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Austrian Beer Culture in Mühlviertel

There’s no other place in Austria that brews such a wide variety of beer as the Mühlviertel district of Upper Austria. And not only because it’s the largest hops-growing region in the country.

Brewing is an ancient trade, but over the centuries it has reached such a pitch of sophistication that modern-day beers bear little resemblance to the produce of the brewing vats of old.

Brewing is basically applied biotechnology. It makes use of natural processes to transform natural raw materials into a natural beverage. Add to that generations of expertise and Austria’s stringent foodstuff regulations – on which many other countries have modeled their legislation – and you get a superbly pure and unspoilt glass of beer.

Here are the recognized types of beer in Austria:

  • Märzen: balanced malty flavor, mildly bitter hoppy aroma, light in color
  • Pils: bottom-fermenting, strongly hoppy, light-colored full-strength beer
  • Special beer: full-strength beers with an original wort of at least 12.5 degrees
  • Wheat beer: made using at least 50% wheat malt
  • Zwickel: unfiltered, made cloudy by the yeast and insoluble proteins


One of Austria’s traditional brewing regions is the Mühlviertel, between the Danube and the Bohemian Forest, which produces a wealth of fine beers. This region includes Austria’s only monastery brewery in Schlägel Abbey, the country’s oldest brewery, the Gutsbrauhof in St. Martin, the long-established Municipal Braucommune in Freistadt, and countless castle breweries, palace breweries and other small breweries.


The very first ‘craft beer’ in Austria was most likely brewed in the year 1999 – that was when Peter Krammer from the Hofstetten Brewery produced his first pumpkin beer. And this was not to be his last successful experiment: there is an astonishingly wide variety of extraordinary beers on offer in this oldest brewery in the country – like for example, organic honey beer. The idea for this came from a friend of Peter’s who was a beekeeper – and it did not take Krammer long to answer, ‘You know honey very well, we know beer – let’s try it’! What shall we say: this one remains a bestseller today.

 

What are hot stones doing in the beer?

Granite stones are prepared by being heated to glowing on an open fire, then submerged in the beer to caramelise the sugar contained therein – this is quite a show! And since the art of brewing ultimately remains a process done by hand, the sugar content of the evolving beer is continually measured by manual means. The result: toasty caramel notes with aromas of bitter chocolate and wild strawberries – a heavenly pleasure. Granite Bock is, by the way, still brewed in the old brewhouse built in 1929 – with its original tiles and wrought-iron staircase, an experience in itself. The centrepiece here is the historic malt mill, which even after almost 100 years of service is not yet showing any signs of fatigue.

 

The Mühlviertel: soft water, mighty stone

It’s no accident that folks in the Mühlviertel have specialised with such concentration on brewing beer: here, granitic soils filter the water, making it particularly pure and soft – ideal for brewing. And then there are the top-quality hops: nowhere else in Austria are so many varieties cultivated, and in such volume. It's no wonder that this region of rolling hills, dense forests, and mighty granite formations has also produced two prizewinning beer sommeliers: Karl and Felix Schiffner, father and son (as well as being former world champions and current runners up in the world championship).

Karl Schiffner is considered a pioneer: in his ‘Biergasthaus’, one could for the very first time enjoy five-course menus with paired beer accompaniment – at a time in history when beer was otherwise merely regarded as a matter for the community table at the corner pub. Today the two sommeliers are the ‘living beer lists’ of the establishment, as Felix Schiffner says with a grin: they provide their guests with individual and professional advice, which is quite welcome, since there are some 150 types of beer available. The two enjoy a longstanding collaboration with the Hofstetten Brewery, which among other delights created the very popular ‘Champion Bitter’. Latest attraction: a beer cuvée, composed from four different and carefully selected special beers from three breweries; a global innovation, to be sure.

The enormous selection of beers – each brewery produces some forty different varieties – renders the process of selection particularly complicated. ‘And of course we have to find the correct proportions for the blend’, says Karl Schiffner, not without a hint of pride. Apparently it was a masterpiece: the first 22,000 bottles were sold out within only five days. One can look eagerly forward to the next brainstorm these artists in beer from the Mühlviertel come up with – there is no shortage here of imagination, expertise and inspiration.

  • Gasthof Schiffner Camparipils © Werner Schiffner Gasthof Schiffner Camparipils © Werner Schiffner
  • Brauerei Hofstetten Hopfendolden © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten Hopfendolden © Brauerei Hofstetten
  • Brauerei Hofstetten Mühlviertler Biobier © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten Mühlviertler Biobier © Brauerei Hofstetten
  • Brauerei Hofstetten Honigbier © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten Honigbier © Brauerei Hofstetten
  • Brauerei Hofstetten Biersortiment © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten Biersortiment © Brauerei Hofstetten
  • Brauerei Hofstetten neues Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten neues Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten
  • Brauerei Hofstetten historisches Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten historisches Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten
  • Ruin Ruttenstein © Österreich Werbung / Lukas Beck Ruin Ruttenstein © Österreich Werbung / Lukas Beck
Biersommelier Karl Schiffner Gasthof Schiffner Mühlviertel © Werner Schiffner Biersommelier Karl Schiffner Gasthof Schiffner Mühlviertel © Werner Schiffner

Expertly brewed beer

Das Bierviertel – ‘The Beer Quarter’ –  is what this association, made up of four members in Austria’s Mühlviertel region, calls itself.

http://www.bierviertel.at/

Three of these members are breweries: the Brewing Commune in Freistadt, the Hofstetten Private Brewery, the Abbey Brewery Schlägl

 

The fourth member is Karl Schiffner, world champion beer sommelier and proprietor of Biergasthof Schiffner, a sophisticated brewpub. When three breweries and a gourmet create a beer cuvée together, it is a harbinger of longstanding and intensive collaboration between innovative and forward-thinking individuals on the Mühlviertel brewing scene.

“Folks often ask me how one manages to become a beer sommelier at this tender age. I always tell them: it’s not about the quantity of beer that one has had, but rather about how many different types.”

Felix Schiffner, Beer sommelier

Interview with beer sommelier Felix Schiffner

austria.info: Mr. Schiffner, at 25 you are already runner-up world champion beer sommelier. How did you make that happen?

Felix Schiffner: (grins...) Folks often ask me how one manages to become a beer sommelier at this tender age. I always tell them: it’s not about the quantity of beer that one has had, but rather about how many different types. From the very beginning I got to know international varieties, because my father had imported beers from all over the world. So I always had a special kind of access. My first beer, by the way, was an India Pale Ale.

austria.info: You have also created your own beer, Stiegl’s „Grenzgänger“ Hibiskus Gose

Felix Schiffner: Until quite recently I was working at the Stiegl home brewery in Salzburg; I had the opportunity there to develop beers that had not yet been brewed. Under normal circumstances, the brewing process takes eight hours, but in this case it was a full two days, because I did a great deal of experimentation. The „Gose“ – historically brewed in Leipzig – was traditionally brewed with coriander and salt. The hibiscus blossoms turned the beer pink. That became Stiegl’s house beer for the summer – for example, it went very well with fish, because it was so sleek and dry.

austria.info: Do you have a favourite beer?

Felix Schiffner: When I am at home I mostly drink our ‘Champion Bitter’, which we brew together with the Hofstetten Brewery. We developed the formula together, and select the strains of hops together. This beer is intensely hopped, very powerful and bitter – it’s been very well received; in fact we are already up to the eleventh batch. But it really depends totally upon the situation. When it’s 30°C (86°F) in the shade in a beer garden, I would rather drink a lager. And with an aromatically assertive cheese platter, it would be a powerful Weizenbock – a wheat beer – a beer that can stand up to the cheese, like a barley wine. This was, incidentally, the beer that I had to present in the final round of the world championship. It is matured for twenty months in an oaken cask, one that has previously been used for aging Bourbon whiskey – the beer picks up the whiskey aromas in a very attractive way.

austria.info: Do you have an explanation for why there is so much beer brewed in Austria’s Mühlviertel region?

Felix Schiffner: We have a very pure and very soft water here in the region. That is particularly well suited to brewing beer. And our region is the largest producer of hops in Austria.

austria.info: Any good tips for a beer tasting?

Felix Schiffner: One thing that’s quite important is to have a good tasting glass. Honestly, try lots of different beers. And don’t always stay in familiar territory with your own favorite breweries. And additionally: consult a professional and get advice. For example, when somebody is standing in front of the beer display at our establishment – and there are some 150 different varieties – well, he will definitely need professional advice. That’s why we also don’t have any conventional beer list – because we say to ourselves: there are two beer sommeliers here in the house – we are the living beer lists!

  • Brauerei Hofstetten Hopfendolden © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten Hopfendolden © Brauerei Hofstetten

12 recommended breweries in Austria

Brauerei Hofstetten neues Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten neues Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten

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Brauerei Hirt

The Braukeller – Brew Cellar – in the municipality of Hirt has one of the richest culinary traditions in all of Carinthia. Affiliated with Privatbrauerei Hirt, for centuries now it has been a gathering place for lovers of the particular beer specialties native to Hirt.

Mohrenbrauerei

Guided by the hand of an experienced brewer, here beer lovers can create a beer to suit their own individual taste in the Creative Brewery. First step is to determine the individual style, then grind the malt oneself, prepare the mash, clarify, and then commence brewing. Cheers!

Brauerei Zillertal Bier

For more than 500 years distinctive beers have been brewed in Zell am Ziller, according to traditions handed down through generations. Today, of course, with the most modern of technology, but as always with carefully selected regional ingredients. A very special beer is brewed for the Tirol’s annual Gauder Festival: the Gauder Bock.
Brauerei Hofstetten historisches Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten historisches Sudhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten

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Brauerei Stiegl

The Stiegl Brewery is renown for quality at the highest level. At their Stiegl Brauwelt – The World of Brewing, complete with a cinema and museum – visitors can totally immerse themselves in the world of beer and gustatorial delights. Stiegl has built a special cellar for cask-maturing specialties such as the Hausbier and their vintage beers.

Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg

A great deal of artisanal care and 200 years of experience go into brewing the delicious beer of the family enterprise Schloss Eggenberg in the Salzkammergut. Of course, now, in the 21st century, aided by the latest technology.

Braucommune Freistadt

Freistadt is the home country of beer in Upper Austria: folks have been brewing here since 1363. The brewers use water from the primordial rock in Freistadt, hops from the Mühlviertel, malt from the Weinviertel and their jealously guarded strain of Mühlviertel yeast. These ingredients come together to guarantee the high and consistent quality of the Freistadt beers.
Brauerei Hofstetten Landbrauhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten Landbrauhaus © Brauerei Hofstetten

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Brauerei Hofstetten

One particular specialty of the Hofstetten brewery is their Granite Beer, which once nourished stonecutters and gave them the energy to do their work. The granitic stone works like a filter on the water – unique in the entire world and a distinct advantage for beers of the Mühlviertel. A mixture of light and dark malts as well as 100% Mühlviertel hops give this beer its authoritative flavour

Brauerei Zwettl

In the beer workshop Weitra, which belongs to the private brewery Zwettl, beer is still made according to old, artisanal recipes. The two fixed raw materials – hops and malt – are cultivated organically. Together with the soft water from the primordial rock of the Bohemian Massif, those ingredients give the organic beer an aroma of roasted malt.

 
Brauerei Hofstetten Granitzwecken mit Zange © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten Granitzwecken mit Zange © Brauerei Hofstetten

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Brauerei Murau

The first brewery in all of Europe that’s putting their money on 100% renewable energy. And its success in international competitions proves that the Murauer beer is also distinguished for its flavour – at the World Beer Awards 2017: Three of their brews were awarded gold medals – the Murauer Märzen, the Murauer Weissbier, and their refreshing ‘Radler’ made with apricots and elderberries

Brauerei Gols

This brewery’s specialties are made with the finest of ingredients, such as chestnuts, spelt, herbs, fruit or spices. Along with this, some beers are made using modern methods like cold hopping and aging in wooden barrels.
Brauerei Hofstetten historische Sudpfanne © Brauerei Hofstetten Brauerei Hofstetten historische Sudpfanne © Brauerei Hofstetten

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Ottakringer Brauerei

The ‘Ottakringer’ is most likely the best-known beer of the nation’s capital. But in their own ‘creative brewery’ Brauwerk they also produce some quite remarkable seasonal specialties. Each stylistic expression draws its particular character from one of the three main ingredients that go into brewing: the flavor of the beer Hausmarke 1 is influenced most by the yeast, Hausmarke 2 by the hops, while with Hausmarke 3 it’s the malt.

Brauerei Schremser

The soul of the Schremser beer is the brewers’ barley known as ‘Waldviertler Landkorn’. Farmers of the region hold strictly to ecologically sound standards of cultivation, and achieve an environmentally friendly production of grain. The soft, limestone-rich water of the Waldviertel – flowing through primordial rock – contributes its essence to the high quality of the beer.

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