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.

Nate

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)

2 comments:

  1. Nice piece. Wish I had read it a week or two ago though. We're doing a one night stop over in Austria, but chose Innsbruck over Salzburg.... Doh!!! Next time.

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    1. It's such a nice place and I need to spend more than just like 6 hours there!

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