Drinking in… Vienna

Vienna is not know for its beer, being much closer to the wine lands of Austria than beer regions. Yes, beer exists and is easy to find, but most of the big breweries make beers that are more comparable to North American macro lagers than the fine beers of Munich. But the tide is slowly changing in Vienna with a couple of breweries that are taking the North American approach to craft beer – big flavours and new styles that are out of step with the European beer traditions. In fact, these two brewpubs would be the most adventurous that were found throughout the two weeks of traveling. They even went as far as brewing ales that weren’t wheat beers (I have never respected British-style ales as much). Locals may view they as radical, but for a North American traveler it was a chance to refresh the palate with some hops.

7 Stern Brau

Slightly outside of the Inner Stadt is the first Viennese brewpub we visited, 7 Stern Brau. A bit of a sprawling brewpub, containing separate levels, sections and a massive bar that looks right at two large beer tanks, most of them packed with drinkers. The large TVs showing soccer (sorry, football) gave the slight impression of a sports bar, as did the large throngs of men out for a guys night (or as they call them here, . Very noisy compared to the other times we had been out drinking, but that could have just been the result of having to sit inside for once.

7 Stern mixes up traditional German beers with some adventurous offerings that play with ingredients and flavours. The pint of märzen that I had was excellent – bready and densely malted with a lot of rye and cinnamon flavour. Soph’s Hanf (Hemp) was peppery and citrusy, making a zesty beer that was comparable to an IPA. The Rauchbier was really tasty – exactly what you expect when you order a pint of bacon beer. Lots of meaty flavour, but very low in the campfire/ashtray that can overpower some beers in the style. I was worried that drinking a full pint might be a difficult task, but it was not a problem.

In a classic scene of “Things You Would Never Find in Ontario”: a beer vending machine in the brewpub! Convenient 500ml bottles that you can grab on your way home – a great concept that I wish could be brought to our shores. Much better than a Beer Store with a drive-thru window.

1516 Brewing Co

After a week of beers with low amounts of hops, the 1516 brewpub was a much welcome stop. They have made a name for themselves with their Hop Devil IPA, which gets dry-hopped with whole leaf hops. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Vienna or Toronto, chances are anyone with a hop-tooth will try that beer. And while it is great, especially after a week of lagers, the fact that the beer is derived from the recipe for the Victory Hop Devil takes some of the pleasure out of the experience. I didn’t come all this way to drink your clone beer!

How did their other beers compare? The weisse was okay, but standard fare, while the kölsch was hopped so much that it almost became a pale ale (in short, it was very good). The waitress said the lager wasn’t exciting, while the Irish stout had run dry. The few offerings were disappointing because of the quality of the beers we had. It was the sort of place you wanted to sit down and try five or six before stumbling home. As for the food, it was decent but the prices and portion size reflected the fact that we were in the big tourist area. I’d recommend 1516 more for post-dinner drinks than a full meal.

Based on the fact that both brewpubs were packed on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, respectively, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the Viennese are welcoming good beer and fully embracing the big, bold flavours. The formation of a craft beer culture is in its infancy, but I can see the city grow to be a big destination in ten years or less, especially with North American beer geeks looking for European interpretation of American styles.

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