Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Day in Salzburg with Stiegl Brewery

Waking up bright and early on the Thursday morning in a hungover haze in a dorm shared by 7 other people, I was basically still drunk. I panicked as I couldn't find my wallet or passport, but I still had my phone. I was led to believe that everything had been stolen, went to the police, then got back to my hostel to find the key to my locker where drunk Nate had stashed everything. I am such an idiot.

But that's not the point of this blog post; the point is to tell you about the awesome day I had with Thomas Necker, Export Manager for Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg, Austria.

I've been a fan of Stiegl brewery for quite a few years; in fact (geek moment), my 1,000th Untappd check in was Stiegl Weisse, and my local, the Fat Cat has recently had their flagship Goldbrau and Grapefruit Radler.

I've also been good friends with Martyn and Andy from Euroboozer, their U.K. import partner for several years and that's how my trip to Stiegl came to be. I'd mentioned on Twitter that I was planning on a day trip to Salzburg during my stay in Munich and Martyn responded asking if I'd like to see Stiegl Brewery and really, there was only one sensible reply... "HELL YES".

I arrived in Salzburg at about 11:30am on Thursday, my hangover had cleared, and I was ready to see this city I've heard so much about and the brewery whose beers I'd come to love.

Thomas picked me up from the train station and drove me through the picturesque city, almost like a tour guide, telling me about some of the history of Salzburg. For example, I didn't know that Salzburg hasn't actually been a part of Austria for that long as before, it was basically run by the catholic church!

We arrived at the brewery, a large pastel yellow complex on the edge of the city; in front of the building there's a field with farm animals, ample space to expand on but they're not allowed. Why? Not because of planning permission but because the owner of the brewery's villa is across the road and he's said that for as long as he's alive, there will be no building on that land as he wants to be able to see the brewery from his house. What a guy.

We wandered through, past the tents and busy workers getting ready for the May Day celebrations that happen the Sunday after May Day. I didn't even know that they celebrate May Day on the continent and in fact Thomas was surprised to learn that I know about the tradition of the May Pole!

We walked through a yellow arch into the biergarten courtyard before Thomas gave me a quick tour of the three onsite restaurants. There's a more formal restaurant where the owner of the brewery has his table that he likes to dine on (it is in no way exclusive, however), a more modern looking craft beer bar style bar, and the main restaurant where we would have lunch. I was very surprised to learn that you are allowed to smoke in restaurants in Austria, something which I do not disagree with.

Since I was in Austria, what do you think I was going to have to lunch? Wiener Schnitzel of course; it was a no brainer. I was a little thrown off by the fact that they don't have kartoffelsalat and instead just parsley potatoes or chips, but OK, I opted for chips, along with a half litre of Stiegl Pils. I'd not had the Pils before, and it was beautiful. Crisp, floral, a little hop bite and refreshing; it was nothing like the Northern German style Pilsner as it didn't have that herbalness, and in fact it was closer to Czech style. It makes sense that it's a combination of the two since they're both bordering countries. The Schnitzel was the best I've ever had; tender pork, a bit fatty, a crunchy batter on the outside, and a very large portion. The Pils cut through the grease perfectly. We decided to have one more beer here; the unfiltered lager which was delicious too.

We then toured the massive brewery, including the beautiful brewhouse which is situated in a building designed by Dr. Volkmar Burgstaller who also designed Red Bull Hangar 7, another beautiful building. Now I've been to a lot of breweries, big and small but this brewhouse was possibly the most beautiful I've seen.

We walked through the brewery and the museum with Thomas passionately talking about the 525 year history of the museum. It was refreshing to hear such passion and dedication from someone who truly loves and respects the company and the beer.

An interesting fact I learned is that their flagship Goldbrau can't win international awards because its style is a Marzen, but an Austrian one which is basically a Helles, unlike its German and internationally recognised counterpart.

After the tour, Thomas chose some rare and special Stiegl bottles from the fridges in the bar before we went down into the private tasting cellar to try them.

Going into this dark, wooden clad room adorned with bottles and barrels was really something special. I've never seen anything quite like it. When breweries do private tastings, it's usually in the corner of a railway arch or some industrial building but this felt more akin to a wine cellar in Burgundy or Tuscany. It was really something special.

And so were the beers.

First up was Grenzganger, a Hibiscus Gose at 4.9% and a great example of the style. It was full of juicy yet tart hibiscus with that little bit of salt on the end reminding you that this isn't just a fruit sour. Next we had my favourite beer of the entire trip a Tequila Barrel Aged Double Witbier and holy fucking shit it was special; it wasn't light at 9.5% but nor did it taste the ABV - classic orange and coriander flavours, a smattering of booze before woody agave flavours. I loved it so much that I finished the bottle on the train back to Munich. Next was a Double Chocolate Oatmeal Stout which did exactly what you'd expect with a thick mouthfeel and delicious, deep chocolate flavours, before finishing on the weirdest beer of the trip. Wildshuter Urbier was beer without hops, made solely from ingredients that are grown on their farm around 40km away; its ingredient list boasts 3 different types of malt, honey, dates, saffron, coriander and aniseed and was insanely bizarre. It's one to sip and savour.

After the tasting, Thomas accompanied me into the centre of Salzburg; something I was not expecting at all. When I've been invited on tours before, I've done the tour, maybe had lunch and been left to my own devices but not here. Thomas didn't just treat me like a guest at the brewery, but rather a guest to the city of Salzburg. It was amazing.

We drove into the centre, absorbing the sights of this beautiful city, and parked in a car park that was built inside a goddamn mountain. It was such a surreal experience.

We wandered through the historic city centre, all of the time I was in awe at the beauty and hated that I didn't have much time left there. We had a look inside the majestic cathedral, adorned with marble and 5 massive organs risen high above the pews.

We wandered through streets lined with high street shops that were hidden in the facade of buildings that are hundreds of years old. I saw Mozart's birthplace (fun fact: Mozart actually once visited and drank at Stiegl brewery; they found it in an excerpt from his diary a few years ago) which is an apartment building with a Spar convenience store underneath. We saw the "Stiegl" (little steps) from which the brewery gets its name.

We walked up a steep hill before finally getting in one last beer of my day in Salzburg... at Augustiner which is no relation to the one in Munich. Still, it's Augustine monks doing what they do best - brewing beer. Inside this massive building, down a wide, steep marble staircase you find yourself in a corridor aligned with independent food vendors. You get to a crossroad, turn left and find shelves adorned with half litre and litre stone mugs and the concept is simple: You grab the size mug of your choosing, rinse it in the fountain, pay the lady at the kiosk for the size of beverage you would like then you take it to the old Austrian man who fills it from a massive wooden barrel before sliding it, wild west style across a metal counter to you. The experience is as magical and as medieval as the beer is good. We took a seat (in the smoking room) and drank in the place that I could spend an entire evening and afternoon drinking.

Alas, after those two last half litres that slid down as smooth as anything, my time in Salzburg was over for the day and I had to head back to Munich.

A massive massive thanks to Thomas Necker from Stiegl for taking time out of his day to show me not only the brewery that he's so passionate about, but for showing me the city that he loves so dearly.


Disclaimer: I didn't pay for my day at Stiegl Brewery with Thomas. The beers and lunch were on him. Not once was I even asked to write about my day but I have anyway. I did pay for some stuff in Salzburg though - Smokes (€4,90), a pack of Mozartkugln (€7,50), a half litre of Augustiner (€3,10), a taxi back to the station (€8,50) and two cans of Goldbrau for the train home (€1,60). Oh and my Bayern Ticket on the train (A bargain at €25 for unlimited travel on regional trains in Bavaria, which also gets you to certain border towns too, like Salzburg)

Monday, 15 May 2017

A Wednesday Night In Munich

It's only been a couple of months since Sammie and I were in Munich but I decided to take a quick solo trip to get away for a few nights.

I arrived in Munich on Wednesday evening, through possibly the most efficient passport control system ever and decided to seek out Airbräu, a brewpub located just outside of Terminal 1 at Munich Airport. I didn't see much inside, but had a rather large beer garden that I imagine gets really busy at the height of the summer; the weather was nice so I sat outside and ordered a half litre of Fliegerquell, an unfiltered Helles. Since this was at an airport, I expected it to just be somewhat of a gimmick, with shit beers that tourists will neck down but I was pleasantly surprised. It was fresh, clean, grassy hops, a little citrus, and really bloody nice.

Next I checked into my hostel and decided to head to the rather trendy Schwabing district in search of a couple of pubs I wanted to check out.

First I went to an international bar called Keg Bar. If, in the UK you'd open a pub called "keg bar" we'd all see it as a hilarious imitation craft beer bar but this was anything but; it just just a bar trying to be a bar. It was large, underground, and kind of dark. It shows sports and had a bar billiards table that was under a cover and unused. The menus were all in English and amusingly they had Meantime London Pale Ale on keg as well as Aspall and Guinness. Only one German craft beer was on keg, which was the locally brewed Crew Republic Munich Easy IPA, but I wasn't here for craft beer, I was here for the €2,50 Tegernsee Helles happy hour because it's one of my favourite lagers and I'd never seen it that cheap! I sunk about six pints of this chilled, but not cold, frothy lager of beauty, and ate a burger before heading off.

I had originally gone in search of Schwabinger7, a legendary dive bar but discovered I was an hour too early so I popped to a kiosk for a bottle of Augustiner Helles and sat on a bench drinking it because I'm classy. I then noticed a bench at Trumpf oder Kritisch across the road free up so I went and had two pints of Augustiner Helles outside of this impressively hipster bar whose menu was printed on a broadsheet newspaper!

I then saw that Schwabinger7 was open across the road, so I went in and downstairs to this filthy dungeon, perched myself at the bar and had a quick pint of Lowenbrau which is probably the worst of all the Munich big six.
Even as soon as it opened, the atmosphere was great, with a varied music selection that switched between techno, metal and pop.

I finished my beer and headed to Red Hot which despite its name, was not a strip club, and in fact an American style BBQ and craft beer joint. I didn't eat here *narrator: he probably should have eaten here*  and just had a drink. There were 7 beers on draught here; four from Stone Berlin, one from Jopen in the Netherlands, Left Hand Milk Stout from Colorado, and a lager (I forget which). All of the beers except the lager were highly irresponsibly strong so I was sensible and opted for a 0.3 of Stone Ruination, a hoppy as fuck, palate wrecking double IPA at 8.5%.

Next stop was the always awesome Weisses Brauhaus for another sensible beer, Schneider Weiss Tap 5 Mein Hopfenweisse, which I've talked about before. I love this beer because the 8.2% is very well hidden in the fruity hoppiness and soft wheaty base.

Now my final (I think) stop of the night, where I vaguely remember going was Raw Metal Bar. I say vaguely because I know that I had google directions saved on my phone the next morning, and I looked at photos of the bar online and remember it somewhat but I was fucked at that point.

The only other thing I really remember was going up an escalator, presumably at the Goetheplatz U Bahn station, drinking a bottle of Augustiner Helles. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Next post on my trip to Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg tomorrow... or some point.