Tag Archives: Kapsreiter

Beer Travel Off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel

When you think of beer destinations in Central Europe, certain cities and regions stand out as iconic.

Rauchbier from Bamberg. Budweiser from Budweis. Kölsch from Cologne. Pilsener from Pilsen. Altbier from Düsseldorf. Berliner Weisse. Gose from Leipzig. Light and dark lagers from Munich. And the beer riches of Bavaria in general.

Austria? Vienna Lager may well be a thing again as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Anton Dreher’s brewing virtuoso this year. But even as the tide of “craft beer” slowly engulfs the Tyrol, Carinthia, Styria, Salzburg, and even Vienna, the country is still, largely, a patchwork of Gösser green, Ottakringer yellow, Puntigamer blue, and Stiegl red. Few beer enthusiasts beyond Austria’s borders think of it as a beer destination.

For the intrepid beer traveler, though, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution. In many ways, the Innviertel’s status as one of the few bona fide beer regions is not surprising, given its proximity to Bavaria. Indeed, the region was a part of Bavaria until it briefly became part of the Habsburg realms in 1779 and then continuously part of what would eventually become the Austria we know today in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Today, the brewing tradition of the region pays tribute to these historical connections with beers that would not be out of place in any Franconian tavern.IMG_7092

The Innviertel is roughly equidistant between Vienna and Munich, and a mere stone’s throw from Salzburg, but it’s off the major train lines. In fact, the diesel-driven train that runs between Neumarkt and Braunau am Inn is naught more than a bus on rails. If you want to stop at one of the smaller towns along a line, you have to push a button to alert the engineer. As you get further from Linz, the industrial center of Upper Austria, the landscape starts to undulate, and the houses take on a more rustic character. Verdant rolling fields spread out northward across the Inn and into Bavaria, and the tops of snow-capped peaks loom up above the hilltop forest stands to the south.

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My first stop is Ried im Innkreis, the administrative center of the Innviertel region and the largest market town in Austria in the mid-nineteenth century.IMG_6887

With a town square awash in colour and charming alleys radiating in every direction, Ried invites visitors to spend some time on the many terraces sipping a coffee, eating ice cream, or … drinking a beer.IMG_6880

Ried was once home to a handful of breweries, but since the Kellerbrauerei cooled its kettles in 2013, Rieder Bier is now the sole hometown hero.

The best place by far to hoist a tankard of the local brew and much else besides is the Biergasthof Riedberg. Karl Zuser, the sommelier-owner, is something of a local celebrity, criss-crossing the region offering and promoting his well-stocked cellar broad in brand selection and deep in vintage verticals.IMG_6829

Riedberg’s head server, Susanne Schimpf, is also a trained beer sommelier. She set me up not only with superb beers, but also a hop soft drink (Hopster Hopfenlimo) that I’m sure we’ll see at some point in Kreuzkölln or Brooklyn. IMG_6863

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

The hop schnapps Susanne served at the end of the meal cut through the rich and delicious regional fare perfectly.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

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After a leisurely Easter Sunday buffet breakfast at Biergasthof Riedberg, I made my way to the train station to get the semi-regular train to Braunau am Inn, a pretty town that bears the unfortunate distinction of being the place where Adolf Hitler was born. As someone who has done a fair amount of work on the Holocaust and National Socialism, and who has traversed Europe to do research on the concentration camps, extermination camps, transit camps, forced labour camps, and the memorial sites that have sprung up as a witness to and warning against the murder of Europe’s Jews, I felt a certain ambivalence about heading to this particular town in search of beer on Easter Sunday. I’ll leave those thoughts open … They certainly refused to be bracketed as I tasted my way through Brauhaus Bogner’s stellar beer offerings.

Something on the lighter side ...

Something on the lighter side …

Be it the stellar Hefeweizen, the unique Fastenbier dark Bock brewed for Lent, the Frühlingsmärzen pulled straight from the lagering tanks before the rest of it goes down for the longer haul over the summer, or the dazzling Zwickl with its subtle aromas of pear, blossoms, artisanal bread, butter pecan, and fresh-cut meadows, Bogner knocks it out of the park.IMG_6938

Bogner is one of the smallest breweries in Austria, so you’ll need to journey to the source. It’s well worth the effort, though –– a real treat for fans of lagers and Weissbier.IMG_6942

Since the weekend was already winding down, I didn’t have time to linger in Braunau am Inn before retracing my steps in the direction of Schärding, a vibrant town perched on the banks of the Inn River.IMG_7085

For those who have been reading along since the early days of Tempest, you might remember a piece I wrote about Kapsreiter Landbier on the occasion of Craft Lager Day. Unfortunately, the owners of this much-beloved regional brewery also had money tied up in real estate, and are said to have been done in by the effects of the financial crash. The brewery and its inn were bought by Baumgartner, the brewery just across the street, but the legacy of Kapsreiter lives on.IMG_7040

IMG_7047Though Kapsreiter may be gone, Baumgartner is doing an excellent job of keeping the brew kettles stoked in Schärding. You can get their beer in just about any inn or tavern in town, but why not go straight to the source? The Baumgartner Stadtwirt Schärding (formerly Kapsreiter, as the barrels out front and stamped benches within attest) is conveniently located right across from the brewery, and the food is on point as well.IMG_6981

It’s early Monday afternoon, I don’t need to be in Vienna until nighttime, and I’ve already tasted my way through Schärding. I hadn’t thought of it while planning my weekend, but Passau is a mere fifteen minutes away on one of the main train lines out of Vienna into Germany via Linz. And a train happens to be leaving in half an hour.IMG_7100

Since it lies at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube Rivers, it’s the perfect way to end my exploration of beers and breweries along the eastern portion of the Inn River. The Veste Oberhaus, erstwhile fortress of the Bishop of Passau, overlooks an Altstadt strewn with Gothic and Baroque architectural jewels and teeming with lively terraces.IMG_7113

Passau is also a university town, and it’s not long until I feel the pull of the inns and taverns at every street corner and in every square.

A beer with a view.

A beer with a view.

Satiated, I clamber I up to the fortress dominating the ridge overlooking the town, dip my toe in the water where the Inn and Danube come together, and stroll along the banks of the Inn back to the train station, just in time for my train back to Vienna. I barely scratched the surface of Passau, but in the immortal words of a certain Austrian from Graz, I’ll be back.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

Endnote: Due to spotty bus and train connections to Engelhartszell, I missed out on Austria’s only Trappist brewery this time around. Now that I have my international driver’s permit, I’ll rent a car one of these weekends and let you know more about the town and the abbey.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Grab your tankards and beer steins, folks, it’s National Craft Lager Day! Judging by what I could glean from the chatter circulating on the interwebs, this latest in the line of XYZ beer days appears to have been dreamt up by the marketing department of Sam Adams.

No matter. Lager deserves more respect than it gets on this continent where craft beer enthusiasts sometimes confuse IBU levels and high-octane ABV with quality. In the rush to embrace the newest discovery, or the boldest, most extreme rendition of a style, novice and veteran craft beer drinkers alike have a tendency to overlook the subtleties of lager. If you need convincing on this point, BeerAdvocate’s ongoing “Top 250” is a particularly instructive read, as are many of the “Best of” beer lists that appear with soporific regularity. It doesn’t help matters much either that lager suffers from an image problem of continental proportions owing to its association with Bud, Miller, and Coors.

The result? Lager gets left out in the cold.Ice Cold Beer

Bad puns aside, raise your hand if you know what distinguishes a lager from an ale. No worries if you don’t – you’re not alone. Yours truly used to consume all beers with equally gleeful abandon until relatively recently. And according to the Samuel Adams infographic compiled for National Craft Lager Day (see below), sixty-three percent of Americans over the age of twenty-one do not know the difference between lager and ale. (Thirty-seven percent apparently do. Not bad at all.)

Cold “lagering” temperatures constitute part of the difference between lagers and ales. “Lagern” in German means to store. Historically, this meant stowing beer away for a stretch in frigid alpine caves. The other difference has to do with yeast, which, in turn, is related to fermentation and lagering temperatures. Isolated in the nineteenth century, Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly carlsbergensis) is the yeast that yields lager; Saccharomyces cervesiae is lager’s opposite number in the ale world. Lager yeast prefers cooler fermentation temperatures (5-13º C; 40-55º F), and requires a period of cold-conditioning. Thanks to the yeast and the longer process, lager is sometimes smooth, sometimes crisp, and nearly always clean-tasting if done well. Ale yeast prefers warmer temperatures (18-22º C; 64-72º F), and the resulting beer is ready to drink within a shorter period of time. Those fruity aromas reminiscent of dark cherry, plum, apple, pear, apricot, or dried fruit? That’s likely the particular strain of S. cerevisae yeast showing its character.

The takeaway: lagers are (usually) more subtle than their ale cousins. And subtle does not necessarily mean “fizzy, yellow, and bland,” the majority of mass-produced lagers notwithstanding.

To celebrate the “canonization” of lager with its very own feast day, I’m going to deliberately ignore the “national” modifier of Craft Lager Day to introduce you to a style of beer that doesn’t often wash up on these North American shores: Landbier (“country beer”). Landbier is an easy-drinking, everyday table beer that is hopped with a light hand. It comes in filtered or unfiltered versions, is often golden-yellow, and steps over to the dark side from time to time. ABV is in the modest 4.8%-5.3% range, making the beer a quaffable reward for a hard day’s work.

Kapsreiter Landbier hails from the Upper Austrian baroque frontier town of Schärding overlooking the Inn River. Kapsreiter Landbier CoasterThis country beer’s crystal-clear honey-golden colour hints at the toasty malt and nuanced honey sweetness within. Aromas of country bread, Swiss milk caramel, and fresh cream give way to earthy herbal-fennel accents suggestive of hops. Creamy and of medium body, the toasted malt and caramel interweave with nuts and mild earthy licorice, and a touch of apple carries through to the pleasant almond-apple finish. Balanced and harmonious, mildly hopped yet deceptively rich and satisfying, this is not a beverage that will hit you over the head. But at a manageable 5.3% ABV, it would make an agreeable picnic companion underneath the canopy of a chestnut tree on a breezy spring day. Drink this one cool but not cold, and think wistfully of April.

Sam Adams CraftLagerDay Info 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2013 F. D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.