Where to Drink in Vienna, Austria
Vienna may be well-known for its waltz and its wine, but many don’t notice its wealth of craft beers. Beer in Austria has long reflected the attitude of its Teutonic neighbor: The beer definitely “ain’t broke,” so why fix it? “Lager lands” like Germany and Austria already produce a bevy of tasty brews that don’t need fancy flavors or experimentation.
Since the European Union lifted the Reinheitsgebot in 1988, the law has been nothing more than a fancy designation; many beers likely have more than just water, barley and hops. Still, since the beer “ain’t broke,” you won’t find many Austria-bred Pumpkin Ales or cherry Lambics. Austrian taste buds tend to stick to the classics, such as the light lager (Helles), dark lager (Dunkles) and the Märzen, known elsewhere as Oktoberfest beer. Another typically Austrian preference is Zwickl, or unfiltered beer. Some brewers prefer to perfect the ingredients, altering the origin of hops and malt, as opposed to subjecting Austrians to unfamiliar flavors.
Yet diversity is dawning on the Alpine horizon. Rye beers, American Pale Ales and IPAs, Porters, and Stouts are slowly nudging their way into the market. Look for Schremser’s Roggen Bio Bier, for example—an organic rye brew that would not have been legal in the years of the Reinheitsgebot.
Austrian brewers typically speak in terms of Stammwürze, or original gravity. It’s usually listed on the menu. In Salzburg, a half-liter mug is called a “Hoibes,” or half the usual Oktoberfest-sized Maß. In Vienna, a half-liter is just a großes Bier, or large beer. Smaller sizes include the Seidl (0.3 liter) and the Pfiff (0.2 liter)—useful terms in case you plan to do a lot of beer tasting.
1516 Brewing Company
One of the most daring and popular brewpubs in town, 1516’s braumeisters brew with attitude. There are four mainstays on the menu: the lager, Weisse, an Oatmeal Stout and the Victory Hop Devil IPA, which is brewed by Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Co. Two to three special brews, like the Amerikansky Pale Ale or the Savinjski Imperial IPA, are stored in Seguin Moreau-edition wooden kegs previously used at French and Italian vineyards and a Scotch whisky distillery.
7 Stern Bräu
Having founded this spacious establishment in 1994 near the narrow lanes of the Spittelberg quarter, brewer Sigmund Flitter claims they were the first to experiment with beer. His stammkunden, or regulars, come for the Hanfbier, a beer made with hemp (which is, after all, in the same family as hops) and the Chillibier. It’s one of the few bars with a potent Rauchbier and an IPA, thanks to a brewer-in-residence from the US. Flitter also pours rotating seasonal strong lagers: Osterbock, Maibock, Sommerbock, Herbstbock and a Bamberger Winterbock. There’s even a beer machine in the entry so you can take one home.
This kid-friendly restaurant is the only depot in Vienna for Märzen brewed by Salzburg’s Augustine monks (not related to Munich’s Augustiners). A large wooden mallet taps the wooden cask daily (except Monday) at 5pm, and live music usually accompanies the festivities into the evening. Its location in Nussdorf makes for an ideal stopover after a day in the Vienna Woods.
Kleine Sperlgasse 1a
This unassuming pub in the Leopoldstadt district, not far from the Danube Canal, has one goal in mind: serve lesser-known Austrian beers that deserve attention. One of its treasures is its Schlägl beer from the only abbey brewery (Stiftsbrauerei) in Austria. Local beer maven Conrad Seidl bestowed upon it the distinction of the best beer-pub in Vienna.
Since 1985, Vienna’s oldest brewpub has been drawing stammkunden to the large wooden tables in their biergarten. Staples on their beer menu include the Helles and Weizen, while their special beers have included a Honey Ale, Stout, Chocolate Ale, Weizbock and the hard-to-brew Rye beer. A rotating seasonal menu also includes Bocks, a Pale Ale and a unique spelt beer.
This familial gastropub on a leafy and secluded square in the Währing district offers one of the rare year-round Stouts in town. Don’t expect a Guinness, though; it has the same robust flavor of the Irish classic with just a tad more carbonation and clarity. The lager here is more full bodied than most Helles around town. Owners Ulrich and Doris run this family-friendly establishment where good taste permeates not only the beer, but the cuisine and wine as well. Two-liter jugs are available for takeaway.
The trip across the Danube is well worth the flavors that owner Christian Schneider concocts in Floridsdorf. Proud of his pure-bodied Pilsner, he also brews smooth and full-flavored Zwickl beers, a filtered Helles using the clean, mountain-fed Vienna water, plus seasonal beers. Consider yourself lucky if you catch his thick-headed “Florida Pale Ale,” which, like the Zwickl, features a fresh finish. Special beers include Weihnachtsbock, Neues Bock, Alt Wiener Märzen and a Stout.
This church altar-style bar seems like a shrine to good flavor—“Kangaroo” Pub has undoubtedly the largest selection of European craft brews in town. Beer from one of Styria’s finest microbrews, Forstner, flows from the tap alongside other Austrian craft brews. And the list of no fewer than 130 bottles of Belgian beers should keep your taste buds occupied. Don’t expect an equally exhaustive food menu, though.
Around the corner from The Highlander, this modest and homey gastropub features the experiments by students of the nearby University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (aka “BoKu”). Don’t worry, the results are remarkable. With only one tank, the brewers prefer unfiltered (Zwickl) beers, and produce a Helles, Dunkles and a Hefeweizen. There’s also always a special beer, which—in its one year of existence—has included Weizenbock, Red Lager, Oatmeal Stout and a Pale Ale with Bravo hops.
A laid-back alternative to the nearby breweries, this self-proclaimed “Bierbeisl” (beer eatery) succeeds in creating a cozy, woodsy interior, in spite of the ghost of its predecessor, a Hooters restaurant. Brewer Andy Hartl prefers to stick to the Helles, Dunkles and popular Märzen, while leaving room for variety. In addition to seasonal bock beers, there are plans to introduce a Honey Ale. For a special occasion, reserve the table with its own tap. The Old Viennese cuisine with Bohemian accents is another plus.
The Wieden Bräu is a popular retreat for locals, and some arrive mid-afternoon for the half-priced happy hour. The preferred Märzen here is malty, hoppy, mildly bitter, and like all the beers on tap, unfiltered. The food here is hearty, and the beer garden is shady in the hot summer afternoons. In fact, the entire establishment simply exudes a slice of relaxed Viennese life. ■