TAKEN FROM ‘PINTS OF VIEW’ – SOMERSET CAMRA MAGAZINE

No, not a case of spell-check gone mad or Paul Hogan extolling the virtues of an Alpine fizzy drink – no, I’m in search of the near extinct Vienna lager.

Stowey Brewery - Nether Vienna

Stowey Brewery – Nether Vienna

Think ‘Austria’ and this conjures up a country renowned for its sticky cakes, coffee and, perhaps, diethylene glycol tainted wine. Yet we do not associate it with beer. However, one of Europe’s finest ales came from here and I travelled to Vienna to search it out.

Invented at the beginning of the Victorian era, Vienna lager was a copper coloured, malty brew and had all but disappeared by the turn of the Twentieth Century. However, with the whole of Europe revisiting its ancient brewing traditions, I had high hopes of locating a glass of this pale amber ale.

Researching the Vienna beer scene before my trip suggested a thriving brew pub culture with new age beers in abundance. So, with my EasyJet ticket in hand I boarded a flight to immerse myself in the beers of Vienna and try a couple of likely venues.

My first port of call was Bar 1516 in the southern part of the historic centre. The year 1516 is the date of the German purity law (Reinheitsgebot) which said that beer should only contain water, barley and hops (yeast, in its cultivated form had yet to be identified). However, this is rather a paradox as Austria was never subject to this German legislation.

Bar 1516 had all the hallmarks of the perfect English pub; dark, warm and womb-like. However, this was a womb from a bygone age; one where cigarette smoke and nicotine umbilically entered the bloodstream as well as the alcohol – for Austria stubbornly refuses to join the rest of Europe in its dictatorial edicts about not killing yourself with poisonous chemicals. It’s one bad mother.

Smoking has been banned in public places since 2009 but, for some reason, restaurants and cafes are exempt and smoking is still tolerated (although only until 2018 when an outright ban will apply). This, I thought, would make tasting beers somewhat more challenging as I had forgotten how pernicious the smell of cigarette smoke was. However, people managed to taste beers prior to 2007 in the UK so I suppose I’m just being picky.

I started with the Hop Devil IPA. This was both a blessing and huge school-boy error. Good because the beer was fantastic, bursting with American hoppiness, nearly enough to blow your socks off. Bad because it nuked the pallet so that very little would be tasted ever again. But, there was a hop serum to calm the taste-buds available in the form of Black Sherry, a stout matured in sherry cask. However, no Vienna amber and so I tried my luck around the corner at Stadtbrauerei Schwarzenberg.

Here I was greeted by the soft melodies of US country and western, classic Austrian Tyrol décor, gleaming stainless steel vessels and cuddly animals.

I discussed honey beer with the brewer; rich, sweet and malty (the beer, not the owner). I was told he adds the honey in the fermenter which makes perfect sense, as the beer doesn’t get decanted into the barrel, but is served fresh, cloudy and chewy – all positives I’m happy to say. But, sadly again, no traditional amber.

So, it was with some disappointment that I made my way back to my hotel. En route back I was confronted by an ‘A’ board outside a bar; ‘Bud Light is to beer what Justin Bieber is to music’. Well it would have been churlish not to pop in when someone had gone to so much trouble to provide such a modern analogy.

Whilst I never got to find my Austrian amber, I did learn that if you like Samuel Adams Boston lager then you are drinking something approaching this ancient brew. So, with necessity being the mother of invention and owning a brewery, I decided to brew my own …