Just four years ago all the beer you could get in Austria was strictly limited to locally produced Helles, Keller or Märzen, with the occasional German Weizen and the odd Bockbier thrown in for fun. Oh, and there were Pilseners of course. You had to search long and hard for an English Ale, a Belgian Abbey beer or an American IPA. By and large, the Austrian people drank what their ancestors had drunk and saw no reason whatsoever to touch anything else. Today, the beer landscape has changed dramatically and for good.
The week of 11 to 20 November saw the second edition of ‘Vienna Craft Beer Week’, a typical 10-day beer extravaganza that highlights the position Vienna once had as a leading beer town (remember Anton Dreher produced Vienna Lager here, the direct predecessor of pilsner) and the aspiration to regain that status. They are well on their way.
A series of tastings, presentation, tap takeovers, Music Events and competitions meant Vienna was literally drenched in beer. I had the pleasure of hosting a Cheese War with my friend Markus Betz of Beerlovers at the newly opened Viennese Bistro Schwemme. The Cheese War was an Austrian first: five cheeses were paired to five wines and five beers; the guests tried them all and chose their round winners. Beer won: 4-1! Schwemme has a great beer selection and is parented to Gmoakeller, an original restaurant where one gets one of Vienna’s best Schnitzel. Trust me – and Gmoakeller has an awesome beer offering too!
The Grand Finale – Vienna Craft Bier Fest, a consumer festival – is the best indicator for the changes the Austrian beer scene has recently undergone. This consumer festival started out, back in April 2014, in a couple of tents on Donaukanal in spring of 2014 and boasted, for the first time, a selection of international brews. It took the hearts and tongues of many beer lovers by surprise and was such a success that the organizing team decided to have a second edition that fall again – ever since, Vienna Craft Bier Fest has two editions per year, in April and November. Every edition it attracted a larger crowd, and it outgrew the old Anker bread factory it had filled up twice: this year, both editions took place in Marx Halle, a huge exhibition hall that offers plenty room to grow. November boasted 70 breweries and over 400 beers: a mixture of traditional and new Austrian craft breweries, as well as international leading breweries. This show has become a must-visit on the European beer calendar.
But there are other signs Vienna, and Austria, will soon be a beer destination for geeks and Beerlovers alike. Stiegl Brauerei from Salzburg, one of the most classical breweries around, has been experimenting with amphora brewing and fermenting and has now taken a new step on innovation: a retro-step, they have built themselves concrete fermentation and lagering vessels. The idea is that the porous structure of the concrete will, eventually, create its own micro climate with local wild yeasts taking the lead. I only know of some wineries who have pioneered here – for me, it’s a new. Can’t wait to taste the first brew from it!
I believe Austria has become a beer destination not to be underestimated in a very short time, and I recommend you to go there soon. Vienna in particular: it even boasts a gypsy brewery called Collabs Brewery that took a Gold medal in Brussel Beer Challenge with its Hoppy Lager. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! The brewery operates out of one of my favorite bars in Europe, Hawidere: the beer brains are provided by Dominique Schlik, the beer muscle by Adalbert ‘da Kowara’ Windisch. Check out the movie clip by Bierpabst (Beer Pope) Conrad Seidl, then hop on a plane and try it.
Austria, and mainly Vienna, takes the craft beer lead, so much is for sure. With an incredible mix of traditional and contemporary breweries and brew masters I predict this is the beer country to look to in the coming years. The Gold Medal by Domrep is an achievement, but wait for breweries like BrewAge and Bevog (although the latter is originally Slovenian) to pick up steam too. Beer future is made in Central Europe – darauf ein Bier!