Vienna and Austria in general has a very strong beer culture, with your average Austrian consuming just over 100 litres (176 pints) of the stuff each year.
- Very high quality of beer
- Full-bodied “continental” lagers from regional breweries are most popular
- Try an Ottakringer when in Vienna (the local brew)
- Typically served in 500ml and 300ml glasses in bars
- Craft beers on the rise
- See also: Food & drink | How to say “cheers”
Beer quality and brands
(A glass of Zwettler beer from a private brewery in Austria’s north)
Only the Czechs drink more beer than Austrians on a per head basis. So there’s clearly something in the water in this part of the globe.
And like Czech beer, Austrian beer is very high quality. All the major breweries (as far as I’m aware) brew to the standards enshrined in the Bavarian Rheinheitsgebot of 1516, which declared that beer be made from nothing more than water, malt and hops (they didn’t know about yeast back then).
Of course, the growth of craft beers means the list of ingredients and base materials has expanded beyond the imagination of 16th-century Germany. But the principle of purity remains strong. As such, it’s nigh on impossible to find a bad beer in a typical store or bar.
Just over 300 breweries in the country produce over 1,000 different beers in total. The biggest brands in Vienna include Ottakringer, Stiegl, Zipfer and Gösser, but there are dozens of small and private breweries and specialty beers, too, none of which should disappoint the discerning beer palate.
If you want to go native, though, then Ottakringer is Vienna’s big local brewery, located in the working-class 16th district since 1837. A beer guru of my acquaintance even rates the basic canned Ottakringer Helles beer as one of Austria’s very best. Ottakringer also have their own craft beer range under the BrauWerk label.
Little demand seems to exist for imported beer here; Austrians tend to stick to their own regional beers. But you’ll find German and Czech brands like Warsteiner or Starobrno in bars, too…and perhaps even corporate exports from North America and Western Europe (Heineken, Budweiser etc.).
Guinness, for example, looks to be growing in popularity, particularly in the many Irish and British pubs dotted about town. Expect to pay more than for local brews, though.
The question is why you’d want to drink imports, given the excellent quality and variety of local beers.
Oh, by the way…despite the heavy consumption, beer drinking remains a restrained affair compared to, for example, UK Friday-night drinking habits. Drunk and disorderly street behavior is relatively rare in Vienna.
(A “Seidl” of beer)
In bars, cafes and restaurants in Vienna, beer generally comes in two sizes:
- A “Krügel” or “grosses Bier” (large beer)… 0.5 litres (0.88 UK pints)
- A “Seidl” or “kleines Bier” (small beer)… 0.3 litres (0.53 UK pints)
A Krügel typically costs around €4.20 and a Seidel €3.20.
In the supermarkets, most beer is sold in 500 ml bottles or cans, beginning at about €0.80 a bottle (+ a small deposit) or slightly cheaper if you buy aluminium cans.
Types of beer
The vast majority of beer is Märzenbier, basically a full-bodied lager. But you’ll find the usual array of Pils, Weizenbier (wheat beer) and other typical examples of central European brewing skills.
The standard beer varieties have between 4.8% and 5.2% alcohol by volume, which is stronger than you’d get in the UK, for example.
In the last couple of years, light (Leichtbier) and alcohol-free (alkoholfrei) beers, as well as shandies (Radler), have grown in popularity, stimulated in part by a growing awareness of the dangers of drink driving.
And on a cold winter’s night, you might want to try a Bockbier, typically a dark beer with around 6.5% alcohol by volume.
Given the drink’s popularity, various beer-flavoured festivals populate the event calendar in Vienna. Consider, for example:
- Ottakringer Bierfest (Ottakringer Beer Festival): Ottakringer’s own summer-long celebration of the brewer’s art. Notable for featuring the creations of guest (craft) breweries as well as their own products
- Wiener Bierfest (Vienna Beer Festival): outdoor event that brings together all the big breweries (and many smaller ones) on Am Hof square
- Craft Bier Fest (Craft Beer Festival): large event for both consuming diverse brews from all over the world as well as learning more about the “craft” of craft beer and buying appropriate brewing supplies
- Wiener Wiesn Fest (Vienna Wiesn Festival): not a beer festival as such, but when I tell you this is the local equivalent of Munich’s Oktoberfest, then you’ll understand the relevance