It had been nearly eight years since I was last in Vienna. The advent of global news TV channels means most of my holidays can now be dated by world events so I know it was the week the Iraq War started, and we spent a frantic five days trying to cram in the multitudinous art and history of the city before realising it couldn't be done. We left knowing we'd be back eventually. There was beer too. In 2003 I was already a seeker after new and interesting beers and pubs, but like with Vienna's art museums, its many brewpubs can't be done justice in only a few days. My return visit just before New Year meant the opportunity to see a little bit more of what the city has to offer. We stayed on Rennweg, near the Belvedere, so we got to visit the gallery there (I'm a big Klimt fan, but the The Kiss is just rubbish, sorry). And at the Belvedere's gates, a brewpub I'd never been to before either: Salm.
You already know Salm. If you're in the habit of visiting brewpubs in Europe, and plenty of places beyond, you'll probably have seen a Salm brewkit, glowing in burnished copper, somewhere inside. So confident are they in their equipment that they run this restaurant and bar in Vienna with some fairly solid Austrian beers to go with the food. So there's a Salm Helles, of course: a workmanlike, slightly grainy, slightly hazy, brewpub lager with just some added sweetness to show it's not a pils. The Pils itself is also cloudy and is all about the bitterness -- a gentle, and most unTeutonic citric orange flavour comes through, but not much else. Salm Weizen is one of the most flavourful beers on offer. It exhibits huge banana flavour and aroma with just a lovely bitter kick giving it some extra character. With the Märzen we're back on duller ground: hazy again and lacking in any real flavour, just a bit of grain, a little grass and maybe a hint of brown sugar towards the end. The only nod to a seasonal is the sometimes-brewed-sometimes-not Salm Bohemian. I'm guessing it's designed to be an old-fashioned dark lager but it's beautifully ale-y, like a porter almost: chestnut-red with bourbon creams and lavender-water.
One thing you may not have noticed on Salm kits elsewhere (and thanks to Séan for sending me to look for it) is this bit of steampunk on the side. It is, of course, a fractionating column for distillation -- the schnapsbrennern. And naturally they have the produce on the menu. Though they make big claims for their award-winning whiskey I opted for a shot of the bierbrand. This clear spirit is pungent stuff and slightly oily, like the mid-way point between vodka and jenever. I'm afraid I can't offer much by way of tasting notes other than "greasy booze" so make of that what you will. And maybe have the whiskey instead.
A few streets west sits Wieden Bräu, a rambling brewpub with a lengthy food menu, a range of taps, but only four beers available. Wieden Bräu Helles started out as another yellow lager yawnfest but quickly started to show some backbone in the form of a zesty lemon zing plus a little bit of green nettle. Clean, refreshing and easy, just as a helles should be. The Märzen was far duller: dry and lacking any of the body or flavour I'd have expected from the style. Aren't the little 30cl siedl glasses cute, though?
A little like the dark beer at Salm, Wieden Bräu Dunkles was a superb porter-like concoction with lots of really tasty coffee-and-cream flavours. Mrs Beer Nut detected a touch of marker pen about it so wasn't much of a fan of this beer which, I'm guessing, was fermented a little warmer than the yeast was entirely happy with. Worked for me, though.
The fourth beer is an ever-changing special and on my visit it was Whisky. I don't know what they did to this -- added flavouring would be my guess -- but thankfully they didn't do enough to ruin it. Though a dark amber in colour, it's much more what I'd consider to be a märzen in flavour and texture terms, being full-bodied, quite sweet, and bready. The "whisky" addition is a slight bit of smokiness and perhaps some essence of oak, but it's a gentle dusting of these and the end result, at a reasonable 5.5% ABV, is something definitely off-kilter but not quite full-on weird.
And so we leave Vienna for the moment and strike eastwards. But there's more Viennese brewpubs, all with the de rigeur brewing-copper-shaped light-fittings, to come later this week.