Notes on Beer Selection in Austria

We’ll begin by saying that Austrian beer is good. Very good. First of all, there seemed to be no time of day that was unacceptable for a beer. Old men sipped beers in cafes at 11 a.m. and people were always enjoying beers during lunch. We even saw someone drinking a beer at 8:30 a.m. at the airport. Each restaurant, bar and cafe served beer in pristine proper glassware, in various sizes, and almost always with a lusciously fluffy head.

Much like German beer, Austrian breweries tend to stick to traditional styles. They are generally brewed with a precision and consistency that we rarely find in American small breweries. Pilsners are always clean but flavorful and dunkels always slightly sweet but in balance. With the exception of bocks, most of the beers were sessionable. The most variety that you can easily find is in the yeast flavors of heffeweizens. Generally, bars and restaurants carried about three or four beers on tap from one brewery along with several different bottles. This makes sessions of the same beer the normal practice. You simply can not compare two different pilsners or dunkels from different breweries back to back at the same bar. Trying more than three styles in a night or finding a big American IPA or imperial stout would be a difficult task.

Beer in a grocery store in Innsbruck

We felt the need to discuss the beer selection in Austria, because, while quite good, it stands in stark contrast to the craft beer culture in the United States. Most bars we frequent carry at least six to eight craft beers on tap and some boast more than 20. Craft beer stores like Bierkraft or New Beer Distributor have selections of hundreds of bottles representing dozens of styles. We realized, over the two weeks that we were abroad, just how lucky we are to be participating in the craft beer culture here – in the experimentation breweries conduct, and the variety and access we have to fine beer.

And yet, there is something to be said for doing only a few things, but doing them really well.

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