated : 29/07/08
he article below has also been published by Nottingham Drinker but has been revised since then although, for a more up-to-the-minute account, try my new report from December 2007.
For beer gen, click here, for a Google map of Vienna's brewpubs see here...
Lucky 13 in Austria.
Scooping around Austria, June 2003.
It all began with a chance conversation at the Turf Tavern beer festival in Oxford in April 2003. Various scoopers were present, and the winners were flowing freely. As our table mates were knowledgeable on European beer culture, we began to discuss various cities and their beery merits, or lack of in some cases. Prague? Full of bloody tourists but 4 brewpubs. Paris? Overrated but several bars that made their own. Vienna? ten brewpubs. At this I was jerked out my dreams of drinking Dum Cerne by the bucketload in Prague back to reality. Ten brewpubs? Surely no city has this many? This needed investigating further.
I contacted some mates with knowledge of the European brewery scene, and put out a call on worldscoopgen for info. I received various reports of the brewery count that ranged from 7 to a ridiculous 13 – just how many brewpubs does a city need? It was then that Paul Harrop contacted me as he had his own website listing breweries in Germany and Austria. He seemed to know the country well, and offered me a hand written guide to Vienna – which I gratefully accepted. When it arrived, it consisted of 11 brewpubs and various other brewery taps and larger concerns in Vienna, not to mention a working monastic brewery in Salzburg. I had visited this lovely city in 1991 on my interrail, but we had only spent a few hours there before heading for Prague. I now knew that this was the move of choice, even more so as Ryanair fly there.
A few days later, I had booked a single flight from Stansted to Salzburg and the return from Klagenfurt (of which I knew nothing but liked the name) for the total of £63. With the aid of a rough guide I selected a hotel conveniently close to one of the brewpubs in Vienna, and then we waited for the 6 weeks to pass.
The time passed quickly, and almost before I knew it we were in the departure lounge at Stansted at 06:00 on a Sunday morning. I’d had visions of us standing alone in the huge hall, but it seemed there were lots more people who thought driving overnight to Stansted and trying to find the right check-in desk were worthwhile pursuits. Amazingly, the Ryanair flight was on time (given my past experience with them) and we were soon coasting over Germany where, as usual, whilst halfway across Europe I realised I’d left something at home – my sunglasses. However, by sheer good luck Sue found a pair on the floor by her seat, and suddenly everything seemed like it was coming good.
It’s amazing how suddenly the Austrian Alps start – the flat plains of Munich suddenly shoot upwards into towering craggy needles of rock, and they seemed to be unnervingly close. The airport was small and efficient, and we soon had our bags and were waiting for the trolleybus to the centre of town. As we had 20 minutes to wait, we went for a short walk and found the airport surrounded by stunning alpine scenery and vegetable patches! This was a bit of a culture shock from the concrete wastelands of Stanstead we had just left. I had been looking forwards to the trolleybus ride, as I’d never been on one, but waiting for it I realised that the weather forecasts had been true. It was hot. The forecasts had said 35 Celsius in Vienna on Tuesday, and I wasn’t looking forward to that. However, the trolleybus arrived, bang on time, and off we went. Like a quiet bus, in case you were wondering.
At the main station, I acquired a timetable for nothing as I think the clerk was feeling sorry for me fumbling through my rudimentary German, and we went off to explore the city. There are 3 brewpubs in town, a new one I have forgotten the name of, the Berndt Tobsch Weiß beer brewery and the Augustiner Kloster, the monastic brewery. We walked the ten minutes to Tobsch, but found it opened at 16:00, so we strolled off into the centre of town. Salzburg is a sickeningly attractive place, so much so that you long to see some litter strewn along the pavement or graffiti sprayed on a wall to spoil it. There is none, and there was not the massed throng of tourists I had feared, although there were a healthy number munching on unfeasibly large pretzels and clutching branded Mozart chocolates. I must state here and now that I don’t like classical music, and feared that it would be everywhere. It wasn’t, although there was a quartet industriously scraping away by the main square and it actually seemed to fit perfectly with the surroundings. We had a beer at a riverside café (Stiegl, the local beer) and then hiked up the hill to the Kloster.
Reading about this place beforehand, I thought it sounded like a hideous pastiche of monastic life laid on purely for tourists. You pay for your beer, then select a pottery mug from a rack. You then wash it under a fountain, a guy fills it from a wooden barrel, and you repeat as necessary. If required, you buy food from stalls next to the beer halls. I soon decided the distance from the centre would make most tourists think twice about visiting; it’s a good 15 minute walk uphill. When we arrived, not quite knowing the opening times, we found it had just opened and was very quiet. The beer halls were tremendous; huge stained glass windows and wooden tables with that kind of still, brooding air that some spiritual places have which I can’t quite pin down. We were concerned that the serving area seemed closed, but there were a few locals with beer – where had they got it from?
Before I had to resort to my pathetic German again, we discovered the beer garden. The place had been open about 15 minutes and it was already packed with locals swilling down litre mugs of beer, with a few clad in lederhosen to add a bit of surrealism. The beer ordering procedure was exactly as I had read, so we collected our half litres of beer and retired upstairs to the cool bierhalles which were practically empty. The beer was fantastic; a pale Märzen which tasted just like chewing a handful of pale malt. It was hazy, perfectly conditioned, refreshing and totally drinkable. We had intended to stay for about an hour then head back to Tobsch, but our stay somehow transmuted into over 2 hours and included some of the cheese, ham and bread from the stalls outside and a gorgeous cake to boot. Reluctantly, after far longer than we had intended, we drained our mugs and faced the blazing heat again for the 20-minute walk to the Tobsch Weiße beer brewery.
On arrival, once again the blazing heat had drawn the customers into the patio area, with the front door closed and a sign directing customers to the garden entrance! We sat inside and chatted to the very sociable barman who spoke excellent English. We sampled the Helles Weiße and Dunkel Weiße, both 12.5 plato (about 5%), the dunkel being preferred for the butterscotchy, complex flavour. Their third beer, 1901, was not available unfortunately. The dunkel was so good we had another, but the train to Innsbruck soon beckoned and we made our way back to the station.
The journey to Innsbruck was through some gorgeous alpine scenery that got wilder as we approached Innsbruck where the towering peaks surrounded the town, standing like an impenetrable wall on every side. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such huge mountains at such close hand. We took a wander round the town, which far from being chalets and children skipping down hillsides was medieval and buzzing with life. The only brewpub, Theresienbräu, is close to the center so we sat outside and scored the 3 beers available; Original, Weiße and Sommerbier, all of which had a lemony hint and were quite impressive. What was not so impressive was the service, which was very slow. We had intended to have a round of our favourite, but it took so long to get the beers we decided to give it a miss and head back to the station for the overnight train to Vienna.
The couchette was, unfortunately, like traveling in a mobile oven and we emerged at Vienna (or Wien as the locals call it) hot, tired and irritable. It was only 06:00 but the temperature was rising fast and looked like it would easily reach the quoted 35 degrees. Our mood got slightly better when we discovered that almost all Austrian stations have a cake shop, and my vote for bargain no.2 of the week must go to the cherry cakes; a huge round cake with cherry or apricots for €2! The coffee was pretty good too. We indulged in the "other" reason for the visit, some loud old diesel locos until early evening, but the humidity was such we had to check into the hotel early for a shower! We had been consulting the various maps and lists of brewpubs, and decided to get one of the furthest ones in the book to take the pressure off us the next day. After all, 11 in a day is a bit daunting, especially as we wanted to sample all the beers in each one! So, we headed out to the Bierhaus Cult, situated out in the northeast of the city. We took tram D from the Sudbahnhof , changing for a 26. The trip on tram D must rate as one of the world’s great tram journeys (not quite on a par with electrico 28 in Lisbon, but not much is!), as it passes by site after site of glorious Habsburg opulence, all immaculately restored. In fact, the tram system in Vienna is one of the world’s largest, and it is enviable in it’s coverage of the city. It links in with the U-bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (schnellbahn, or local trains) and buses to form the finest public transport system I’ve ever seen. Even better, a 24 hour ticket is only €5 and a 72 hour one €12! A map of the system is essential, this can be bought from the U-Bahn ticket offices for about €2.
Back to the beer. We eventually found the Cult, which looked decidedly un-Vienna like in it’s suburban way. Inside, however, the bar was friendly and the brewery was tucked into a small room to the left of the bar with viewing windows. There were 2 beers on; Helles which was a hazy pale beer with some bitterness, and Schnitt, a deep brown toasted malt brew. Both were pretty good which boded well for the rest of the tour. We then U-Bahned it to Fischerbrau where one beer was available, Fischer Helles, which was dryish with hints of lemony hops. No seasonals, unfortunately. After a bit of confusion with the map, we decided to head back and cane in the Siebensternbrau (Seven stars brewery) which was very close to the hotel on tram route 49. The air conditioning brought considerable relief, and the 2 beers we had were excellent – Prager dunkels, vaguely based on the dark bohemian lagers, was caramelly and sweet and the helles was a lovely pale, dry, bitter and lemony lager. All in all, a good start and a whole day of brewpubs to look forward to tomorrow!
The next day was not as hot, and we had the luxury of a lie-in. After a wander round the centre of Vienna doing the tourist bit and seeing the amusing sight of the horse traps scurrying for shelter in a ludicrously heavy thunderstorm, we presented ourselves at the first stop at around 12:00. The 1516 Brewing Co is an example of the identikit brewpubs that you find all over the place nowadays – look inside and apart from the language on the menus and signs you could be anywhere in the world. This is not as disparaging as it seems, however, as the beers were pretty good. They brew a few standards and around 6 specials a month, so scoops are pretty much guaranteed. We went for the Ossi black lager, again based on the Bohemian dunkel lagers, which was very roasted with a perfumey hop taste then the weiße which was sweet and bubblegummy. The standard lager was quite dry and hoppy and finally we sampled the red clover ale which had hints of unusual spices. One major upside to the pub was that they were brewing, with the delicious wafts drifting out at regular intervals.
I have always thought of scooping as a British hobby, although there are a few Belgian beer drinkers who write down what they have. Imagine our surprise when 2 Germans sat at our table and began to write their beers down in a pink Barbie diary! They were really sociable, and spoke far better English than I spoke German. They said they were there to see a concert, but had taken the opportunity to try the beers in Vienna! That’s a scooping mentality if I’ve ever heard one and a very Bacchanalian attitude. Their scoops book was full of beer labels and tasting notes for many German breweries, and they even had an internet list of places in Vienna to try. Much respect to the German scoopers!
After some good food, we headed off on tram 62 to the next call in southern Vienna, Weidenbräu. We had received good reports on this one, so were a bit apprehensive when we found it clad in scaffolding. There was no need to worry, as it was open as usual and dispensing excellent beers with the brewery visible in the back room (installed by Salmbrau!). We sampled a honeyed, bitter Marzen, a superb hoppy Helles, a hemp beer that tasted like dandelion & burdock and a tremendous wild honey beer with plenty of honey. I felt that these were the best beers we found in Vienna for all-round quality and flavour, although some other individual beers came very close. Pleasingly on our second trip the beers here were again the best and they had a happy hour on too!
Another epic U-Bahn and tram ‘D’ journey to the end of the line brought us to the Nussdorfer bräuhaus that we had failed to find the night before due to my map reading getting us within a few miles of it – literally. It is a low, long building with wine lodge like arches and tunnels and some superb "compo" seating! The beers here are all top fermented, and there are 6 of them depending on your viewpoint – one is just an unfiltered (zwickl) version of St Thomas bräu Alt that tastes similar but more bitter. The others were Doppelhopfen Hell which was subtle and drinkable, Sir Henrys stout which we felt was too sweet and caramelly, but as it’s beer hunter Michael Jackson’s favourite Austrian beer (apparently) we expected less. A summer light beer called Kutscherbier was worty and sweet, and finally an Old Whisky bier was oversmoked and pretty unpalatable. The brewery is situated in a long passageway to the rear. The whole atmosphere was very laid back and sociable, although we felt the prices were high for the area.
After another mammoth session on tram D and then tram 37, the next stop was the Highlander brewpub on the way back into the centre. We had been told it was modelled on a UK pub, and the first impression on walking in was "Firkin!" The small brewplant is tucked into a corner, and is totally unshielded by glass! To be brutally honest, it doesn’t look like it’s had a lot of use, but maybe they cleaned it especially for us…. The much quoted stout wasn’t available, so we had the other 3 beers, Weiße, Lager and Märzen, all OK but nothing to write home about.
Next, we were off to debunk an entry in the gobbs guide. This listed 2 brewpubs on the university campus, the university bräuhaus and the Alte Ambulanz, but other reports only listed one. So, we were determined to find out the truth. We left the tram and walked into the university campus, and sure enough there were signs for both venues. Maybe they both brewed? We tried the Alte Ambulanz first, as it was nearest, and even walking past it was obvious that they brewed – the rows of fermenters and conditioners and the gleaming coppers filled the side rooms and some of the main hall – and they were brewing too! The brewpub is owned by large regional Steigl, so the beers were nothing exciting although quite drinkable; we scored the house beer and Summer Weiße. We met Paul "Euroscooper" Harrop in there, en route to Slovenia for a few weeks of scooping, and he informed us that the university bräuhaus didn’t. The beers are apparently all rebadges (quite a common thing in Vienna) so we flagged that and set off for some food.
Salmbräu is well known in Vienna for the quality of its food. After visiting, I can see why – it is superb. The pub is actually on Unteres Belvedere tram stop, so no excuse for getting lost! There is a large outside patio and a big beerhalle inside where we sat. There were 5 beers on offer, so naturally we sampled the lot; Pils, Märzen, Helles, Weiße and "Bohemian mixed". All were good, most solid but unexciting, but my favourite was the Schnitt which was a passable attempt at a Czech dark lager; coffee tasting and complex. The food was superb – my roast pork comprised of around half a pig whilst Sue’s game stew was full of meat and very tasty. We took so long here that we were too late to score either of the 2 brewpubs we had left until last as one was a long way out east and the other rarely had homebrew available. We decided to have a (relatively) early night, content with the 6 brewpubs we had scored and positive that we needed to come back. No, we HAD to come back.
We travelled back to the UK via the little town of Klagenfurt in Carinthia on the border with the Balkan country of Slovenia. We thought it would just be a normal town with a brewpub and an airport. How wrong we were! The journey there was 4 hours of gorgeous alpine and subalpine scenery, and Klagenfurt itself was a tidy, understated and downright pretty little town with some superb statues and buildings. We had a good look round then retired to the Hirter Botschaft bräuhaus for some goulash and the 2 beers brewed there – Botschaftbräu and Weißbier, both of which were acceptable without being exciting. The rest of the beers were brewed by the parent company. After an hour or so, we boarded the bus to the local airport which is only 3km from the centre! After a bit of confusion, we arrived at the smallest and best airport I’ve ever been to. There were only 3 check-in desks, and the girl behind the desk asked us if we had any guns or bombs! I’m sure they’re not supposed to say that. We then visited the bar, which was basically a balcony with no glass – the customers simply sit outside overlooking the runway and some superb mountains. Imagine airport waiting rooms and what do you think of? Crowds! Not here. There must have been about 150 people there tops, as the last 2 flights of the day were leaving. Rush hour in Klagenfurt! Ryanair did us proud again with a 20 minute early arrival in Stanstead, and all that was left was the 3 hour drive home and back to the real world.
Vienna is one of the most likeable and attractive capitals I’ve ever been to, and with the added attraction of 11 brewpubs and many other beer houses it’s a must for any beer lovers in the UK. It’s easy to get round, most people speak some or excellent English and it’s crammed with superb architecture making it a great place for history as well as beer. The only problem is getting there as the direct flights are with the big airlines and consequently expensive. If you don’t mind a bit of travelling, and with the scenery this is recommended anyway, fly with Ryanair to Salzburg, Linz, Klagenfurt or Graz and train it around. A 24 hour Vienna ticket is €6 and a 72 hour one an even more incredible €15, available from machines or U-Bahn ticket offices and valid on all trams, buses, U and S bahns and ÖBB trains within the central Vienna area, and is essential for the beer scooper as there is some serious distance between some of the bars.
The rest of Austria is unremittingly scenic with the area around Salzburg and Innsbruck being particularly alpine. The people are very friendly, a far cry from most people’s stereotyped Austrian of some huge guy in lederhosen with no sense of humour and traits of the country’s most infamous son, Adolf Hitler. We had several people stop and ask us if they could give directions just because we were holding a map and looking lost! All in all, a superb country with much to offer on the tourist; scenery, history, architecture, trams and … of course …. the beer!
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© Gazza, 29/07/2008 (updated v2.4)