Tag Archives: Vienna

Vienna, City of Beer Gardens

Not a cloud in the sky and the streets are starting to radiate the heat of the late afternoon. So much to see in Vienna. But I could use a cool drink right about now.IMG_4050 Perfect time to head to a beer garden.

“A beer garden?” some of my Viennese friends ask, usually with slightly raised eyebrow. In writing this series on beer gardens, I’ve come to learn that many in Vienna don’t refer to beer gardens as beer gardens. The preferred term is “Gastgarten” (guest garden), while “Biergarten” has a distinctively southern German ring to it. I’ll revisit this fascinating semantic world of Gasthäuser, Wirtshäuser, Beiseln, and Gastgärten at a later date. For now, though, it’s probably a safe bet for us English speakers to just call the drinking establishments in this series “beer gardens.”

Now you have a topic for your next beer garden conversation in Austria –– guaranteed to touch off a lively discussion about these aspects of Austrian culinary and cultural history.

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, or some guy named Franz?

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, a Wirtshaus, or some guy named Franz? Maybe they have a Gastgarten out back …

Where were we?

In Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens, we headed out to Vienna’s iconic Prater for some Czech Budweiser and roasted pork knuckle. After that, we hiked through the Vienna woods and capped it with an Augustiner beer fresh from Salzburg at the Bamkraxler (A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country). Time for another one of those epic tram rides –– this time to the western corner of the city.

Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz”

Tucked away amid the largest expanse of urban gardens (Schrebergärten) in Europe, the Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is one of those true gems that should be on the itinerary of every beer garden aficionado. Founded in 1920, today’s Schutzhaus may not have the largest selection of beers –– Czech Budweiser, a Zwickl from Ottakringer, a Paulaner Hefeweizen, and a few others –– but beer’s not the only reason you should visit. Peter Eickhoff, author of 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss, writes that the person who doesn’t know of the Schmelz “doesn’t know Vienna” (Eickhoff, 2015, 180). Even so, when you wander past the tidy urban gardens and enter the Schutzhaus beer garden, you’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret that not every Viennese has heard.IMG_7669

Sipping your beer surrounded by so much soothing greenery, it may take a moment to conjure up the rich history of the area. Auf der Schmelz has seen many incarnations, but its name still recalls its origin as an iron-smelting works that stood here up until the time of the second Ottoman siege in 1683. The Friedhof der Schmelz (cemetery) replaced the smelting works and held the remains of the victims of the 1848 Revolution until everyone was up and moved to the Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) some years later. From 1857 this strip of land was used as an exercise ground for the imperial cavalry, and was the staging ground for the magnificent military parade held annually for Kaiser Franz Joseph.

After the turn of the twentieth century the area was slated for an ambitious redevelopment that would have shifted the artistic and cultural focus of Vienna considerably westward. This “blank slate” devoid of established buildings appealed to the architects of the day, including Otto Wagner, who submitted intriguing plans for the Kaiser Franz Josef Stadtmuseum (currently the Wien Museum on Karlsplatz).

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The Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is, to paraphrase Peter Eickhoff, not only the heart but also the belly of the Schmelz –– and the portions are, indeed, ample. It was “Spargelzeit” when I first went, that glorious time of year in Central Europe when menus feature all things white asparagus. I tucked into an “asparagus cordon bleu” (white asparagus spears wrapped in cheese and ham, then breaded and fried like a schnitzel), but you wouldn’t go wrong with one of their classics such as Schweinsbraten (roast pork) or goulash. If you arrive between June and August, you’ll be in for a treat: a weekly menu that features different menu variations using chanterelle mushrooms. (Look for any menu item with “Eierschwammerl.”)IMG_7676

  • Address: Auf der Schmelz, 1150 Wien
  • Getting there: Take the U3 in the direction of Ottakring as far as Johnstrasse, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Heiligenstadt, and get off at the “Auf der Schmelz” stop. You can also do the trip entirely above ground by taking the Tram 46 toward Joachimsthalerplatz as far as Schumeierplatz, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Niederhofstrasse, and get of at “Auf der Schmelz.”

Wirtshaus Zattl

You’ve been out to the Prater in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district, you’ve sipped beer in the shadow of Nußdorf’s vineyards, and you’ve ventured out to the leafy Auf der Schmelz garden district in western Vienna. What’s left in terms of beer gardens and shaded courtyards attached to lively taverns? Plenty. But we’ll leave off with one spot in the center of town should you be pressed for time during your visit.

As far as pub interiors go, the Zattl certainly wouldn’t make any “top ten” lists of Europe’s best taverns. I’ve heard the place described as “rustic modern,” but it’s a polished rusticity with much of the historical character sanded out.IMG_9098 We’re here for something different, though. On the opposite side of Zattl’s Herrengasse storefront, you’ll find a bustling beer garden hidden just off the Freyung market square and right in the courtyard of the Schottenstift (Scottish Abbey). On any given evening when the weather’s warm, you’ll find the beer garden abuzz with a mix of students, people on their way home from work, and fashionably dressed older folks taking a break from the city around them.

Considering its location, the food and drinks are reasonably priced, with a 500 mL mug of beer running at 4.30 euros. Classic Austrian tavern fare such as Wiener Schnitzel, Fiaker Goulasch, and Zwiebelrostbraten (a delicious roast beef dish served in an onion sauce with crisped onions) begins around 12 euros. The Zattl receives its beer tanked in fresh from the Pilsener Urquell brewery a few hundred kilometers away in Bohemia.IMG_9101 The 2000-liter refrigerated delivery (subsequently divided into 500-liter tanks in Zattl’s cellar) is unpasteurized and naturally carbonated, making for a softer, rounder Pils Urquell than you’d get in the bottle. In addition to Pilsener Urquell, Zattl serves a variety of Stiegl beers, along with wine offerings from the Wachau, Kremstal, and Neusiedlersee regions.

Even if the Zattl’s sleek interior design runs short on Viennese charm, I share the oft-expressed sentiment among food and beverage writers in Vienna that the Zattl beer garden is among the prettiest inner-city beer gardens in Austria.

Or maybe it’s not a Biergarten after all, but a Gastgarten …

Drink up!IMG_9111

Sources

Peter Eickhoff, 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss (Emons Verlag, 2015).

August Sarnitz, Otto Wagner: Wegbereiter der modernen Architektur (Köln: Taschen, 2005).

“Schmelz,” Wien Geschichte Wiki.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

All images by F.D. Hofer.

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

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Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

Vienna, city of music. Home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Mahler. Vienna, a showcase of architectural styles from the soaring Gothic-era Stephansdom to the Baroque opulence of the Karlskirche, and from elegant Ringstrasse historicism to the fin-de-siècle modernism of Otto Wagner. Vienna’s pastries rival those of Paris, as does its coffeehouse culture. Chocolate? Plenty of that, too.IMG_5580

But Vienna, city of beer? Not since the nineteenth century, nascent interest in craft beer notwithstanding.

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Nothing says summer more than the crunch of gravel underfoot and the shade overhead as I carry my stein of beer back to my spot under the leafy canopy of the chestnut grove. I’ve repeated the ritual for years now.IMG_8563 The cool breeze, the buzz of conversation, the heavy clink of beer mugs, the solid and slightly awkward metal chairs or benches bedecked with wooden slats, the chestnut blossoms covering the tables in late spring and early summer, the plates of sausage, pork knuckle, and sauerkraut –– it’s a scene that never loses its charm.

Even if the glory days of Vienna lager are a thing of the past, Vienna can still lay claim to a rich but understated beer garden tradition. Here’s the first of four shaded oases sure to inspire visitors and locals alike out to check out different parts of the city.

Schweizerhaus

A few steps from the iconic Riesenrad (giant Ferris wheel), and tucked between the lively commotion of the Würstel Prater amusement park and the stately tree-lined Hauptallee, the Schweizerhaus serves up its beer with a shot of Viennese history on the side.IMG_6754 If you visit before the Schweizerhaus closes for the season on 31 October, you’ll be able to raise a stein to Joseph II, the reform-minded Habsburg monarch who opened up the imperial hunting grounds to the general public. Since his proclamation 250 years ago, the broad natural expanse on the edge of the city has become tightly woven into the cultural fabric of the city.

The Prater has been many things to many people over the ages –– meadows, woodlands, amusement park, den of iniquity. Some commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the Prater is an “anarchic space” in which different levels of society could mix and mingle more or less unconstrained by the social norms operative in the city. Countless Austrian literary figures have written fondly of the Prater, and even Goethe, who never visited Vienna, was aware of its reputation. The Prater has also appeared in motion pictures, perhaps most indelibly in the 1949 classic, The Third Man, featuring a diabolical Orson Welles on the run from Joseph Cotten and a Vienna laid low by the war.

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Food and drink has long been a highlight of a visit to the Prater. Early on, lemonade stands, snack booths, guest houses, and coffee houses emerged as fixtures along the Hauptallee. Taverns soon followed, including the storied Schweizerhaus.

The Schweizerhaus opened in 1868, and is one of the few great Prater drinking establishments to have survived both world wars. Nowadays the Schweizerhaus exudes tradition, but at one time it stood at the forefront of innovation.IMG_4531 Following the example of tavern owners in Munich and the United States, the proprietors had a giant ice cellar installed. “Thanks to this,” wrote one contemporary enthusiast, “patrons can now […] enjoy every glass of Pils or Schwechater beer fresh from the ice cellar while they must be content with lukewarm refreshment at best in many Prater restaurants, especially at the height of summer” (Hachleitner, 2014, 132). When the owner passed away unexpectedly in 1920, Johann Kolarik, a butcher and Prater regular, stepped in. Kolarik switched to Czech Budweiser and introduced a meat dish that soon became synonymous with the Schweizerhaus: the Schweizerhaus Stelze, or roasted pork knuckle.

The establishment remains in the Kolarik family to this day, and now has space for 1700 lucky imbibers in the shaded garden. Keep an eye out for the signs on the lampposts that divide the beer garden into Vienna’s twenty-three districts. You’ll find me in the 9th District enjoying my Budweiser.

Prost!IMG_4533

Check back soon for the second installment covering the remaining beer gardens.

Sources

Bernhard Hachleitner, The Prater Book (Vienna: Bohmann Verlag, 2014).

For a brief history of how the beer garden came into being, see Tempest’s In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden.

Also related:Plakat_In_den_Prater

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

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

*If you’re visiting Vienna this summer and want to learn more about the cultural history of the Prater, don’t miss the Wien Museum’s informative and entertaining exhibition, Meet Me at the Prater! Viennese Pleasures since 1766.

With the exception of the placard for the Wien Museum’s Prater exhibition, all images by F.D. Hofer.

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

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’Tis the Season for a Mug of Mulled Beer

’Tis the season, once again. Chances are you’ve warmed yourself with a cup of mulled wine at some point, especially if you’ve been to Europe around this time of year. But mulled beer?

Last year I related the story about my first sip of Glühwein (mulled wine) in the western German city of Saarbrücken. Aromas of baking spice, roasted nuts, and pine boughs drifted fragrantly in the bracing winter air, leading me to the Christkindl market in the main square and setting me down the path of annual Glühwein parties and get-togethers.IMG_5371 A few decades on, I did what might well come naturally to a catholic imbiber like myself: I heated up a bunch o’ beer and spiced it. Turns out the whole endeavour isn’t without historical precedent.

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Mulled beer, Glühbier, call it what you want: It’s definitely not a tradition of contemporary vintage in any of the beer-consuming countries I’ve visited. The rather incredulous glances I encountered from my Austrian colleagues last week merely confirmed the fact when I brewed up 25 liters of the stuff for the Wien Museum’s annual holiday season party. But warm beer has a history –– and not just as a pejorative reference to twentieth-century British beer.

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“The earliest ale and beer songs were Christmas carols,” writes W.T. Marchant in his classic work, In Praise of Ale of 1888, and the drinks that inspired these Twelfth Night, Wassail, and New Year’s festivities were not untypically served warm.IMG_0283 Even if we now associate apple cider-based drinks with those who went a wassailing, Marchant’s encomium reminds us that not all these drinks were cider-based. Writes Marchant, “In some remote place, the yule-log still blazes in the chimney of the rustic at Christmas eve. […] The wassail was regularly carried from door to door fifty years ago in Cornwall; and even now, a measure of ale, *flip, porter, and sugar, or some such beverage, is handed round while the yule-log is burning.”

*A “flip,” for those who might be wondering, is a cocktail, warm or cold, to which egg has been added.

Before giving you a recipe for mulled beer, a toast! And what better way to celebrate the season than with an excerpt from a merry toast dating back to 1642: To “All You That Are Good Fellows” (and all you good women, too):

All you that are good fellows;

     Come hearken to my song;

I know you do not hate good cheer,

     Nor liquor that is strong.

I hope there is none here

     But soon will take my part,

Seeing my master and my dame

     Say welcome in their heart.

This is a time of joyfulness,

     And merry time of year,

When as the rich with plenty stor’d

   Do make the poor good cheer.

Plum-porridge, roast beef, and minc’d pies,

     Stand smoking on the board;

With other brave varieties

     Our master doth afford.

[…]

Come fill us of the strongest,

     Small drink is out of date;

Methinks I shall fare like a prince,

     And sit in gallant state:

This is no miser’s feast,

     Although that things be dear;

God grant the founder of this feast

     Each Christmas keep good cheer.

Cited in W.T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale (London, 1888), pp. 66-67.

Glühbier (serves 8-10)

Whether you’re making mulled wine, mulled beer, or wassail, the basic process is simple: heat it all up and let it simmer for a few hours so that the flavours meld. A number of the basic ingredients are similar, too: spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg; some form of citrus juice and/or peels; sugar or some other sweetener such as honey; and a spirit like brandy or rum. However you formulate your recipe, remember these simple tips. Don’t let the mixture boil. Add sugar or honey if your concoction is too acidic or tart. Add spirits to go the other way and dry things out. Beyond that, there are no rules. Spices give you a chance to get creative. Don’t shy away from spices like juniper berries, peppercorns, or cardamom. Ginger can also give your Glühbier or Glühwien a welcome zestiness.IMG_5423

Amounts for each ingredient will depend largely on how much Glühbier, Glühwein, or wassail you want to make, and how spicy you want it. The cooking process drives off plenty of the alcohol, so don’t worry about knocking your guests out –– unless, of course, you choose to spike your warmed drinks with a fresh shot before serving. And that’s not a bad thing to do.

  • 5 bottles (500ml each) of dunkles Weizenbier or similarly non-hoppy beer with a good malt presence. (Doppelbocks, Scotch ales, and Belgian dubbels are all good candidates.) I chose a dark wheat beer for its ester profile (cloves, bananas, and a hint of vanilla) and its brown sugar malt character.
  • 3 mandarin oranges (peel and pulp)
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 6 cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • ¼ nutmeg ball, grated
  • 2 shots bourbon
  • 2 shots cherry juice

Combine the beer and honey in a kettle over medium heat, then grate the ginger into the mix. Wash the outsides of the oranges, and then peel them straight into the kettle. In a separate bowl, muddle the orange wedges with a wooden spoon, and then add it all to the kettle.

Add your spices as the mixture is heating up. With cinnamon sticks, crush them lightly before adding. Break up the star anise into pieces as you’re adding them to the kettle. In the case of whole nutmeg, grate it straight into the pot. If you’re pressed for time, you can also use ground spices.

Add 1 shot of the bourbon at the beginning of the simmer. Taste now, keeping in mind that cooking will drive off the harsher alcohol. Add the last shot near the end. (Be careful with hard liquor around an open flame, lest you end up with a more fiery version of your Glühbier than you bargained for.)

Give it all a good stir, and then bring the mix to just below boiling point before reducing the heat and simmering the mixture for a few hours. After about an hour-and-a-half, taste the mixture. If it’s too sweet, add more bourbon. If it’s not sweet enough, add more honey. Adjust any other spices. When it tastes fine to you, strain it before your guests arrive and keep it simmering over low heat on your stovetop.

And Bob’s your uncle. Now your home will smell like the market squares in Central European cities at this time of year!

Glühwein, not Glühbier. But the spices are similar.

Glühwein, not Glühbier. But the spices are similar.

Happy Holidays!

Related Tempest Articles

For those interested in mulled wine as well, check out the holiday article I wrote last year entitled Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer.

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

The Fonduementals of Beer and Cider: Recipes to Warm Your Weekend

Winter Nights and Warming Barleywines from Sussex, Texas, and Québec

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Tempest at Two Years: Raising My Tankard to You

The Chistkindl markets tucked into Vienna’s squares large and small foretell snowflakes and frosty windowpanes. The fragrance of the town has become decidedly seasonal. Cinnamon and clove announcing mulled wine (Glühwein) mingle with the sweet brown sugar aromas of roasted and spiced almonds (gebrannte Mandeln) and the smoky-woodsy notes of roasted chestnuts (heisse Maroni).IMG_5260 The leaves on the trees have long since flown south, and the seasoned imbibers have left the beer garden for the warmth and Gemütlichkeit of the pub or Beisl, some of them warming themselves up with that granddaddy of malty seasonal beers, the Doppelbock.

Doppelbock. What better way to toast two enjoyable years writing A Tempest in a Tankard? A recent trip to Bamberg turned up an entirely appropriate candidate – and it’s not the smoked Eiche Doppelbock from Aecht Schlenkerla, though that would be a perfect beer for the occasion.IMG_5171 No, this one from Hertl Braumanufaktur in the Franconian region of Bavaria is a little something else: a Doppelbock brewed with peated malt and aged in whisky barrels. Innovation meets tradition.

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If you’re one to pay attention to these things, you’ll have noticed that my posting rate has tapered off in the past half year or so. As some Tempest readers know, I took a two-year position at the Wien Museum in Vienna (come and visit!) as an ACLS Public Humanities fellow. Needless to say, the whole process of getting myself here has translated into less time at the keyboard. And then there’s the sheer fact of being in Vienna –– never a dull moment with all those museums, the Vienna Woods nearby, and plenty of opportunity for food and drink in the city’s Beisl and Heuriger.IMG_4209 But I have neither laid down my pen nor hung up my tankard, and will continue to traverse Vienna, Europe, and beyond to bring you a unique perspective on beer and culture.

Before I go any further, allow me to raise my glass to all you readers old and new who have kept up with my posts and articles over the past few years.

A tip o’ the ole tankard to ya!

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I’m extremely grateful to you, my readership for making this all worthwhile. But it’s always nice to have a few more readers. So help spread the word about Tempest by encouraging your craft beer-drinking friends to subscribe to the blog for email updates as I post new material. (See the side-bar to the right.) And don’t forget to tell them to like Tempest on Facebook or follow Tempest on Twitter (@TempestTankard). I’ve also been known to post the occasional beer-related photo to Instagram (@tempesttankard), and have recently set up a Pinterest account. Follow along!

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In Case You Missed Them: Highlights from the Past Year

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden — In this, one of my favourite articles, I trace the historical roots of all those chestnut trees shading beer gardens in Germanic lands. Cited in The Atlantic to boot.IMG_4483

The MaltHead Manifesto — Malt heads of the world, unite!

Returning for Another Sip of Terroir — The crux: How can a well-crafted “Munich Helles” from Austin and a helles Bier from München express “unique” terroirs when they can taste virtually the same in the hands of skilled brewers in different countries?

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Backroad Craft Beer Tour — Long a travel destination for connoisseurs of fine wine, hop farms and fields of barley now sway in the lakeshore breeze alongside row upon row of grapes. (Incidentally, this was Tempest’s most-viewed article of the past year.)

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips — About a year and a half back, I wrote a short article with some thoughts on aging Belgian sour beers. I followed it up recently with some more systematic thoughts on what styles of beers to age, how to age them, and what to expect a few years down the road.

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer — You’ve probably heard of mulled wine, but how about mulled beer? Glühbier: the next big thing. ’Tis the season!IMG_5356

Down the Rabbit Hole: Doppelbock-Braised Rabbit — Like duck and venison, rabbit traditionally evokes the autumn hunt and harvest, but this subtly smoky rabbit suits just about any season from early fall to late spring.

Tasting Against the Craft Beer Grain — What do we taste when we drink a glass of beer or wine? Are we imbibing the liquid itself? Or is there more to it? Are we consuming an aura? Hype? Marketing? A contribution to my occasional series on the critique of canons of taste.

Serving Up a New Tradition at the Finger Lakes Cider House — Cider’s in. And places like the Finger Lakes Cider House are perfect for sampling a broad range of styles from a number of producers. Great locally produced food, too.

Striking Craft Beer Gold at Boulder Breweries (The Front Range Series) — Park lands and cycling trails, winter sports, a college town vibe, the Flatirons, three hundred days of sunshine a year, and, of course, world-class craft beer. What’s not to like about Boulder, Colorado? Read the whole series before you visit the Northern Front Range.

About a year ago I inaugurated the first of my “Saturday 6-Pack” series. I’m now six six-packs in. More to come. A sampling:

  • Brown Beers Get No Luvin’––A whole six-pack of them. You’ll be happy you gave these overlooked beers a shot.
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers––The original inspiration for this piece was a January 2015 article on Boston Beer Co.’s founder, Jim Koch (of Sam Adams fame).
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Saisons––Saisons with elderberry flowers, bold and tropically inflected saisons, and surprisingly drinkable saisons with parsley, rosemary, and thyme. And Saison DuPont. Mais bien sûr!

I also updated Tempest’s annotated index in case you have a snowy Sunday afternoon and want to read any of the nearly one-hundred articles I’ve posted to date.IMG_5265

And now for that Hertl Doppelbock. (Click here for tasting notes.)

Prost!

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All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Returning for Another Sip of Terroir

I pause from reading the newspaper to take another sip of my coffee. A melange –– a Viennese classic coffee that goes by a French name sans the accent. A true mix: no single-origin beans here. This evening I’m experiencing a mélange as well: a mixture of the beloved Viennese pastime of wiling away the afternoon in an elegant setting with a coffee whose very name blurs its origins.IMG_4688

Place, authenticity, experience ––food for thought to accompany my various forms of liquid sustenance.

Tomorrow I head off on a pilgrimage of sorts: Bamberg. Extending over seven hills in the Franconian region of northern Bavaria and renowned for its medieval old town spanning the river Regnitz, Bamberg is also famous for its uniquely smoky beer. Rauchbier, a beer very much tied to a particular place.

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It’s coming on two years now since I penned the following words:

“Rather than understanding beer as an ‘expression’ or even a ‘sense’ of place, I propose, instead, something more modest: that we consider beer as a reflection of the environment, circumstances, and processes surrounding its production –– in short, that we consider beer as a reflection of place, but dimly.”

In that series of articles, I promised to reconsider the notion of place decoupled from terroir so as to redeem a “place” for place in our discussions of craft beer. But by the time that I had critiqued the ideological underpinnings of the “buy local” movement in my “Romancing the Local,” I found that I had argued myself into a corner. These things happen. I didn’t expect that it would take me this long to get around to arguing myself out of that corner. But drinking that melange in Vienna’s Cafe Central helped turn on a few light bulbs.

Before I catch my train, here are a few propositions and questions. I’ll add some colour to this outline in the days and weeks after contemplating the smoky essence of Bamberg’s beer.

  1. In a July 2015 article for Draft, Joe Stange quotes Tim Beaumont on terroir: “Beer has terroir not for the soil in which the hops or grain are grown, but for the people in the area for whom the beer is brewed, who shape by their cultural expectations how that beer will be.” Much as I appreciate the sentiment, the statement represents a case of putting the cart before the horse. Responding, I think rightly, to Stan Hieronymus’ calls for more narratives about the people who make the beer, some craft beer writers confuse the people –– who indeed come from “a place” somewhere –– with terroir.
  1. I laud the attempts of those who resist mass-produced food and drink in the name of terroir, but I find the effort misplaced when it comes to beer. Elastic as the notion of “terroir” may be, it is not so empty a vessel that we can fill it with any content whatsoever.
  1. Consider this: Back in the day, much beer was stamped with a sense of place due to a number of factors largely beyond the control of local brewers. Nowadays, brewers in Austin are creating beers that taste just like those in Munich, and that’s a fine thing indeed for this lover of lager.

But herein lies the problem in linking craft beer and terroir: How can a well-crafted “Munich Helles” from Austin and a helles Bier from München express “unique” terroirs when they can taste virtually the same in the hands of skilled brewers in different countries?

Not a Munich Helles.

Not a Munich Helles.

  1. Here’s a two-part formulation that, I hope, will invite discussion.

Part I: Beer is not the expression of a single terroir, but rather, by the very nature of its ingredients and production processes, a mélange of terroirs. This mixture reflects the regions, climates, and topographies from which the hops and grains come from. It also reflects the philosophies of those who turn the barley, wheat, and other grains into malt, sometimes quite far from where the grains were grown. As for yeast? When it comes to wild fermentations, yeast (and their symbiotic bacteria) may well present a qualified expression of terroir. In most other cases, though, the yeast has been transposed from its original setting and reproduced in sophisticated labs for use in breweries anywhere.

The question, then, is this: What happens to terroir once the grain and hops have been mashed and boiled with water that may or may not be “of” the region and then fermented in, say, Wisconsin with a Belgian saison yeast? Does the mélange of terroirs do so much to blur any sense of individual terroir as to make the concept meaningless?

Part II: Even if we decide, ultimately, that terroir is a red herring for brewers, drinkers, and writers, the issue of craft beer and its relationship to place is still worthy of debate, as complex an issue as it is. What constitutes an “expression of place”? What are we to make of those creative brewers whose beers aren’t expressions of their own particular locale, but otherwise represent the melding of artistic brilliance with technical acumen?

Memories and experiences: Another way to think of place.

Memories and experiences: Another way to think of place.

The answer, I think, lies in the sense of a shared ethos; in other words, a shared sensibility, a shared knowledge, a shared inspiration, a local synergy.

As Ron Extract of Jester King put it when I asked him a few years back to consider claims that you can taste the “Hill Country terroir” in local favourites such as Jester King beers and Argus ciders, his response was telling: “Any similarity in taste has less to do with terroir than with a similar approach to producing our beverages.”

What is by now a transnational artisanal ethos shared by brewers from coast to coast and beyond nonetheless grounds itself in particular places. The regional stylistic variations that have emerged across North America bear this out. But this has much less to do with the soil and surrounding environment than it does with the people behind the brewing processes: the people who reinterpret existent styles, sometimes with a local twist, the people who create new styles that reflect the beer’s place of origin. A reflection of place, sure. But one that has little to do with terroir.

__________

Keep an eye out on Facebook and Instagram for photos from my trip to Bamberg.

Sources

Erika Bolden, “Can Craft Beer Truly Express a Sense of Place?” Punch (July 9, 2015).

Joe Stange, “Smell Your Beer: Does It Reek of Gimmickry? More Musings on Sincere Beer,” Draft (July 15, 2015).

Photos by F.D. Hofer

Related Tempest Articles

The MaltHead Manifesto

Pinning Down Place

Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Six Tips to Help You Get the Most out of the Great American Beer Fest

The trees are starting to don their autumn colours and the kegs have already been tapped for this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich. Today in Vienna the curtain rises on a less well-known festival, but one entirely in keeping with the spirit of the harvest season: the Wiener Wiesn Fest in the broad and leafy expanses of Vienna’s Prater park.

GABF 2014 (TastingGlass-GABF FB) 2On the other side of the Atlantic, beer devotees are beginning to arrive at a different annual pilgrimage site. Yes, it’s that the time of year when thousands of thirsty craft beer enthusiasts converge upon Denver and its environs for the Great American Beer Festival. Equal parts serious beer connoisseurship and street carnival, the GABF may not be as large as Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it boasts a truly impressive cross-section of breweries currently operating in the U.S. and an unrivaled breadth of beer styles to match.

Whether you’re new to the beer fest circuit or a seasoned veteran, I’ve compiled a few tried-and-true tips to make sure you remember at least a portion of your experience and so that you don’t wake up the next day feeling like you’ve gone head-to-head, helmetless, with a Denver Broncos’ lineman.

First, though, some fun facts from 2014:

  • Approximately 49,000 attended
  • Average age of attendees: 34.5 years
  • 76% of attendees were male, 24% were female
  • 1309 breweries entered 5507 beers
  • 222 judges from 10 countries judged in five sessions
  • 90 + beer categories were evaluated, with an average of 61 beers per category
  • 279 American-style IPAs were entered for judging

Now, that’s a lot of beer and plenty of stylistic variation to take in. Add to that the dazzling array of ingredients that find their way into kettles and fermenters –– fruit, herbs, vegetables, flowers, legumes, chiles, and chocolate are all fair game ––, all those cutting-edge hop varieties, numerous sour this and barrel-aged that, and you’ll have plenty of reason to wonder how you’re going to come out on the other end with any lasting impressions of your GABF experience. And we haven’t even mentioned all the solid takes on straight-up styles like stout, porter, and pale ale.

Drink. (Water!)

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And then repeat. The downside of all this hydration? You’ll probably spend more time in those interminably long bathroom lineups than you’d like. But think of it this way: It’ll give you a chance to meet new people, or to mentally sort through the last hundred-odd beers you’ve just sampled.

Eat.

Eat a huge breakfast and then keep eating throughout the day. Food is available for sale inside the convention center for a price, but since you’ve dropped upwards of $85 on a ticket and spent your last pennies on those tap takeovers around town, why not get your money’s worth? Once you get yourself past the hordes of folks flocking to the beer booths, head straight for the cheese tables and stash away as much of it as you can for later. You might even discover your new favourite cheese in the process. (On a serious note, the cheese selection is immensely underrated by event-goers, so take full advantage!)

The Road Less Traveled.

Upon entering the hallowed precincts of the GABF, you’ll receive a map of the venue along with your tasting glass and program. Take a look around and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land.GABF Map (2015) Circle your top picks, but give yourself some leeway to explore areas outside of the Pacific Northwest, Cali, and Colorado. Never had a beer from Oklahoma? Head on down and have a beer with my friends from Roughtail.

The Hunt.

Rather than looking for that serendipitous find in far-flung regions of the U.S., get to know your fellow revelers and exchange notes on what might be most outrageous, outlandish beer in the festival. Have you ever stood in front of a shelf of beers and thought, man, I’d really like to try that lemon chiffon cruller beer or that bacon and maple syrup beer, but I don’t really feel like dropping upwards of 15 bux on this particular lottery ticket? Well, here’s your chance. Take a vacation from all those IPAs you’ve been drinking and see how many rabbit holes you can go down.

Flora and Fauna.

For the majority of you who have already purchased your tickets, you’re already locked into a session. But if you’re arriving in Denver hoping that all your BeerAdvocate “beer Karma” will help you land a ticket (or for those contemplating a trip to the GABF at some point in the future), I’ll try to give you a sense of how the sessions differ from one another.

Avoid the Saturday evening session unless your main reason for going is to get hammered. Most of the brewers have long since checked out to party with their compadres, and many of the most sought-after beers have long since been Untappd.GABF 2014 (Alaska-GABF FB) The Saturday afternoon session is the one filled with the most serious beer enthusiasts and “tickers,” so be prepared to stand in long lineups for any of the so-called whales. For my money, the Friday evening session is the best. You’ll have a chance to meet many of the brewers and to try some truly extraordinary beers before the kegs start running dry. Since the proportion of flannel-clad beer geeks and neck beard-stroking wannabes is much lower, you won’t be stuck in too many lineups waiting to taste the beers you might have on your list. (Note: I haven’t been to a Thursday session yet, so can’t comment on the pros and cons.)

Know Your Limits.

You don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl.” If you’re new to this whole beer fest thing, brush up on your beer styles ahead of time. Given the widespread adulation of high ABV beers among the craft beer brewing and drinking community, many of the beers you drink will clock in well above the 5% ABV to which you may be accustomed. Most barley wines, Doppelbocks, Double IPAs, and Imperial Stouts tip the scales above 7% ABV, and beers topping out over 10% ABV are not uncommon at the GABF. You paid good money to be here, so enjoy that beer rather than treating your commemorative cup like a shot glass.

Good Housekeeping.

Keep Track. You will, after all, be drinking. And drinking has been known to interfere with our mnemonic faculties on occasion. (Did you really think you were going to remember all those beers?) Bring a small notebook or, at the very least, a pen so that you can jot down notes in the program you received. If you really must, enter your finds into Untappd. Regardless of your chosen method, keeping track of all those beers is going to be one of the toughest things you’ll do at GABF––especially if you’re with a group of friends. Stick with it, though. You’ll thank me for the tip when you get home and can remember what characterized even a few of the beers you liked.

_________________

This year’s GABF runs from September 24 through September 26 in Denver, CO.

As the organizers of the GABF put it, “Savor the flavor responsibly.” I’ll be thinking of you while I drink my Maß of beer here in Vienna. Cheers and Prost!

Related Tempest Articles

Check out these articles if you’re looking for breweries, brewpubs, and bottle shops beyond the general GABF festivities. Boulder is easily reachable from Denver via public transit, and Fort Collins is but a short car ride from both Denver and Boulder.

Striking Gold at Boulder Breweries (The Front Range Series)

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Sources and Images

GABF Post-Event Report 2014

GABF Floor Plan

All other images from the GABF Facebook page.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

IMG_4001New job, new city. The two combined have left me precious little time to write. I know, I know. Tough life living in Vienna. Until the remnants of summer stop beckoning me to every nook and cranny of this fine town, my time at the keyboard will be sporadic at best. Do check back regularly, though. Eventually I’ll settle into a rhythm, even if I’ll never tire of taking the tram to random areas of the city.

For now, a visual taste, as it were, of things to come.

As any regular reader of Tempest knows, I’m fond of lagers. I could sum up the first few weeks here thus: In Pursuit of the Holy Grail, or, Vienna One Lager at a Time. IMG_3991To my chagrin, the quality of Vienna’s lagers is uneven at best, be it the usual mass-market suspects like Gösser, or, more surprisingly, the beers issuing forth from the many small breweries that dot the city. I was beginning to lose faith.

IMG_4284But a craft beer renaissance in Austria is stirring, and its Viennese epicenter in terms of bottle selection is the unlikely neighbourhood of Meidling. Nestled in the vibrant Meidling Market is Malefitz,IMG_4277 a convivial gathering place for local imbibers with an emphasis on Austrian craft brews. In the same vein but with a nod to beer beyond Austria’s borders, Beer Store Vienna is a mere hop, skip, and a few stone’s throws away. And they carry homebrew supplies.

Let’s not forget the urban scenery. (A five-year-old could take decent photos here.)

IMG_4020IMG_4320After all that walking, you might be in the mood for some food. The iconic Schnitzel pairs excellently with beer, and does well with both red and white wines to boot. Whatever you choose to eat, you won’t go hungry. Case in point: this hearty dish of pan-fried potatoes, blood sausage, and fresh horse radish smothered with onions. In Viennese German: Blunzengeröstl mit Kren und grünem Salat. You’ll need that salad, trust me.

IMG_4292Tired from all that walking around? A few too many steins of beer or glasses of Sturm? In every neighbourhood you’ll find at least one elegant café that’ll perk you up for your next round.

IMG_4099Till then, Prost!

IMG_4113Related Tempest Posts

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

The MaltHead Manifesto

All images by F.D. Hofer.

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