One of the first things I did when I arrived in Vienna (I came for a week about six months before I moved here permanently) was to sit in the airport and have a beer. I remember then, as I do now, how clean it tasted although this might have had something to do with the intoxicating feeling I was in a foreign land and had just spent two hours in a metal box reliving in vivid detail every airplane disaster movie since the 1970s. In fact, learning how to order a beer was the first phrase I acquired in German – eine Flasche Bier, bitte – which later became ein großes Bier, or nowadays when I am feeling authentically Viennese, a process which there appears to be no end in sight, a Krügerl. There is, of course, the phrase of semi-folklore in homage to the Ottakringer brewery in the 16th district which every discerning Wiener is supposed to use at the Wurstelstand – “a Sechzehna-Blech” – but, and please don’t tell the Viennese Tourist Board, I have never heard anyone use it. And I suspect most of the people serving beer in the number one city these days have never heard it either.
Although Austria as a whole is more a nation of beer drinkers (Austria apparently has the second highest per-capita consumption behind the Czechs) Vienna is not immediately known as a beer city. In fact, you are more likely to meet a local who will make some reference to the distinctive viniculture and the many Heurigen (the famous wine tavern) and remind you again that the number one city has the highest acreage of vineyards for any capital in the world.
Of course, no trip to Vienna would be complete without a trip to the famous beer garden of Schweizerhaus in the Prater (to drink Czech beer). Although be warned. Afterwards you will be enticed to try your hand at one of the fairground stalls close by where a merciless stall holder dangling an over-sized, stuffed elephant will make you believe you are a crack marksman and empty your pockets of anything resembling money. Which is why, if I had to recommend a beer garden these days, I would opt for Schutzhaus on the Schmelz in the 15th district (the only tourist I ever met there was me), perhaps Zattl downtown or, at a push, the Steigl Ambulanz in the grounds of the old general hospital (Altes ÄKH).
And yet Vienna, or more precisely Schwechat just outside the city and home to its airport, has more to do with beer than you might think, as it was instrumental in the creation of what my northern British friends would call “poncey southern lager”. Of course, what they didn’t know was how southern. Now historical accounts seem to disagree somewhat, but the specific method of “lagering” (literally to store) was either invented by Anton Dreher from Schwechat or the German Gabriel Sadlmayer who developed the now well-known Munich Märzen.
Reading through the historical record is rather confusing especially with the different terminology, processes and the subtle differences between Helles, Märzen, Pils or Lager. But this is what we know: both men were from brewing families and it was during a road-trip in the 1830s through Europe, ostensibly to learn about brewing techniques (although we all know it was more about meeting foreign girls and buying naughty lithographs) these two youthful brewers met and apparently became great friends. They even visited Britain where they first discovered a new kilning technology to dry malt, using hot air rather than the traditional open fire, which they then adopted when they returned to their respective homes. The Dreher family must have been very pleased although Anton’s girlfriend was reportedly less impressed complaining that all she wanted from London was a souvenir t-shirt, not a brewing revolution that would transform her boyfriend’s fortunes.
Still, after a couple of years of tinkering in his bedroom, Dreher released his new beer in 1841. This is interesting because in spite of this, some sources still only refer to the origins of lager, or this new method of brewing which German beer is also based, as stemming from Germany. Although I suspect this might have more to do with the fact that some people assume Austria and Germany are the same (a heinous crime in Austria). In any case, the timeline is not clear but Sedlmayer reportedly marketed his new beer as “Märzen gebraut nach Wiener Art” (March beer brewed in the Vienna way) suggesting it came later.
Vienna lager more or less disappeared after the First World War in Austria unlike the Munich version which is still famous to this day. Evidence again of the Germans pinching something originally Austrian, although to be fair, we got Beethoven and they got Adolf. Interestingly, through immigration, the Vienna style lived on in all places as Mexico but there is no indication they also exported lime wedges. But in recent years this historical brew has made a comeback inspired by something called “craft”. Although the Schwechater brewery today brews a version of Helles which bears no resemblance to the Vienna lager of old (let’s be honest it all tastes the same after three pints), in 2016, 175 years after Anton Dreher introduced his beer to the world, it started selling “Wiener Lager”. Even Ottakringer, Vienna’s largest remaining brewery (going since 1837) and anything but “craft” now sells a version called “Wiener Original”.
But it is in the smaller modern breweries where one has to look to get the sense of a return to the recipes and hangovers of old. Like many places, the craft-beer revolution has become a standard part of the Vienna beer scene. But micro-breweries are nothing new in the number one city. Fischer Brau in the 19th district opened its doors in 1985, Medl Bräu in 1989 and then in 1994, the year Austria voted to join the European Union, we got Salm Bräu, Siebenstern Bräu and the Wieden Brau (clearly they needed more beers to celebrate). And then came 1516 which I know has definitely been going since 2001 (although not much more before) because I watched England thrash Germany 5-1 in that famous world cup qualifier in Munich. My point being that these are and were small-scale producers brewing what I can only describe as “craft beer” before craft beer entered the lexicon. And they never charged three Euros for a small bottle of Wiener Lager.
Anyway, on to the good news. I have beer on my mind not so much because of the current restorative capacities it provides whenever I hear something about Brexit (my enjoyment of beer preceded this by about 30 years) but because a couple of weeks ago I discovered a new brewery not far from where I live in the south of Vienna.
100 Blumen is located in an old piano factory in Atzgersdorf, right next to the Schnellbahn station, and it opened for business in 2018. This means that beer is now being brewed in the 23rd district of Liesing for the first time since the 1973 closure of the Liesinger brewery (now the Riverside shopping centre). This event in itself is outstanding news because it signifies a return to something which is far removed from the corporate dominance of big brewing; something which is unique, special and positioned as a local business serving local needs. Of more significance, however, is why it took me nearly a year to discover it.
The name of the brewery is inspired by Chinese symbolism (the brains behind the brew™ has a degree in Chinese Studies) and is explained in this badly worded extract from their website:
“100 flowers stands for a new beginning, a spring if you want. For a spring of the Austrian beer culture one flower is not enough for a blossoming flower, you need 100 flowers. 100 flowers stands for the variety of the taste, the variety of the beer styles and a blossoming of the Austrian beer culture.”
Inside you will find several vats (see above) and a “tap” room where you can sit on wooden benches on a concrete floor and sample the goodies. Currently there are four varieties of beer which they call the post-code series: 1010, Wiener Lager 1020, Pils 1030 and a wheat beer Blanko 1040. Which I suppose means once they get round to all of Vienna’s twenty-three districts they will have invented the drinking game to end all drinking games. They also serve a few snacks but you can also bring your own food, a nod it seems to the original ethos of the wine tavern or Buschenschank. There are also soft drinks for the underage, from the Marchfeldner Storchen Bräu, and board games if they get bored. Which they will.
And so one final word on beer and the number one city. According to the book Useless Facts Vienna, made up of columns from the city magazine Stadtbekannt, beer served in the 15th century at the Citizen’s Hospital (Bürgerspital) was called Leinwandbier. The reason for this was that the hospital was also an international hub for the textile trade. Linen in German is “Leinen” and as the beer had apparently such a fantastic and cool reputation, it was known as “leiwand”. And as every Viennese will tell you – over and over – good things are never just fantastisch, toll or cool, they are LEIWAND, oida!
© 2019 RJ Barratt