Herewith is a condensed version of my travelogue and beer drinking adventures in Austria. I will eventually put together a much longer day by day account of the trip but beer drinking will only be a relatively small portion of that account and probably not much more on beer than here. Pardon the typos and my long rambling sentences.
We arrived in Vienna by train from Munich late afternoon (we had frequent flyer tickets that would only take us as far as Munich). After re-grouping and visiting the Christmas market at the Rathaus (City Hall) and drinking very tasty gluwein and munching on the the Viennese version of corn dogs, we wandered over to the relatively nearby Spittleberg neighborhood to drink some beer. The neighborhood would even have been closer if had not been for the fact that it was only about 25 degrees Fahrenheit and after leaving 70 degree warmth in Philadelphia it was quite a shock. We stopped first at Siebensternbrau which is a very attractive brew pub that features approximately five or six beers on draft. Two days later I would have been pleasantly surprised to find that they had a Weihnachts or Christmas marzen. It was quite good, probably a somewhat bigger version of their regular marzen, malty but balanced. The surprise would have been because every other Weihnachts beer that we saw in Vienna was a pale bock. We also tried their helles, schwarz, and hemp beers. They were all pretty good but I think the Christmas beer was the most interesting but I'm kinda fuzzy on details. We went to the nearby Plutzer bar/restaurant which features their own beer but I don't think it's brewed on the premises. They had a very light helles and uninteresting dunkel, plus it was extremely crowded so we did not linger. We also visited Centimeter where you can buy a variety of bread with assorted toppings by the centimeter. It had, by the way, the best bread that we had in Austria, we had a rye bread with three melted cheeses. They do not brew their own beer but had an assortment of Austrian and German beers. They did not have a Christmas beer so I ordered an Andech's dunkel. At this point Denise and I had each consumed three beers as well as some wine and were jetlagged. On top of this Centimeter is a loud, dark and smoky bar. So Denise looked at the beer list and said to "get me a MaB beer (with that funny German S that looks like a B). I said sure and ordered a Mab and Andechs....we received a liter (MaB as in mass or big beer) of Andechs and a shot of schnapps, so we shared it. Fortunately, we did not get two liters or we would not have made it out of the bar.
Saturday evening on our way to dinner we stopped at Krah Krah, a Center City bar with about 10 drafts and about 50 bottled beers, 10 of the bottled beers were standard Euro-beers (no Belgians) and the rest were German/Austrian. They did have three Weihnachts bocks in bottle, by Hirter, Ottakringer, and Murauer so we tried all three. They were all malty pale bocks ranging between 7 and 8 percent. They were all quite good but none were spectacular, which turned out to be the theme of the trip. We had dinner at a very lovely upscale restaurant called Brezel Zwolb, which apparently was a medieval pretzel factory. The food was good hearty Austrian fare, like viener schnitzel and beef and they had Gosser on draft. The basement was extraordinarily attractive but I noticed something that would continue to be common in Austria. There was no one at the door to seat us, so we simply walked into the dining area and took a table, which happened to be reserved even though there was no card on it. But our timing was good and the extremely harried waiter/bartender moved us to another table in a romantic little nook. (They need to hire more staff.) But throughout dinner people simply came down into the dining area stalking tables. A couple days later we were in Cafe Central, one of the more attractive but also touristic coffee houses where you simply prowled around the room waiting to pounce on an opening table. The only place where there was somewhat more decorum was at the Cafe Sacher where we went simply because you are supposed to go there for a coffee and "legendary" Sacher torte. At the Sacher you must check your coat in a cloak room (10 schillings or about 75 cents per item) and then they seat you. I do not know how long the Sacher has been resting on its laurels but I thought that the torte was the driest and least tasty torte I had in Austria, and also the most expensive. Because of a large number of people in the hallway at the cloak room, a couple women were handed their coats and started to put them on and walk away. The woman behind counter started calling to them loudly demanding her 20 schillings. As they started to walk away she abandoned the counter pushed through the crowd to demand her 20 schillings in person. So much for decorum. Do not feel obligated to go to the Sacher.....Starbucks is up the street. No, we didn't go to Starbucks, but there are better coffehouses in Vienna than Sacher. Starbucks just opened, by the way, and was packed. One of the managers who opened it is the father of my student assistant (I work at a University)...small world.
Anyway, back to beer. After dinner we stopped at Zolar for a decent zwickl (unfiltered) and a too sweet dunkel. The beer is under the bar's name but I do not know if they brew it or have it brewed for them. It was a smoky, crowded, bar full of 20ish folk.
Sunday, after visiting the Belvidere Palace we went to Salm Brau, which is literally right next door for lunch and beer. The place is quite busy because of being next to a major tourist attraction but it also gets a substantial amount of local traffic. We wound up sitting next to and speaking with a 50ish Viennese fellow, who wanted to talk about WTC and travel and beer. They had a very good pilsner, marzen, but only a bland Weihnachts bock (6.2%). The person we were talking to said he thought the bock was undrinkable. I thought it was just uninteresting. He said that Nuss Brau brewed the best beer in the city but was not aware of Siebensternbrau.
Later we took the D tram to Nussdorf. You get off at the Nussdorf? stop and then continue to walk up Heiligenstädterstraße a few minutes until you find Nuss Brau on your left. They do indeed make the best beer in Vienna so it is worth the 20 minute ride from the Rathaus. We had their helles, zwickl (the owners favorite beer) their whisky beer (kind of like a dry Adelscott) and their Weihnachts bock which I think had a bit more hops and balance that most of the other primarily malty versions that we had. We then went to Fischer Brau which is technically nearby but takes some effort. The best thing to do is to take the tram from Nuss Brau to Reynardstrasse which has a U-bahn stop right there and then take the 6 to Nussdorfstrasse and walk a few blocks. Fisher only had a very good helles and equally good and a tad harsher (actually a good thing) bock of their own on draft, but they also had a number of other Austrian beers. But they also have very very good food at very reasonable prices because you are no longer in Center City. I had by far the best gulash but I had in Austria there and Denise's pasta dish was equally tasty. To get back into town we simply walked a couple blocks and took the 37 tram which leads to the ring a couple blocks from the Rathaus.
On Monday we only did sporadic drinking as we wandered around town, went to dinner, and went to a classical concert. Tuesday, we went to Bratislava where we mostly drank hot mead and gluwein at the Christmas market for pennies, literally. Whereas in Vienna a gluwein is about $2.00 it only cost about 50 cents in Bratislava. Eastern Europe is very inexpensive. We had dinner at a nice restaurant for $15 for the both of us including a half liter of wine. We did stop in one rather uninteresting pivonice for a pils and a dark from Saris for 25 cents each. The most important thing to remember about Bratislava is that there is not a lot of English spoken (I spoke more German in one day in Bratislava then I did in nine days in Austria) and that you do not leave town the same way you arrive. We took a train from Vienna to Marchegg (your itinerary may vary) where we got off in the middle of nowhere and went through Austrian customs. We then got onto a much smaller older train and went through Slovak customs. We got off at the train station went outside to the left, bought tram tickets for 14 koruna each (50 koruna to the dollar) and took tram number 1 six stops to the edge of the old town. We learned most of this from travel guides. Travel guides are very good at telling you how to get into town, they are not so good at telling you how to get out. We took tram 1 back to the railroad station and noticed that our 18:35 train to Vienna was not listed. I found some police and found one who spoke English and they informed me after looking at my timetable that our train departs from the Petralka station on the other side town approximately 30 minutes by bus. Who knew?? One officer said that we could take a taxi, the other officers shook their heads no and said stick with the bus. Slovak taxis are notoriously bad for ripping off tourists. However, finding the bus and getting over there was going to be a nightmare. We had 20 minutes to make our train. I asked a taxi driver in German how much to go to Petralka and he said 300 koruna, which was $6. I assumed that he was ripping me off and that I could probably bargain him down however we did not have the time and I can afford to be ripped off by $1 or $2. So we had a high-speed drive through Bratislava with a drunk taxi driver and made our train which was delayed anyway. My big mistake with Bratislava was getting too much money from the ATM. The Slovak currency is worth practically nothing in Austria. I had about $25 in koruna left over and when I cashed it in for schillings I got about $7 back. After we got back from Bratislava we went to Zwillingsg'wölb which was very near our hotel near the Rathaus. We had a very good zwickl and marzen (both brewed for the bar) and a bottled Schlagl dopplebock, another good but now becoming boring pale bock.
Wednesday we had a nice long train ride through a snow storm to Salzburg. Salzburg is a beautiful city but they have gone a bit overboard on the Mozart thing, you simply cannot escape top 40 Mozart tunes in hotels, restaurants, etc.. I like Mozart but enough already. Anyway, after wandering through the mushy snow and drinking gluwein in the Christmas market we stopped at the very confusing Stern brau, because it was cold and we were close and we wanted to try their kellerbier, but there are about five different bars/restaurants in the complex and only one served kellerbier and that place didn't open for another hour. So we began a 20 minute slog to Augustinerbrau, a monastery owned, but not monk run, brewery/beer hall. You take the main road outside of town along in the river and then turn up Augustinerstrasse to the beer hall. Unfortunately, that little hill was covered in slippery packed snow and did not have a sidewalk and had traffic coming down so Denise and I clung to the edge of the road and hoped we wouldn't be pinned to the wall by a sliding car after which the newspaper would note that the American beer tourists last words were "bbbooocccckkkk...."
Augustnerbrau is an amazing Mozart-free place and well worth its rating as one of the best beer halls around and well worth a visit to Salzburg, even if you can't stand Mozart. There are a few large drinking rooms and an assortment of small food vendors where you can buy cheese, wurst, sandwiches, bread, pizza and more. To get beer you go into a serving room, pick your ceramic mug, pay for your beer and then hand your mug to a fellow behind a counter who fills it from a wooden keg. They had a marzen and a Weihnachts bock. We got half liters of both for a little more than two dollars each. The marzen was exceptional but the Weihnachts bock was spectacular, easily the best beer I had in Austria. So we had more, and more. Since it was in the ceramic mug I could not tell the color clearly but I think it was amber but it also had a much better hop presence and was impeccably balanced. It is also a very attractive place to drink and had mostly locals, and before 5 p.m. it was not very crowded although the crowd was picking up as we were leaving around six.
We stopped at Stern to drink the kellerbier and another pale bock, bottled from Kaiser. I had hoped that the kellerbier would be from a wooden keg but it was simply an unfiltered draft. We finished the evening with a wonderful dinner at Zum Fidelen Afflen tucked into a very nice nook. Very good food, Trumer pils on draft.
We arrived in Innsbruck Thursday after another snowy train ride. Fortunately, the clouds cleared the next day and we were able to see the mountains. Unfortunately, it got even colder. It is a spectacular setting. We had dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Ottokrug, unfortunately all of the romantic nooks were booked and we had dinner at a nice table on the ground floor. If you have a chance to eat there make a reservation in advance and ask for one of the window seats upstairs. There is a nice view of the main square and possibly mountains, depending where you sit. Unfortunately, a couple other restaurants were also reserved well in advance with Christmas parties and we had to check many restaurants to get a reservation for Friday night. After dinner on Friday we went to a bar a few doors away on the main square, the name of which I forgot, but which has about a 10 beers on draft and a handful of standard Euro-brews in bottle. On Friday we stopped into Thersien Brau, apparently the only brew pub in Innsbruck. They only brew a couple beers and their standard beer was okay but not spectacular. However, they did have a very good amber Weihnachts bock, albeit not in the league of the Augustiner.
Saturday, we took the train to Munich for our last day. We had lunch in AugustinerBrau (no relation to the Salzburg establishment I don't think). It is a very large rambling beer hall on the main street going from the train station to Marionplatz. It was Saturday afternoon and there was a Christmas market going on and downtown Munich was extremely crowded. And the beer hall was extremely crowded and we wound up on the top floor in almost the last empty seat. We had their Edelhof lager and not sweet dunkel and ate. We then wandered around for a while. We thought about going back to Augustiner because they apparently tap wooden kegs of Vollbier at 4 P.M. but by that time it was not convenient and we figured that the place was so crowded that it would not be worth the effort and if they only tapped one or a few kegs the beer would be gone by the time we could order. We had an early dinner at Hackerhaus. It is the quite popular original location for Hacker-Pschorr and the food was pretty good and they had a wide range of Hacker-Pschorr products on draft, but no Christmas beer. I had both a light and dark bock. We then stopped at the Park Cafe, which might have a nice beer garden but the inside is very modern and nightclubbish and they only had the relatively uninteresting Lowenbrau products available. We finished at Augustinerkeller which is pretty close to the railroad station and reasonably close to our hotel. It is a very big and very attractive beer hall. It also serves Augustiner beer but we were fortunate that they were serving the Edelhof from a wooden keg. The beer was much better served from wood than it was on draft downtown earlier. We had a couple and went back to the hotel. USAir served Heineken, I passed.