Austrian Beer Guide

It should come as little surprise that Austrian brewing shares a lot with it's German and Czech neighbours. The towns of Plzeň and České Budějovice were part of the Austrian empire during the creation of pilsner and the terms used to describe beers mirror the German classification. A number of breweries still brew in accordance to the German order of purity. The characteristic Austrian beer is the Vienna amber lager, which is only produced by a handful of Austrian breweries these days. Lager dominates the domestic market with the Brau Union owned breweries (Gosser, Zipfer, Weiselberger, Puntigamer) doing the majority of business.

The main types of beer are Marzen, Helles and Pils. Marzen is a hoppy lager of around 5% abv. The Vienna based 7 Stern and Salm brewies still make traditional amber Marzen with fuller flavours, but most of the Marzens are gold in colour and unlikely to spook a regular lager drinker. The Helles and Pils are much like their German counterparts and are rarely particularly distinguished. Unfiltered lagers called Zwickl are also available which have more body to them.

Dark beers called Dunkels can often be found and these generally ape the Czech dark lagers with Wieden Brau and 7 Stern doing good examples. A variant on the Dunkel is the Germischtes which is a mix of light and dark beer that can often be found in bars that don't serve a dark beer. Historically these were often blended in the glass though now things are done in a more measured way at the brewery - probably trying to aim at people who find Dunkels too heavily flavoured.

There are selection of strong Bock beers available such as Urbock 23 and the Samichlaus beers brewed by Schloss Eggenberg - the latter originally an experiment by Swiss brewers to see how strong they could brew beer - the end result being a rather wopping 14% abv and the strongest regularly brewed beer in the world (apparently). Generally these beers appear to be all strength and no finesse.

Seasonal beers abound, espeacially at brewpubs, and are generally worth trying. The 1516 brewpub in Vienna appears to be trying to ape American micro-breweries and is certainly coming up with some interesting ideas such as wheat beers made with quinoa. Unfortunately the highly regarded Nussdorf brewery closed down a number of years ago. The pick of the Austrian beers I have tried is the Fischer Brau Weisse which is wonderfully light and fruity beer.

Five Austrian Beers To Try -

1. Fischer Brau Weiss: Light yellow, cloudy wheat beer with a gentle lemon and banana flavour that is not very sharp and feels quite natural. Fantastically refreshing and with a suprising lightness for something with the mouthfeel of a typical wheatbeer, possibly due to having having a slight gassiness in place of the usual bready head. Incredibly drinkable.

2. 7 Stern Marzen: Hoppy amber beer with a brightness in the middle that settles into a lingering chewiness. In the bottle it is smokier and spicier. Full but not domineering and in the style of a traditional Vienna amber beer.

3. 1516 Quinoa Weisse: Wheat beer made with quinoa. Pale gold in colour and as opaque as a normal wheat beer. A pronounced sweet citrus boiled sweet flavour fades into a bready aftertaste.

4. Grieskirchner Export Dunkle: Unusually for a dunkle this is not black. Instead it is dark amber, almost mahogony coloured beer with a sweet malty flavour that leaves an aftertaste of runny caramel. Light and drinkable without compromising on flavour.

5. Ottakringer Wiener Wirsterhaff Hausbrau: Dark amber cloudy beer with a full bodied malt and yeasty taste and the mouthfeel of a wheatbeer. A hoppiness emerges through the mist with a slight caramel sweetness. Smells of horlicks and tastes of hob-nobs. The house beer of the Wiener Wirsterhaff restaurant in Vienna.