Drinks in Austria - Part I:
Wines of the East, Beer of the West

Quintessential Austria: Local beers, Red Bull - and the Opera of Vienna in the background

What drink goes best with this meal? Don′t be afraid to ask this question to a waiter, they should know what to recommend. Nonetheless, it is always good to know what a country is particularly good at when it comes to drinks. Here I try to give a short outline of legendary liquids with Austrian roots and tell you which ones you should try.

Wine, mostly in Eastern Austria

Raising vine can be dated back to the days of the Celtic kingdom Noricum. In the decades after World War II, vine farmers tried to go for quantity rather than quality. In the 1980ies, it was discovered that the addition of anti-freeze liquids to cheap wine was common practice on several vineyards, which did great damage to the international reputation of Austrian wines.

Wine is fine in Austria.

These days are over and thankfully, the wine aficionados of the Word are a forgiving crowd and now acknowledge Austria as a producer of many high-quality wines by international standards. To spirit of the day is aimed at quality and innovation, which is supported by the fact that vineyards are traditionally rather small in Austria compared to other countries. This is concerned with traditions of heritage, which made it likely that large vineyards were split among brothers.

Wine is widely raised in south, southeast and east of the Alps mostly in the provinces of Styria, the Burgenland and Lower Austria as well as Vienna. Wine of the current year is called "Heuriger" which is also the name for traditional taverns in Vienna and Lower Austria. The planting of vine was traditionally done in "Gemischter Satz", meaning that the vines of different variations were planted and the grapes harvested and processed together. This has become uncommon.

Winetasting is a nice thing to do in Austria's East

Local specialities on the red side are Zweigelt, which developed from the Blaufränkischen and the Sankt Laurent; and the original grapes of the Blaufränkischer and Sankt Laurent themselves. Red wines used to be a small minority, but gained grounds in the past 20 years. Keep your eyes open from small niche products.

Legendary Austrian white wines include the Grüner Veltliner (a very acidic, refreshing wine), the Schilcher and the Welschriesling. All of these come in a range of qualities. A Styrian classic is the Uhudler. Especially in the Burgenland, dessert wines ("Spätlese"; "Eiswein" - harvested late and after the first frost of the year, when the grapes are full of sugar and almost dry) are commonly produced that have an international reputation. They are often made from the sweet and spicy Traminer.

A rustic speciality appropriate for a social evening in front of a fireplace in autumn with roasted chestnuts and bacon is the "Sturm" (meaning "Tempest"), young grapejuice lightly fermented and very sweet.

Beer, mostly in Western Austria

Being from Salzburg myself, I lived at the centre of the Austrian beer-belt. There are three main reasons for the Salzburgian fondness for liquid bread: In a catholic principality under the rule of a Prince Archbishop, lent was important and so was monastic life. Salzburg is also very close (geographically and culturally) to Bavaria, where beer is also big. Finally, Salzburg was too cold to plant vine, but did well with hops. Upper Austrian brewing tradition is influenced by Czech beers.

The barrels actually contain wine. But they COULD contain beer, too.

Beer is served in a variety of amounts: Pfiff (0.2 litres); Seiterl (0.3 litres); Halbe (in Vienna: Krügerl; 0.5 litres), which is the "normal" measure for most beers; and the Mass (1 litre), which is not common except in special beer venues such as beer halls or beer gardens. Even more unusual is the Stiefel or Doppelliter (2 litres).

The most common brands of beer are light lagers similar to the Bavarian tradition (in Austria they are called "Märzen"). Beer that is unfiltered and contains a lot of protein, which makes it cloudy, is called "Zwickelbeer". More common and served in special, elegant glasses are white beers ("Weizenbier" or "Hefeweizen", served in light or dark variation).

There are many white beers, they are often very regional and niche-products, so it is worth trying many. They go particularly well with the heavy cuisine of Western Austria, such as Alpine Salzburg and Tyrol. Specialities for lent (before Easter and during Advent), when monks had to compensate for the lack of food with extra strong beer, the highly alcoholic "Bock" or "Bockbier" is brewed with around 10 percent alcohol.

Continue with "Austrian Drinks -Part II"

Further Reading

An Introduction to Austria Wine

Best Tours across the Austrian Wine lands

Austrian Coffee Variations

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