Last Updated : 01/08/08
ustria was due for a re-visit as we'd not been for over four years and so a major winter trip was planned starting in the Slovakian capital Bratislava before a couple of days in Vienna to catch up on some new brewpubs. The report for our original June 2003 trip is here whilst my page on Vienna's beer scene (kept as up-to-date as possible) is here.
Our annual winter “long trip” had a slightly different edge to it this year - instead of the usual jaunt to somewhere in Germany for a feast of Grünkohl, fried potatoes and Weihnachtsbock we’d decided on a return to Vienna, a city which both of us really like but hadn’t visited for four years, which was now reachable via a new easyJet route from Luton. We hoped to scoop more beers than would have been possible in Germany whilst enjoying the quality victuals of Vienna’s excellent pubs yet again – it had been far too long since our last visit, a touch over four years in fact, and a few new places had opened since then.
For a bit of variety I’d planned the move outwards via Bratislava, a city which we’d visited a couple of years previously, as I wanted another spin on the trams and trolleybuses being a sad individual who likes such things. Bratislava had been relatively beer-less on our last visit but this time, after a bit of research, it soon transpired that the beer scene had improved a little with a decent-sounding bar serving beer from the Kaltenecker microbrewery out in the east of the country plus there were more Bernard pubs than I’d previously thought and even the local brewer Stein had some new beers out… this was definitely the move!
Saturday 8th December 2007.
The delights of Luton at 05:30.
Unfortunately our flight back from Vienna necessitated using Luton – not our favourite airport – rather than Birmingham which would have been the case had we gone out and back from Bratislava. I’d considered simply taking the train both ways from Bratislava to Vienna so enabling us to use the far more convenient and nearer Birmingham airport, but the lure of an airport scoop at Vienna was simply too much (leaving just one civilian airport – Innsbruck – to scoop in Austria!) and so I went for the Luton option against my better judgement…
I’ll not waffle on about the drive down save to say we saw a fox calmly trotting along a residential street in Worcester and then nothing remotely of interest until we reached the long-term parking at the airport – but don’t get the impression this was interesting, it’s just a figure of speech in the relative sense as one car park is very much like another, unless you’re even sadder than me and scoop cars! One remotely interesting thing was that the long term parking was a hell of a long way around the perimeter of the airport and I’m glad I got it at a very cheap rate as our old favourites CCS are a lot more convenient and quicker, although we were boycotting them as they had recently jacked up their prices by 20% so, with the long-term coming in at a bargain price, it was time for a change!
As we were flying with Sky Europe there was no on-line check in (although they do have one now) but we still managed to check in early and so braved the hideous new waiting area where, amongst the assorted chavs, Ing-er-Land retards and other cod-eyed “lowest common denominator” holiday tossers was a mother changing a particularly colicky brat’s nappy on a seat – cheers then! I personally hate being on a plane with brats as they tend to scream for the full duration of the flight and guessed that this one was bound to be sat right behind us, full of milk in preparation for a full-on projectile vomit all over the backs of our heads…
Our flight departed from one of the furthest gates at the airport, so far away from the terminal that it may geographically be in St Albans and not Luton, but most importantly we departed near as damn it to time and the flight passed quickly although, as per usual, our personal cloud of doom was tagging along and we didn’t see a fat lot of the ground until we were on our final approach. A quick dose of caffeine tablets was administered before landing as we were both incredibly tired, even allowing for the later than usual departure, evidenced by a huge snore/snort being emitted by myself somewhere over Germany which woke everyone within a few rows of us – including me!
Coffee in the loosest sense…
Formalities were completed quickly and we were soon in the arrivals hall where on our previous visit we’d had a right old performance collecting enough change for our 48-hour passes from the machine outside. This time, however, it looked as if we’d been saved this routine by the appearance of a public transport ticket kiosk next to the ATM’s – result! Sadly this was not to be as the sociable geezer behind the counter, despite bellowing enthusiastically about my Dropkick Murphys t-shirt, didn’t have any day tickets to issue us and we didn’t really want to invest in a single to town, so plan B came into operation and we decided to raid the coffee machines for change as we’d done last time… except they had been replaced with plastic new ones which wouldn’t give out any change unless we bought something first! Maybe the airport authorities had read my report and decided to clamp down on such unscrupulous behaviour, I wondered, surreptitiously hiding my revolting plastic cupful of what the machine had claimed to be coffee behind a convenient rubbish bin.
Sue’s hot chocolate at least bore a passing resemblance in flavour to what it was supposed to and so, armed with sufficient change to purchase our 24-hour tickets, we trooped off to the bus stop for the 61 bus into town. There are two bus stops at Bratislava airport and we opted for the first one where the bus sits waiting time as the other looked to be full to bursting with normals dragging huge suitcases behind them so, turning left out of arrivals, we trooped across to the waiting bus pausing only to feed our stash of coins into the ticket machine. The bus driver was a curmudgeonly sort and wouldn’t let anyone board until two minutes before departure whereupon he glared at us as we fumbled with the ticket stamping machine as if it were our fault his bus was late… some things cross cultural and national boundaries, and it seems as if miserable bus drivers is one of them!
Half an hour later, after the run along roads lined with proof that Communism was a great advocate of concrete and straight lines, we were at the main train station and immediately withered to see a real unrefurbished Tatra K3 tram on route 13 and so, with the Ibis not available for check-in for another couple of hours, we took the opportunity for a bash around the city and to reacquaint ourselves with it’s layout. On the way around the Náměsti Ľ. Štúra loop through the nicest part of the old centre we noticed the familiar sight of wooden huts dispensing festive food and drinks… these would definitely be visited later on, but first we needed to check into the hotel and dump the packs.
Before we could do this, however, there was the small matter of acquiring some “room beers” for scooping purposes later as I’d not a lot of hope that we’d see much worth ticking despite having a few promising leads. Supermarkets aren’t common in the centre of Bratislava and so it was with feelings of selling out my principles that we entered the huge hulking concrete monstrosity which is Tescos on Kamenné Náměsti in search of scoops. We’d had a look on our previous visit and found little but this time we managed to locate the admittedly impressive beer section (it’s in the basement) where we netted half a dozen bottles, including some winning breweries, plus one of the beers I’d been hoping to find – Stein Śpeciálny 14°, a new beer from the local independent – and so, our packs laden with clinking bottles but still feeling dirty from our brush with global capitalism, we headed for the Ibis.
Regular readers of my gibberish may know of our obsession with trams and our liking for hotels from which said vehicles can be seen, so for proximity to tramlines the Ibis takes some beating; trams coming from the centre make a squealing left turn only five metres outside the front door before plunging into the darkness of the hrad tunel (castle tunnel). On our last visit we’d not been able to see trams from our room and we somehow maintained our 100% record as our window this time looked out – somehow – inside the building… saying that, we could still hear the Tatra’s flanges screeching around the sharp s-bend outside so that was okay… I still think our most tenuous link to seeing trams was our hotel in Geneva a few years back where we’d been able to see trams reflected in the windows of a particularly glassy building opposite…
With our packs sorted we rambled off into the city centre, passing a crowd of locals pushing a taxi (with people in it – surely this is taking fuel conservation too far?), and we were soon in the main square along with, so it seemed, most of the population of the city. The festive market was almost magical in appearance with the trees and buildings bedecked in lights and all manner of delicious and compelling aromas wafting from the wooden huts carried by eddies of delicious-smelling steam; hot mead, schnitzels, fried onions, mulled wine and warm toffee all battled for our attention but we finally settled on a fried chicken breast smothered with griddled onions on a soft white roll which was delicious and, as we sat on the fountain in the main square munching on our food watching the happy crowds milling around, it was definitely one of those special moments that I’ll remember for a long time but one which, reading this back now, sounds terribly mundane and boring – you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
We decided that some pudding was in order and so indulged in a jaw-droppingly gorgeous piece of makovo-višňová kolac (poppyseed and cherry cake) which was so delicious we had another! A snifter of hot mead later and we felt immune from the decidedly chilly night air around us and so, with the crowds becoming ever thicker, headed off to see if we could scoop any Stein beers at their brewery tap. I knew that the eponymous restaurant on-site, for reasons probably down to soft loans from the multinational corporations who have 95% of Slovakia’s beer market sewn up tight, didn’t sell any Stein beer but had seen reports of a separate bar which did and reputedly the offering was the new Śpeciálny 14° which I was itching to try, or maybe it would be the even rarer Vánoční (Christmas) beer?
Thus far I didn’t seem to have had a lot of luck finding scoops in Bratislava and it seemed as if this situation wasn’t changing as, after checking the restaurant and finding only global mega-fizz, we finally found the door to the upstairs bar – firmly locked and sporting a sign informing us that it was open weekdays only! Cheers then, nothing for it but to retrace our steps back to the centre and begin a walk around some of the promising bars I’d found through many weeks of internet searching, in particular on the superb KamnaPivo website, although I wasn’t expecting a dazzling array of winners…
First off we headed to a strange little place by the Starý Most (old bridge) called Malý Rim which resembled what you’d imagine a Swiss log cabin to look like if your only experience of Switzerland was seeing re-runs of Heidi on the TV. I’d read that it was supposed to sell Stein beer but we didn’t venture inside as it looked a rather strange place… I didn’t notice the Stein tap but I’m sure it does sell the stuff; it was just that we weren’t that bothered about trying it in a fake log cabin under a bridge!
Ponorka was next, and this cellar bar proudly displayed it’s wares in garish manner outside with the help of illuminated signs informing us that Stein and Zubr (from Přerov in the Czech Republic, the stuff of many a drunken evening a few years back in Šumperk, Czech) were available and so, feeling like we needed a beer by this time, we clattered down the stone steps into the cellar bar to see what was occurring subterraneously. A lot of smoking seemed to be the answer to the question and, despite the UK having been smoke-free for only a few months, it still felt wrong to walk into a pub and see people smoking! I quickly ascertained that our two beers were on tap and so Sue scurried off into the arched depths of the pub to bag us a table whilst I made a pretty reasonable go of ordering a glass of each beer in Slovakian – at least, the barman understood me and we got the correct beers in the right sized glasses!
I joined Sue and we supped on the two beers as, all around us, locals smoked, drank and generally made merry, Saturday-night style, in this very cheap and characterful cellar bar. The Stein 10° was a respectable enough výčepní (tap) brew with an averagely malty and grassy taste over some toffee-maltiness which delivered a decent enough flavour and, to those who know what a Czech výčepní beer should taste like, a pretty good attempt at the style. The Zubr classic (also a výčepní beer) had a similar amount of toffee maltiness in it’s makeup with a comparable amount of grassy hops but had more bitterness in the finish which gave a moreish character despite it’s relatively restrained flavours.
Neither beer had been a scoop but I had enjoyed both and also, despite it’s clag-breathing customers, I’d liked Ponorka too (thanks to Beige Phil for the original tip-off) with it’s brick-vaulted cellar and lively atmosphere… it’s definitely a bar I’d recommend to any visitors to Bratislava and, with Stein beers being rare in their home city, it’s also somewhere any first-time visitor to the city would probably scoop at least one beer and probably two as Zubr doesn’t get about that much outside the east of the Czech Republic.
Through the knee-high window.
Our next target was what sounded like - on paper at least - the best bar in the city, the Kolotña Pub, which allegedly served dark and light draught beers from the Kaltenecker micro way out in the east of Slovakia; these beers were the rarest available in Bratislava by a country mile and sounded fairly interesting so, naturally, I was very keen to sample them. We took tram 13 to Vysoká and it’s myriad of pubs, opposite the 1.Slovak Pub which we weren’t bothering with this time, then followed our map past the Bernard pub “Kop Saloon 2” (which looked a lot better than it sounded and sold Kvasnicové beer) until we came to Josefská where the bright neon tubes of Obchodná were replaced by the dim streetlights of suburbia and all of a sudden I wasn’t hopeful of finding the pub open – if it even existed.
We walked all along the road and back but failed to find our target pub when, on the verge of giving up, we noticed a small sign next to the door of what looked like an apartment block. On closer investigation it seemed that the pub had ceased to exist as all doors were locked, although I then saw a small window at knee height and bent down to peer through it. Inside was a kitchen where a chef was industriously preparing meals and so, reasoning that he might know if the pub was closed, I called to him in Slovakian and asked if this was Kolotña pub. He seemed surprised that an Englishman was gibbering away through a window at him but understood my questions sufficiently to be able to tell me that yes, this was the pub and yes, it was open – although this was easy for him to say as he was the right side of a locked door!
Another member of staff soon arrived and between the three of us we managed to conclude that this was indeed Kolotña pub, it was open, and I wanted to gain access to said pub but was being prevented by a locked door. The waitress motioned for me to stay where I was and vanished then, moments later, the sound of keys rattling in the door heralded my success at negotiating our entry, the door creaked open, and we were in! She didn’t mention my shouting through the window, as if such things were a normal occurrence, but explained that the back door was often closed and the main entrance was around the other side on Námesti Slobody although my incompetence in Slovakian had prevented me understanding this fact. Nevertheless, despite us obviously being English tourists, she seemed happy that I spoke enough Slovak to be taken at least slightly seriously and so escorted us through darkened corridors and down a precipitous flight of steps until we emerged into the pub itself.
Inside all was fag smoke, bad 80’s music and strange furniture – nothing to distinguish it from 99% of other bars in town – but there was something different on the beer front and that something was six draught beers including micro-brewed beer, a notion almost unheard of in Bratislava. We bagged a table and I made for the bar to order our scoops but was to be withered by the Kaltenecker světlý’s failure to be available, although a half litre each of their Brokát tmavý 13° at least meant we’d scored the brewery! The beer was very deep brown and obviously unfiltered with a lovely plain chocolate aroma which led through to the flavour where plenty of freshly-ground coffee and more dark chocolate tastes merged with a malty dryness and then a finish of sweet malt and nutty roast grain; overall a cracking beer and my favourite Slovak brew by a long way!
A most unusual evening’s scooping.
We resisted a second pint of Brokát and also the Černá Horá Kvasar 14° honey beer (looking back, we should have had a large one of each!) as we had other bars to visit and our enjoyment of the beer wasn’t aided by a bloke on the table behind who regularly snorted at the phlegm in his nose in a particularly loud and rancid way, so I blame Mr Phlegm for our failure to secure another glass of the lovely dark brew. Once outside we discovered that we’d just missed a trolleybus, somewhat predictably, so wandered around the corner and caught the next one a couple of stops to Štefánikova and the presidential palace, resplendent in it’s thousands of festive lights.
After a quick rest outside the palace whilst I studied the gen we set off up Štefánikova in the hope of finding Rolo café which, according to my information, was the second bar in the city to serve Kaltenecker beer and where I hoped we’d score the světlý. Unfortunately we were unable to find this promising-sounding bar (upon investigation it turns out we’d not walked far enough up the road but it looks as if the bar no longer sells the stuff anyway!) so back we stomped towards the final call of the evening, Bernard pri Lýceu on Konventná. As the name kind of gives away this is a pub owned by the Czech Bernard brewery and it seemed to stock a bewildering range of their beers including 12° kvasnicové (yeasty beer) and the superb 13° dark plus four more, all on draught and unpasteurised, making it an attractive sounding final visit of the evening.
I’d been expecting, given the beer range, a fairly substantial establishment so imagine my surprise when we entered to find it was about as big as our front room (and that’s not particularly large)! The bar was festooned with taps and a chalkboard menu hung from the wall, although my first impression was of the very loud crap 80’s soft rock music which was almost loud enough to propel us back out of the door and, had this not been the last pub of the evening, we may well have not bothered… desperate for a beer, however, we persevered and squeezed our way into a very cosy table underneath one of the speakers which seemed to have been designed for a medium-sized stadium rather than the small room it was currently being utilised in.
We were soon in possession of our chosen beers, kvasnicové and the strong dark, both of which were rather good; my kvasnicové was fairly clear with malt, sweetness, pear drops, a herby hoppiness and a slight yeasty sourness, very suppable indeed, whilst Sue’s tmavý 13° was near black and possessed a full-on roast grain, caramel flavour with hints of liquorice, bitterness, malt and a similar herby character to mine; both were complex and interesting beers and we would definitely have stayed for another if it wasn’t for the rubbish music which was blasting into my right ear with considerable force. Bernard pri Lýceu was definitely a strange pub yet, despite the music, a very cosy and welcoming one with a good atmosphere and I’d definitely give it another try if only to see the surreal pipe-smoking teenagers again!
It was a mere ten minutes walk back to the Ibis where we ensconced ourselves in our room and got stuck into the stash of bottles we’d acquired from the multinational kak-merchants earlier. First up was Gemer Standard (3.1%), a very pale and very bland fluid with a hint of un-malted grain then a slight dryness; overall it was very poor, although a massively rare example of the Lehké (light) 8° style of beer which is now all but extinct. Next up was Pilsberg Staročesko (3.8%) which was a lot better than the Gemer, although that’s not difficult! A decent maltiness in nose and palate led to a slightly syrupy and thin aftertaste that failed to impress us much and so the next scoop was cracked open; Popper Premium 12° was a rich golden brew with the tell-tale boiled sweet flavour of clumsy pasteurisation, some maltiness and little hop balance; this tasting was turning out to be worse than I’d suspected it would be!
Next came Zlatý Bažant tmavý (4.5%) which was an appalling drink by any standards, but having had nothing particularly good thus far I think it escaped a serious slagging off by being in terrible company! Cheap industrial lager with caramel in – that’s all you need to know. Steiger tmavý (4.2%) came next and this wasn’t a lot better with more sickly caramel and sugaryness before a hint of saccharin – why do brewers use this crap when it’s such an obviously repulsive taste? – and most went down the sink, I’m just glad the beers were cheap! Popper 10° tmavý was second-to-last and this, if possible, was even more polluted with hideous saccharin tastes plus nauseatingly sweet toffee flavours… absolutely rancid and virtually undrinkable; it seems as if the Slovaks expect their dark beers to be sweet and so, in these days of instant artificial fixes for easily-solved problems, artificial sweetener comes to the fore and to a continent brainwashed into believing that things such as diet soft drinks are the pinnacle of good taste the industrial tang of saccharin is, sadly, accepted as a valid flavour by those who consume what they’re told to and know no better.
We were now down, after a massively disappointing tasting session, to our last bottle and it was the one of which I had most hope, Stein Śpeciálny 14°… would the local independent come galloping to the rescue of this artificial sweetener-laced tasting? Yes was the answer, and in some style too… the beer was billed as a polotmavý (half-dark, or amber lager) but it was very pale for the style with more of a tawny/amber hue to it. The aroma was of pure malt but the flavour was a revelation; it was full and malty with hints of toffee and bitterness before a sweet fruity note came to prominence on the tongue. The flavours were well integrated and balanced with a delicious maltiness, some sweet grain, dryness from bitterish hops and finally more soft fruit character (strawberry and peaches) which gave it a complexity rare in lagers from large breweries and even rarer in Slovakia! So, with the tasting ending on a distinctly high note, it was time for some doss and I was happy that I’d had a good day “on the scoop” and had sampled at least two decent Slovakian beers as a bonus!
Sunday 9th December 2007.
The automatic “pfand” machine.
After checking out of the Ibis we took a tram down to Tescos to claim our pfand (deposit) on the bottles we’d struggled to empty the following evening. After spending ten minutes trying to figure out what to do with the empties we finally managed to follow a bloke with a bagful and watched whilst he fed the empties (about two dozen empty bottles of Stein tmavý, top man!) into a very strange contraption which ate the bottles and then issued – presumably – a credit slip for the value of said bottles consumed. With no other option of reclaiming our deposit (everywhere else in town was closed) it was the bottle-eating machine or nothing and so we had five minutes of fun feeding it with out motley collection of bottles until it spat out a receipt which we could claim against our next purchase… cheers then, it was a good job we wanted some water for the train!
Our bottle pfand paid for a bar of local marzipan which, being closet marzipan scoopers, cheered us up no end and so – armed with a modicum of snacks and fluids for later – we had another storm around on the hellfire trams until hunger got the better of us and we broke off to indulge in a decent espresso in a café on Hviezdoslavovo námestie plus another oozily delicious chicken breast and onion roll from the festive market outside. Feeling suitably replete and warmed against the bitingly cold wind we now felt brave enough to take a trip up to the castle to absorb the views across the city.
Getting our money’s worth.
A quick trolleybus ride up to Bratislava’s strangely box-like castle afforded superb views out over the city and the Soviet concrete-overload of the Petržalka suburb across the fast-flowing Danube. Petržalka is one of the most densely populated residential districts in Europe on account of the endless rows of paneláký (Soviet-era prefab concrete flats) and is either a nightmare wrought in concrete from the Communist epoch or a fascinating relic of times past depending, I suppose, on whether you actually live there or simply stare at it across the Danube from the castle…
After carefully negotiating the slippery flagstones back to the bus stop (the frost up there was way worse than down at street level) we took the next trolleybus back to the city for a few more moves on the superbly unrefurbished Tatra T3 trams in order to get our money’s worth from the 24-hour ticket we’d bought at the airport the previous day. Remembering our visit in 2006 we headed off to a café next to the hulking Nový Most for a quick breakfast but found the door securely locked and no sign of life inside – good job we’d bought that marzipan with our bottle deposit, then! With our time in Bratislava running out we just had time for a few more tram leaps before ending up back at the station where I steeled myself for the process of buying – or trying to buy – a ticket in Slovakian as ticket machines haven’t reached Bratislava as of yet.
Inside the station was surprisingly quiet with only a couple of screeching Adas of considerable years shouting at each other and anyone who came within range. We trooped up to the ticket windows and selected the clerk who looked most likely to speak English in case there were any problems… the transaction went easily and we came away with a “Wien easyticket” which apparently is cheaper/as cheap to buy as a return than a single, although for around £5 each we weren’t complaining too much and so, with our validity purchased, we headed for the next train across the border and the hour-long journey into Austria.
“The next tram to arrive is someone taking a dump…”
The journey across the foothills of the little Carpathian Mountains took around an hour on the new plastic trains which had just begun operation and seemed to have a few technical issues still to iron out, for example the supposedly automatic sliding door behind our seats wouldn’t open without a modicum of physical persuasion! The journey passed quickly, aided by chortling at normals attempting to negotiate the dodgy door, and we were soon in familiar territory stood on the concourse of Wien Sudbahnhof where it felt as if we’d last been there a few months ago and not the four years which had passed since our last visit.
We raided the station supermarket for supplies, including an amusing Mozart-branded marzipan flavour yoghurt drink alongside the more mundane purchases such as water and bread, and then quickly acquired our 72-hour travel passes from the ludicrously easy to use machines on the concourse for the bargain price of €14 (and that’s including a recent price rise!) before wandering across the road for the next D tram into the centre. I knew that the ratio of plastics to real trams had increased worryingly since we’d last been in town but there seemed to be plenty of proper trams swooshing past in the drizzle which lurked over the city and, when our tram arrived, that too was a real’un – result!
We took our D tram to Schwarzenburgplatz where something very surreal was seen in the form of a 4-wheel tram bedecked in tinsel and other festive bunting, but what was even more interesting was that it was full of people and looked to be in service; this whopper had to be scooped in somehow! We had no idea where it had come from or where it was going but resolved to try and find it in order to scratch it in later on… in the meantime we got reacquainted with the city by means of some tram moves around the ring and I was amazed that I’d never really noticed the splendour of the buildings strewn around the city on our last two visits, although I suppose we’d been focussed primarily on scooping beer and trams and had therefore neglected to properly appreciate what a beautiful city Vienna quite obviously was, even in the drizzle which still fell.
One thing that we soon worked out was how to tell if a tram was going to be a plastic or a real one; very useful digital indicators on the platforms showed a symbol by certain services which looked just like someone taking a dump (it does, honestly) but, after a while, we worked out it was supposed to represent a wheelchair and therefore identified the plastic low-floor trams! How many other systems go to such trouble stopping tram bashers getting detonated by plastics, we wondered, by telling you before one produced that a piece of crap (as depicted by the toilet symbol) was scheduled to arrive? As we waited for our next tram at Oper we were entertained by a huge raven which sat on a kiosk roof and squawked along in unison with the road crossing bleeper in a perfect duet!
The tinsel tram – with complementary doughnut.
After checking into our hotel, which was rather grand and in a handy location opposite the Naschmarkt and a mere five-minute walk from Karlsplatz, we had a look at the opulent Habsburg grandeur around the Opera and then wandered back over to Karlsplatz in order to see what was happening there. To our amazement there was the tinsel tram, sat in a normally unused loop, and once again it was full of people! We’d no idea if we could scoop this beast or not but headed towards it at what’s best described as a fast-ish wander… only for the tram to start off just as we reached it, cheers then! With the tram gone we saw a board which revealed exactly what it was doing – a special service for the Christmas market by the town hall and there was one more service, at 17:00, that we could do! This just had to be done and so to pass the time we went for a walk down to yet another Christmas market, this one in front of the church below Karlsplatz.
With an hour to kill until we could scoop the hellfire little 4-wheeler we investigated the market and found, to our amazement, a hut selling curry! We couldn’t resist a quick plateful, not having eaten much thus far, and found it to be reasonably tasty with a good spice and chilli kick although, sadly, nargis kebabs weren’t available… back to the tramstop we wandered, past an unfeasibly furry pig in an enclosure, and planted ourselves firmly in the queue for the final run of the “Weinachtsbim” (Christmas tram, “bim” being the local slang for tram owing to the distinctive bell sound of the Vienna vehicles) as it was called.
The heritage vehicle soon arrived, disgorging it’s passengers at the far side of the loop, before lumbering across to our stop. Normal day tickets weren’t valid so we chinged out €3 for the ride which included an apricot doughnut from the sponsoring bakery! We bagged our ideal seats on the marvellously decked out vehicle and waited for the off, having no idea which way it would go to reach the market, but suspected that it would simply follow the ring clockwise so we were well chuffed as we lurched right at Schwarzenburgplatz – along a curve not in regular service – and proceeded around the ring anti-clockwise; loads more mileage and therefore much better value!
The tram was driven by a Santa lookalike in white cape and he jovially waved to all and sundry as we progressed around the ring, most normals looking on in shock and/or amusement at the little tram covered in bunting and lights! At the market we decided to stay on and see how far we could get back towards Karlsplatz but unfortunately, as this was the final trip of the day, we didn’t get to scoop the entire route – including the massively rare loop at Karlsplatz – but were politely turfed off at Oper to allow the tram to return to it’s depot. As the little tram scuttled away we felt as if we’d achieved a really impressive start to our Vienna move and the whole experience had left us exuberant despite the damp and chilly weather, as scoring this rare working had been a total bonus.
Now, however, it was time to get on with the beer scooping, and although we weren’t going to cover everything available in the city there was still a fair amount for us to do including 2 new brewpubs and a very new brewery…
A quick hop on the next tram to Schwarzenburgplatz followed by a brisk walk brought us to the 1516 brewing company, a brewpub where I hadn’t yet sampled anything worthy of the “best brewpub in Vienna” tag banded about on Ratebeer and the like although, as we bagged a good table and studied the beer list, I realised I may have to change my opinion if the beer tasted as good as the descriptions sounded! First up of the five (!) beers I required was Weyermann Red lager which, I’m assuming from the name, was made with Weyermann of Bamberg’s Vienna lager malt! It was a lovely colour of gold shot through with red hints and smelt of freshly mashed grain. The flavour was deliciously sweet, biscuity and malty with a hint of blackcurrants although hot on the tail of the maltiness was a bitter hop character which created a good balance in the resulting malty and bittersweet finish; overall a top beer and I finally began to see what other people liked about 1516!
Poacher pale ale 2007 came next and this was amber with a slightly hoppy aroma. It had a full malt taste, sweetish body and then a surprisingly bitter and citrussy smack of hops in the aftertaste which added interest and, although it wasn’t as complex as the Weyermann, this was still a well-brewed tasty beer which I’d happily drink any day of the week. Dry Weizen was risked next as, despite us hating 99% of wheat beers, I decided that 1516 might just be able to pull off the impossible and make one worth drinking… sadly not, it turned out, as the beer was decidedly Bavarian in style with plenty of all the things I dislike in wheat beer such as bubblegum, bananas, spice and sticky sweetness, although I imagine if you like such things as wheat beer then you’d probably have liked this!
We’d saved the best until last and so were soon in possession of our final two brews, Yankee Sticke and New Zealand Hop Devil IPA. We’d had the American IPA on our 2004 trip but were told that, due to the shortage of American hops, they had acquired Cascade hops from New Zealand to use in this brew with a consequent major flavour change. Reddy-amber, it had a strong toffee maltiness with a good body overlain by a bitter, Seville marmalade hop fruitiness which carried on into the toffeeish, reasonably bitter aftertaste. I’d personally not call it an IPA, more a hoppy-ish red ale, but it was nice enough and – again – another well-made brew from this brewpub whose skills I was quickly appreciating.
Our final beer sounded something of a strange one; Sticke is a strong version of Düsseldorf’s Altbier, generally available at festival times of the year, although this one claimed it had “American quantities of hops” in it which sounded very interesting! A quick sniff confirmed it’s hop provenance as it was like being immersed in a hopsack full of the lovely sticky green bracts and was probably one of the most unique aromas I’ve experienced in quite a while, not American in style yet very hoppy in a European leafy, grassy way. The deep red colour suggested a sweetish toffee brew yet the maltiness, which was as expected, was slashed asunder by a deep, huge and intense bitterness which somehow wasn’t harsh for something so powerful; quite an achievement! The finish was still bitter yet sweet malt popped up as did some hop resins and what tasted like a Goldings hop finish – but it was still very bitter!
The last two beers were so good we decided to come back the following evening for a few more and so, with a couple more visits to squeeze in and an urgent requirement for some food, we headed off into the still drizzly evening in search of an ATM to top up our funds. We assumed that there would be masses of the things around but it soon turned out that we were in an area which didn’t seem to have any at all! After a short search we located one hidden in a doorway and so, suitably re-chinged, we wandered across to the nearby Schwarzenburg brewpub – to find it closed with no sign of life! I was slightly puzzled as the gen I’d culled from the net had said it was open Sunday evenings, but we couldn’t argue with a locked door and so we took the next tram to Oper for a 65 to Paulanergaße. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because crossing a six-lane ringroad whilst running for a tram isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, but as usual we managed it!
Weidenbräu had been my favourite brewpub during our 2004 visit and was a major factor in the choice of our hotel which was a convenient post-imbibation five-minute stumble from the pub, and as we walked from the tramstop at Paulanergaße it didn’t seem a few months since we’d last been there; strange how visiting a city a couple of times and exploring it properly can cause brewpub locations to be etched into my memory. We were soon inside and seated opposite the bar where we surveyed the menu; there were theoretically two beer scoops available, Dinkelbier and Weihnachtsbier, but at that moment all we really cared about was getting some food to satiate our loudly complaining stomachs – and if you’ve heard my guts when they complain then you’ll know it’s best not to argue.
When I ordered the beers, however, we were informed that the Weihnachtsbier had run out already and the next batch wasn’t going to be on for a while… cheers then, I’d hoped to scoop the festive brew at all the brewpubs and this wasn’t a particularly auspicious beginning in my hunting for them! Nevertheless, we went for a Dinkelbier (Dinkel is a variety of wheat according to the menu) and a märzen plus two huge plates of kaasspätzle which is a Tyrolean speciality and is basically a dish of tiny pasta dumplings – the spätzle – baked in a cheese and cream sauce with sliced onions and schinken (ham) pieces which turns basic ingredients into something very filling, very tasty and, presumably, very calorific… but we didn’t think about that side of it as we stuffed our faces with the luscious food.
The Dinkelbier was rather pedestrian by Wiedenbräu’s standards but still had some interest with a strange oaty flavour over the creamy maltiness, whilst the märzen was a good drinking beer with lots of citrussy hop and maltiness which washed down the food excellently although, as we walked back to the hotel, it felt as if a solid lump of cheese was slowly progressing along my digestive tract... an early night was decided upon as we’d no bottles to drink in the room for once, plus it would give us the stamina if the following evening’s scooping ran late!
Monday 10th December 2007.
Chocolate scooping and a lost brewpub?
Refreshed after an almost unprecedented quantity of doss (when abroad, that is!) we eventually surfaced and headed across the road to the Naschmarkt which, according to the rough guide, was a trove of good food and suchlike. This turned out to be the case and I’d reckon almost everything edible you could imagine (and plenty of things that weren’t) was for sale; coffee, chocolate, fruits, vinegars, cheese, meat, fish… the list goes on and on, so I’ll just say that we were really impressed! One of the best bits was an organic shop which boasted half a wall of chocolate bars from a local producer and must have totalled over 100 varieties spanning everything from plain through everyday combinations such as nuts and fruit via more daring examples such as kirsch and marzipan to the frankly bizarre – dried meat chocolate, anyone? No, I didn’t think so…
We decided that it was time to begin examining the city’s multitude of brewpubs in the hope of finding more examples of Weihnachtsbier for the big orange book and so we were soon alighting from tram 5 at Landstraße from where we entered the university grounds and trekked across to the Alte Ambulanz brewpub. I must admit that I was sceptical as to whether any brewing would still be taking place as the company which installed the plant, Back und Bräu, had recently gone bust and therefore was unconvinced any beer still came from the pub. The huge gleaming copper plant was still centre-stage in the bar although it wasn’t in use and, tellingly, the temperature displays and control panel weren’t illuminated which added to my suspicion that this was no longer a brewpub.
I enquired at the bar as to the provenance of the beer on sale, to which the reply came that the house beer was brewed on-site but the seasonal brews were from the parent Stiegl brewery of Salzburg. Already having scored the house beer I went for the Stiegl Weihnachtsbier which was, predictably, plain, golden and lagery without much character and even less Christmas about it. One amusing incident occurred when some normals proceeded to light up their fags and were promptly evicted by the barstaff with many shouts of “Nicht Rauchen!” and pointing at the admittedly glaringly obvious no smoking signs…
On a visit to the toilets – which are tiled in black with what looks like sparkly bits of a splintered rainbow set into them – I cast a glance into the brewing area behind the bar and saw that all of the fermenters were empty and so I can only judge, on the evidence I gleaned from our visit, that the pub doesn’t brew anymore, although I may have simply caught it at a quiet time? I suppose that if they do brew just the one beer they’d not have to produce very often so I’m perfectly happy to admit I may be talking out of my arse, although my scooper’s instincts tell me that brewing there has ceased.
Everyone’s a winner.
A few trams were scooped in before we ventured way out northwest for our next stop, the relatively new Kadlez brewpub out in Florisdorf, which opened just after our last visit in 2004. We took tram 31 over the Danube to a huge (and very busy) road junction outside the pub where we spent at least five minutes negotiating the horrendous array of roads which I felt were in conspiracy to keep me from my scoops! Eventually we managed to cross the plethora of traffic and were soon inside the brewpub where, to our immense happiness, the air hung thick with the sumptuously sweet malty aroma of mashing-in; I don’t know why but we’d not, up to this point, encountered many of the Vienna brewpubs in the act of physically brewing so this was a huge bonus on two fronts: it proved that they brew but, much more importantly, it smelt gorgeous!
We secured a seat near the bar and scooped in all the available brews; Zwickl (4.8%) was a good drinking beer, malty and mellow, with flowery hops in the flavour and some toffee fruitiness coming through late giving a moreish, tasty finish. Pils (4.7%) was paler and possessed more piney, flowery hops which balanced out the malt well and it finished surprisingly bitter with more hoppiness: good stuff. Schnitt had some slight toastiness but I wasn’t totally sure that this was a “proper” brew as I couldn’t see any dark beers on draught to mix with one of the lighter ones (schnitt means “cut” which implies a mix of two beers) so maybe it was a proper brew, maybe it was a mix with something we didn’t know was on? Whatever the answer, I never did manage to find out…
As we supped the beers I went for a wander to find the brewery and discovered a smart copper plant further along the pub with extremely sociable brewers who answered all my questions (sadly, I forgot to ask about the schnitt!) and took my photo as I gurned away next to the copper. Happy with the outcome of our visit, it was time for the final brew to be scooped and so a glass of Weihnachtsbock (at a hefty 7.8%) was ordered; a russet red brew, complex and toasty flavours were to the fore backed by caramel and toffee along with some dry graininess in the finish although, sadly, it was a touch sweet and lacked the “killer” tastes which I’d suspected it might have. Our scoops supped, we prepared to risk the murderous road outside when the brewer suddenly appeared clutching two bottles of his beer, “For you!” he said before returning to his hissing copper… just how sociable is that?
All the best gems are hidden away…
Our next stop was Brigittabräu, a rather strange place with some even stranger toilets (if you go you’ll see what I mean), where we were to be denied our seasonal brew as only the two standard beers were available resulting in a speedy exit, much to the concern of the waiter! Next I’d decided that we should try the strangest – and dodgiest – sounding brewery in town, the very new Eipeltauer brewery out at Spittelau which, according to the sparse amount of gen I’d managed to dig up from the net, was a micro-brewery with an attached tasting room. This just had to be done even though the possibility of us being withered was rather high; I had printed out a map of the brewery’s area which gave us something to go on but I wasn’t convinced we’d be able to find it as the address given could, theoretically, be anywhere along a very long road!
We alighted from tram D at Radelmayergasse where my flaky map assured us that we’d be able to cross the substantial quantity of S-Bahn tracks to reach our destination. We clambered up some steps to the overbridge where we discovered that we’d be walking not along a footbridge but alongside – on a narrow strip of pavement, against the traffic – a very busy road! We crossed the multitude of S-Bahn lines, then the depot, then just before the Donaukanal the spindly path finally petered out into a set of concrete steps descending down into what looked like, for Vienna, a pretty dodgy side street below…
Undaunted by the apparent dodgyness we clattered down the steps into the dark street below and wandered along until we came across an industrial estate; the road wasn’t as dodgy as it had seemed from above although it was fairly anonymous and, had the signs not been in German, we could have been anywhere in the world which has slightly tatty industrial units. My map suggested that the brewery may be somewhere close to our current position although, as I looked at the rows of identical roller-blind doors, I didn’t know how we were ever going to find it until Sue noticed a sign on a wall…
The sign directed us towards the first row of units and there, right in the middle and looking very anonymous, was the Eipeltauer brewery! We were soon inside and I was amazed as to how far removed from an industrial unit it was; a cosy bar had been installed at the front of the unit and if you hadn’t seen the front of the building – say you were led in blindfold – and if it wasn’t for the slight giveaway that was the windows at the rear looking out over the brewery you’d probably think that this was some fairly modern pub in the city centre! Once inside, however, it was obvious that the bar was a self-contained unit built into the expanse of a huge warehouse… not that it mattered, as scoops were what we were there for not scenery!
Sociability in Spittelau.
The bar was empty; as we entered, the barman put down his paper and wandered over to see what we wanted. After my initial greeting in German he’d soon worked out, by virtue of my atrocious pronunciation, that we were English (or at least not Austrian!) and so switched to perfect English. I explained that we were trawling around all the city’s brewpubs and that I’d heard about this one and thought we should pay a visit, to which he seemed genuinely impressed that we’d found him and at our level of beery commitment! “Would you like to see my brewery?” Christian – for this was none other than Christian Eipeltauer himself – asked, to which we agreed enthusiastically… does the pope shit in the woods, or what?
Christian took us on a tour of the whole place from the ingredient store to the copper and fermenters then onto the bottling machine which, he told us, he planned to get running very soon in order to get his beer out into the city centre trade. After a few obligatory phots and seminars by the vessels it was time to actually taste some of the beers brewed on-site and so Christian drew off two glasses of his “standard” beers for us; 1190 Märzen (4.9%) was a hoppy brew with a full maltiness, complex nutty, malty and hop resin flavour then a well balanced yet bitter finish. Christian told us that he brewed three versions of this beer and that the one we were sampling was the “hoppy” example – I thought it was pretty decent and is probably the hoppiest Austrian beer I’ve sampled (obviously excluding 1516’s hop-monsters) albeit in a very European way!
1210 (5.5%) came next and this was vaguely in the Altbier style albeit with some Vienna Red thrown in too! Very malty, there was toffee and sweet grain on the palate with a complex malt aftertaste with a very slight dryness to balance it out. For our final scoop up came a glass of Chili-Leiwand (5.3%) which is a version of 1210 with whole chillies added to the racking tank for several days of maceration; this results in a malt and toffee-tasting beer with some sweetness and a good afterburn of chilli – I don’t generally like chilli beers but this one balanced the heat with a toffee malt taste which worked fairly well.
Onwards and Southwards.
Sadly it was time for us to leave and so, wishing Christian well with his venture and vowing to return, we retraced our steps back over the flyover and thence down to street level where we took the next D tram to Fischerbräu to see what the special there would be. We were, unsurprisingly, starving by this time and so once I’d ascertained a scoop was on the bar we ordered some Käsnocken, a similar dish to the Kaasspätzle we’d had in Wiedenbräu on our first evening in Vienna, apart from containing leeks instead of onions plus, so it seemed, about a kilo of stretchy cheese per dish! It came fresh from the oven in heavy cast-iron bowls with an accompanying salad and made an extremely filling and tasty meal with which to chase down with the two winners I’d located. I was amused to notice on the menu the hellfire-sounding dish of “Erbsenpuree” which, I think, translates vaguely as mushy peas… maybe I should have had a side order of that?
Weihnachtsbock (6.8%) was a soft, malty and very sessionable brew, sadly a tad thin to be excellent, with a mellow grainsack malt finish, whilst Grieskirchner Dunkel Export was a very sweet, caramelly and luminous red lager of the style I dislike although Sue found it acceptable enough. With our bowls and glasses empty – but now with achingly full stomachs – we slowly descended the hill and caught the next real tram along to Canisiusgaße to have a quick look into the Highlander just in case they had done a Weihnachtsbock; all the gen I had suggested that they didn’t indulge in such fripperies as seasonal beers yet I thought that as we were attempting to view as many as the city’s brewpubs as possible we may as well have a look seeing as we were basically going past the place anyway!
I’m not sure that I really like the Highlander that much: I think it’s the vaguely Firkin-esque décor which ruins it for me although the cutesy (suspiciously clean) copper brewplant in the corner does swing it back into positive… just! I peered at the taps and saw, to my amazement, that a Christmas beer was available so that was that decided – we’d have to stay and score it! A swift glass of the Weihnactsbock and one of the Stout were acquired and so we settled down to see if the beers were better than on our last visit, which wouldn’t be particularly difficult it must be said! We sat by the window to sup our beers and were rewarded with a performance by a particularly stupid example of canine kind outside which saw fit to run about randomly in an intensely dim-witted manner.
The Weihnactsbock was a lot darker than most of the other examples we’d found so far and I had high expectations for it; it began well with some toasty malt and a hint of roastiness and aniseed but then faded out into a bland, sweetish maltiness which was quite disappointing considering the favourable first impressions. The Stout was even more unusual than it had been during our previous visit with a ludicrously fruity flavour – akin to some bizarre Vimto-type cordial – allied with a sickly sweetness and a hint of caramelly treacle toffee… altogether a most unusual beer and nothing like any stout I’ve ever tasted before or want to taste again!
End on a high.
The beers were soon consumed (forced down in the case of the “stout” with a hefty amount left unfinished in the glass for good measure) and so, on the home straight now, off we went to the tramstop where we were forced to run for the fast-approaching tram – not a good move when still stuffed with stretchy-cheese – to Schwartzenbergerplatz to try our luck with the Schwarzenberg Bräuhaus and then, as a nightcap, some more of 1516’s hop-packed beasties. We managed a very rare thing in finding a No.2 tram which wasn’t one of the rancid new plastic devices but a proper old one and so off we went the short distance to the city’s newest brewpub which by all accounts should have been open… but, then again, so should it have been the night before and it hadn’t been! I did wonder if it had closed already and we’d missed it, but that would just be too much bad luck!
All was well as the pub was most definitely open with all manner of excess light blazing away into the night sky. Inside we found a dark and long room with brewing kit at one end and bar vaguely in the centre and so, happy at finding a “compo” seat built into the bar, we ordered the three beers available before settling down to scoop them in. Helles (5%) came first and set the scene for the house style perfectly – bland! It was an averagely malty brew with some nuttiness, a hint of dryness and grassy hop yet totally failed to elicit any interest whatsoever. Next up was the Dunkles (4.9%) which, as I’d feared, was yet another red-coloured sickly-sweet toffee laden beer which even Sue found too syrupy! Our final scoop was the seasonal Weihnactsbock (6.7%), an amber brew with too little of interest for it’s strength and, with that, it was off to 1516 for some beer with flavour!
At 1516 we managed to score the lift for sitting in which isn’t as daft as it sounds owing to the lift in question being a rather outrageous wooden contraption of uncertain pedigree with a worksplate inside which indicated it was built in 1902! Shut off from the tumultuousness of the pub inside our wooden hidey-hole we supped Yankee Sticke and New Zealand Hop Devil IPA with similar results to the previous evening in that we thought they were, all things considered, superb beers with enough hop flavour to please even me! Both beers were so good we had a second round, then a third, and it was with reluctance that we finally left our heritage wooden alcove and headed off back to the hotel where, as seems to always be the case when we’re in German-speaking countries, South Park was on the TV, dubbed into German, and as usual the episode featured “Herr Hankey the Weihnachts poop”… how surreal is that?
Tuesday 11th December 2007.
Jack fruit and chocolate scooping.
After a decent night’s sleep we wandered across to the naschmarkt adjacent to our hotel to buy some food for the day ahead. The market is exactly as the guide books say and sells just about anything remotely organic plus much more besides in it’s strange position in the middle of a suburban arterial road, but not a lot was stranger than the massive vaguely melon-shaped fruits which, upon further investigation, transpired to be Jack fruit – whatever the fuck that is!
We passed more stalls hawking nuts and beans than I can remember before we arrived at the Biowald chocolate shop we’d visited the previous day where we selected a few random bars for later and set off for a morning of tram scratching around the city after depositing our goodies back in the room for later. As we opened the door, however, a rancid smell was evident which we tracked down to the cheese we’d bought the day before which had totally rancified the room’s air causing said cheese to be encased in a hermetically-sealed plastic bag and jettisoned into the bin with immediate effect…
One full-on session of tram bashing later and we were at Salmbräu to check out the Weihnactsbock situation and indulge in some of their scrumptious food. We sat next to the brewery which was emitting all manner of delicious aromas into the air and, at one point, I even helped with the brewing; the brewer was watching liquor running into one of the vessels and, rather than walk across to where we were sat, he motioned to me to turn off the taps below my chair – which I did! So, I suppose I could claim to have been assistant brewer at Salm if I were one of those Walter Mitty characters which infest scooping these days… however, before I could get carried away and begin throwing preposterous amounts of hops into the copper, our food and beers arrived so we got stuck into those with gusto as it had been a good while since breakfast.
The Weihnactsbock (6.2%) was another pale one, full and malty, with a subtle dryness plus some rich grainy body and a smooth malt and dryish finish; nothing to set the world on fire but very drinkable indeed. Owing to the continuing inclement weather I decided upon a shot of Bierkorn – distilled beer – which was a total scoop and actually far nicer than I’d ever imagined it would be! Our food, beer and korn consumed, I paid the gorgeous waitress and we were off back into the endless grey drizzle for yet more exploration of the city’s massive tram system.
Little and Large in Ottakring.
With my aim to try and scoop as many brewpubs as we could without trekking miles out for the likes of Cult or Medlbräu, we headed out to Ottakring for what is probably the biggest scoop in the city, the home-brewed beer at the Schwarz Raben pub which isn’t too far from the enormous industrial brewery of Ottakringer (owned by the very industrial-sounding Getränkeindustrie Holding AG) but the difference in size between that behemoth and the tiny plant in the pub couldn’t be more at odds if they’d tried, it seems as if they have almost wanted to have the smallest brewery possible to compensate for the stupendous amount of capacity available up the road!
I knew from Paul Harrop – and previous visits – that the house-brewed beer is rarely available and the Rabenbräu available in the bar is simply a rebadge of Villacher pils, so I was hoping for third time lucky in getting one of the pub’s massive winners… but, inevitably, we were withered by no beers being on sale yet again! Making a quick exit, we took the same tram back into the centre that we’d taken there not five minutes previously (it terminates just past the pub) and so, deciding that it was definitely time for a beer, we stormed off to Siebensternbräu, a pub we’re both quite big fans of, hoping that their delectable Prager Dunkles would be on and maybe a Weihnactsbock too…
First, however, we had a trawl around yet another Christmas market where the little wooden huts shimmered under a festoon of lights and rain. I was tempted by some strange plastic rocks which illuminated in different colours (who wouldn’t be?) but somehow resisted and popped into Plützerbräu which is classed as a brewpub by many beer guides but, so I’m reliably informed, simply rebadges and therefore takes the credit for another brewery’s hard work. Around a dozen beers were on offer in the packed bar but none of them really interested me – probably as I’d no idea who brewed most of them – so we rejected the idea of a drink in there and instead squelched off to our original destination where I’m pretty sure all the beers are brewed on the premises.
Siebensternbräu was, as usual, absolutely wedged yet this time even more so owing to the proximity of the Weihnachtsmarkt and the dismal evening’s weather. We managed to secure seats at the bar and I was happy to see the expected Xmas scoop on the beer list plus, as hoped for, Prager Dunkles which I’m sure you can guess from the name is a dark beer in the Prague tradition… whatever that might be, although I’m suspecting the delicious dark lager of Prague’s famous Ů Fleků brewpub is the inspiration behind it (and the one in Weidenbräu, another Salm-installed brewery).
The Seven Stars (for that’s what Siebenstern means) Weihnachtsbier was probably the best I’d supped thus far and was a hazy amber brew, solidly malty in taste, with the by now familiar subtle dryness coming to the fore then the sweet nutty grain winning out in the finish. Prager Dunkles wasn’t quite as delicious as I remember it yet it was plenty adequate for the job with the usual overly sweet caramel taste of Austrian dark beers replaced, in the main, by roast grain and toasty maltiness. I also sneaked in a swift half of the hemp beer and was pleased to see that it still tasted of dandelion and burdock mixed with beer… yeah, man!
The pub was way too full for us to be able to eat and so we decided to try our luck at 1516, although I suspect all we really wanted was to sit in a 100-year old wooden lift drinking ludicrously hoppy beers – not that there’s anything wrong with that, is there? Sadly our lift was full, as was the entire downstairs, but we found a room upstairs big enough for ten people totally empty and so in we went to bag the table and so our food move was on! Sitting in our room it soon became clear just why everywhere was so wedged; in addition to the rain and Christmas markets Austria were playing football so, realistically, we were lucky to get anywhere to sit at all!
We ordered some incredibly garlicky food, drank several rounds of amazingly hoppy beers and generally had a good time until the time came to leave and so, for the last time, paid our bill and stomped up Schwarzenbergstraße to the tramstop and thence back to Paulanergaße where I insisted we check out Weidenbräu – just in case another batch of Weihnactsbier had come on – but, as Sue had told me, it was a move doomed to failure and so back to the hotel it was where a couple of bottled beers we’d acquired from a supermarket waited and watched, as booked, a South Park Herr Hankey compilation episode! Well, what else would be on?
Wednesday 12th December 2007.
Our final day dawned – as had most of the previous four – dull and drizzly but we’d become accustomed to this meteorological antipathy by now and so donned our jackets and headed out for a bit of sightseeing around the ring. First, however, we had a shambles in the supermarket where the Ada declared our bottles hadn’t been bought there and thus weren’t valid for pfand which worked out at over a Euro! It required a lot of persuasion to get her to take the bottles and then some more to finally gouge our money back from the till… who says poor customer service is solely a British thing?
We wandered around lots of the Habsburg buildings, doing our best to avoid the plague of school trips full of screeching brats, and did some final tram moves before ending up at Landstraße station where we’d catch the S-Bahn to the airport. We used the superb ticket machines to purchase “add-on” extensions to our 72-hour tickets whilst being hassled by a random beggar until he was told, in no uncertain terms, to FOAD – fuck off and die!
We’d just missed a train and the next one wasn’t for another half an hour so we had no option but to sit on the cold subterranean platform and wait, although there was the consolation that we’d not forked out the extortionate fare asked by the dedicated airport express “CAT” train which was at least three times what we’d paid! At the airport we discovered the first sex-shop we’d ever seen airside plus a shop selling 5-litre kegs of lager, presumably they were expecting the Ing-er-Lish? Our flight was near enough on-time and we were soon back on the M1 heading north having narrowly avoided being stuck behind a tractor hauling a sleigh coming out of the airport… how very festive!
Bratislava is definitely experiencing a thawing of the beer freeze it has experienced recently and hopefully this will continue, particularly as the city is now very easy to reach by air from all over the UK! It still has no brewpub to speak of – although there’s one nearby at Svaty Jur – but the new Kolotňa pub is leading the charge with it’s draught Kaltenecker and there’s plenty of unpasteurised Bernard about too. I’m sure, given the improvement in the last couple of years, that we’ll see a brewpub or two plus some more decent bars in the near future although the lack of micro brewers and almost total dominance of the beer scene by the multinationals doesn’t help matters!
Vienna, by comparison, is still a beer lover’s dream with a dozen brewpubs scattered across the city plus the new microbrewery of Christian Eipeltauer with it’s taproom. Add to this some bars which sell guest beers – we’ve not yet managed to make it to any of them, maybe next time! – and you have a city with enough beery delights to entertain all but the hardiest desperados for a long weekend plus, as if another bonus were needed, not all of the beers are in the bland Germanic style so it’s not simply “helles, dunkel, weiss then repeat…” as can often be the case in German cities with numerous brewpubs.
Overall, then, this is a highly recommended trip, especially if you’ve not been to either city before, and it shows how much being behind the so-called “Iron curtain” either hindered or preserved the development of cities such as Bratislava depending on your point of view. Vienna is a quick hour away on frequent trains and it really is difficult to believe that these two cities are so close together yet so very different in character. For the desperate scooper with limited time I’d say stick to Vienna, yet it is well worth adding an extra day or two to the trip and taking in both cities for the experience alone.
Beer-wise, Bratislava gave us the lovely Kaltenecker Brokát tmavý 13° and Stein Śpeciálny 14°, both excellent beers in their own ways, whilst the Weihnactsbock season in Vienna was slightly disappointing in that most of the beers were far too safe and uninteresting for brews of over 6% with only Siebensternbräu’s really standing out. On a more positive note I finally feel that I’ve connected with the 1516 brewpub’s beers and really enjoyed our evenings there during this trip; their Victory IPA was delicious, as was the Yankee Sticke and Weyermann Red lager and I think that their beers are, by quite a wide margin, the most interesting you’ll find in Vienna, but that’s not to denigrate such places as Siebensternbräu, Weidenbräu and Fisherbräu who all make some very suppable and tasty brews… explore them all, it’s well worth it!
Getting there and getting around there.
Both cities have featured in previous trip reports so I’ve updated the relevant gen; see the Vienna “getting around” write-up in the Austrian beer gen pages here and the Bratislava info in my previous report to that city here.
Beer and pub gen.
Likewise, I’ll not replicate the other reports but will update them accordingly. Austrian beer gen can be found here and the Bratislava gen here.
Beers of the trip.
We had, looking back, a surprisingly decent amount of good beer on this trip and so choosing the top three wasn’t as easy as first anticipated, although I eventually managed it…
Pubs of the trip.
As we visited a wide variety of bars, brewpubs and pubs on the trip I had plenty of choice for this prize!
© Gazza 01/08/08 V1.0