Many VE members enjoy nothing more than meeting for a beer, and with around 4,000 locations serving beer in Vienna, there is certainly no shortage of choice. Indeed the Federation of Austrian Breweries (Verband der Bräuereien Österreichs) proudly boasts on its website, that Austria has the highest level of breweries per capita of any EU nation. The provinces of Upper Austria, Lower Austria and Styria boast a total of nearly two thirds of the VBÖ’s 68 breweries, with Ottakringer being the sole Viennese counterpart (although there are 13 microbreweries in Vienna on their list), and Burgenland not having a brewery – other than a few microbreweries.
A Fair Measure: From perusing menus, often the choice of beers can make the average punter feel spoilt for choice. Often beers are offered vom Faß (from the barrel) / vom Zapf (from the beer tap) or bottled – the latter mainly being in 0.5l or 0.33l bottles (they are listed on menus as Flaschenbier). Occasionally you may find a Bügelverschluss – where you open the bottle using a metal lever to break the seal comprising of a porcelain stopper with rubber sealing ring. Otherwise bottles use a Kronenkorke – generally requiring a bottle opener although some now twist off. Draught beers, as with wines, have terms for their measures – from a derisory Pfiff to a giant Stiefel.
Ordering “ein großes Bier” will usually mean a half litre (slightly less than an Imperial pint, but more than a US pint), and this measure is also locally referred to as a Krügerl. The other most frequent measure is that of a small beer “ein kleines Bier” – known as a Seidl – 0.3l. Occasionally you may also find the Pfiff (0.1 – 0.2 l variable from one place to another). Supermarkets sell beer in cans and bottles – there being a deposit (Pfand) on the latter, as well as 5l party barrels (Partyfaß) also for use in home beer cooler (currently Krups and Philips seem to be leading the way on these).
A Maß or 1 litre is increasingly uncommon and occasionally there is also the Stiefel (2l) although as many people point out – a large measure means that with adequate conversation your beer may be warm by the time you finish it. It is very rare nowadays to see beer served in an earthenware Steinkrug or Stein, although some places have them for their regular locals (Stammgäste). If you choose a Weizen (wheat beer) you will usually receive it in a different shaped glass – more conical in shape than the normal cylindrical beer glasses so often used – although many breweries have their own glasses with their own design e.g. Stiegl’s “vases” that have imposed themselves at the expense of the straight-sided Krug.
Shame about the Schaum: In Austria, beer is served with a bigger head (Schaum) than in particularly in the UK – where the head is typically only a few millimetres thick. Austrian beer glasses usually are marked with their measure being often 2-3cm below the rim – the rest will be head, sometimes even rising above the rim of the glass – this is normal. The custom of complaining about too much head seems to fall on mainly deaf ears, when it happens, but generally you will receive a fair measure.
Without entering into a debate on “What is the best beer?” as this is always very subjective, the only other thing to have to know is exactly what you are drinking. Generally if you ask for an Austrian beer, you are most likely to get something similar to lager in the UK – there are of course exceptions, but they are infrequent. The principle beer products you’ll encounter are as follows:
Helles: Lager / light beer
Dunkeles: A dark beer
Märzen: Usually slightly stronger than a typical light beer
Radler: The Austrian equivalent of a shandy – using sprite or fanta instead of lemonade
Schnitt: A mixture of dark and light beer.
Weizen: Wheat beer
Bock: Premium strength (often up to 9 percent) beer brewed seasonally – often for Christmas and/or Easter.