Population: 8.9 million
Number of Breweries: Over 300
Oldest brewery: Brauerei Hofstetten. Established 1229
Best Known Brands: Gösser, Ottakringer, Schloss Eggenberg, Stiegl
In the UK, Austria’s beer has a bit of an image problem to contend with: it’s not German. Living in the shadow of one of the world’s brewing powerhouses (not to mention its other famed brewing neighbour, the Czech Republic) has meant that its beers are often overlooked and, even worse, if someone encounters an Austrian beer they like, there’s a chance they’ll assume it’s German.
But Austria has a brewing tradition to rival any of its friends from over the border and is full of breweries that produce a huge amount of impressive beers. Indeed, Austrians often sit in second place behind the Czechs in ‘most beer consumed per capita’ lists, with most of the beer guzzled being brewed in the country.
Like much of central Europe, it’s lagers the Austrian’s do best. The style that’s perhaps most familiar to UK drinkers is ‘Vienna Lager’ (although over here you’re more likely to encounter it from a British brewer rather than an Austrian import). This lager was first produced by Anton Dreher in 1841, who studied British and German brewing techniques to conjure up a full bodied brew that could be made all year round.
The beer gets its amber colour from lightly kilned ‘Vienna malt’ and is hopped with Bohemian Saaz before undergoing bottom fermentation and several weeks of lagering. The style was a success and was especially appreciated during the winter months when other styles were more scarce, but a century on it started to fall out of fashion. Its recent revival is, in large part, down to US brewery Sam Adams adopting the style for its own breakthrough brew, Boston Lager. For a traditional Vienna Lager that’s brewed in Austria, look out for Brauerei Schwechat; for a modern Austrian craft brewery’s interpretation of the style try Brew Age.
Austrian Märzen is a popular style that is similar to the Märzens of Bavaria but, whereas Germans enjoy Märzens mostly during Oktoberfest season, in Austria it’s a staple of bars all year round. Austrians tend to brew their Märzens slightly sweeter, and with a touch more malt flavour, than in Germany. Two Salzburg breweries, Augustiner Bräu and Steigl, make some of the best Austrian Märzen beers you’re likely to find.
Another German style that has been successfully adopted in Austria is the Radler – something akin to a British shandy that has a lower level of alcohol and was originally marketed for cyclists (radler loosely translates from Bavarian to ‘cyclist’). Austrian brewery Steigl arguably leads the way in Radlers, blending beer with fruits – most successfully grapefruit – for refreshing, low alcohol beers.
Another beer name you might come across is Zwicklbier. Essentially, this refers to a beer that has been unfiltered and, while some breweries simply label unfiltered versions of their regular beers as ‘Zwickl’, others see it more as a defined style in its own right and brew more unique unfiltered beers.
Brewery focus: Stiegl
With a history that dates back to 1492, Stiegl is probably the most well known Austrian brewery to UK beer drinkers, having undergone a period of expansion in the past 30 years that has seen it grow from a small, regional operation to the country’s largest independent brewery.
As part of its expansion, in 2012 Steigl opened a new ‘brew farm’ 30 miles north of Saltzburg where they practice organic farming and manage the quality of production from raw ingredients to finished beer.
Stiegl’s low alcohol beers are some of the most easy to find Austrian beers in the UK, with the popular Grapefruit Radler being recently joined by the 0.0% Stiegl Zitrone. But with such a strong link to the past, the brewery also produces several excellent traditional beers. Its biggest seller is Goldbräu, a traditional Salzburg lager with a golden hue and subtle bitterness to the refreshing light, malty body. They also brew a pilsner, helles, ‘Stieglbock’ and have branched out into craft ale territory with a huge range of hoppier beers for modern tastes.
Stiegl is very much the complete brewery, flying the flag for Austria’s brewing industry by simultaneously maintaining traditions and exploring new territory. Just please don’t assume they’re German.
Steigl Grapfruit Radler is available in Sainsburys
For more information on Stiegl please visit https://www.stiegl.at/en
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