Beer matters

The cold days are coming and, as every year, Vienna is getting prepared to warm up its inhabitants and guests with a variety of events and festivals. What does it make you think about? That could be… walking on the street with a mug of hot wine!? Sure, but this year, and for the first time, there will be a new festival to celebrate great traditions and craft innovations.

The Vienna Beer Week will take place in the most genuine pubs and breweries from the 16th to the 22th of November. We will give you the highlights of this festival, where you can meet people who talk about beer like you would talk about wine. But to really enjoy it, it helps to get first a better comprehension of Austrian beer culture. We took the chance!

Vienna Beer Week

Finest craft beers (c) Marlene Mautner

A random meeting in the street – us walking from the grocery store to our flat, him on his way to do his job in a pub nearby – made it happen. Anna went to the Bierpapst (beer pope) Conrad Seidl and took his contact information. We met him a few weeks later in Hawidere for an interview. We had the opportunity to ask him all the questions that were bugging us for quite a long time. We also got for #openschoool an original recording called “speakout”, a speech of 5 minutes in which the pope of beer explains why beer matters. Finally his wife Viktoria joined us to share a couple of beers.

Adrien: Why did you pick this beer, the Domrep Pils? [Note: This is the house beer in Hawidere and a Collabs Brewery production. Collabs Brewery is a label designating a collaborative brewing process between Hawidere and one or more breweries, to brew genuine and innovative craft beers.]

Conrad: The story behind this beer is that at this particular place, Dominique [Note: the manager of Hawidere] wanted to have her own beer. She decided to brew that beer in collaboration with Bierol, a small brewery in Tirol. She wanted to have a Pils that is unique, using strange kinds of hops that you usually don’t find in a Pilsner beer. So you get this fruity and maybe raisin aroma on the nose. Color wise, it’s a golden beer, it has a nice white head and a good clean. The clean is when the foam sticks to the glass, and you can tell by examining your glass from where the last sip has been taken – that’s typical for a Pilsner. So this is a very fruity interpretation of the Pilsner style, very dry in the after taste. It has a little, malt body that balances the bitterness. It’s really a hoppy beer, and if it’s hoppy without the body that’s not easy to drink, that’s really for the experts. But this one is fairly balanced, Austrian brewed, and it’s from the lady who served us the beer. That’s why I like it.

Adrien: How many words exist in the English or German languages to describe beer?

If this beer was a human being, what kind of person would that be?

Conrad: The number of words largely depends on the beer itself, and of the fantasy that it raises. If you have a very inspiring beer you can think of a person. You taste the beer and it has so much personality… If this beer was a human being, what kind of person would that be? There’s an endless amount of words, because we can use an endless amount of words to describe people. Although I know that many people have a set of 1000-1200 words they use in everyday language, being a journalist you tend to use more. There’s so much you can think of, like all the fruits that you find in some beers, although it’s not actually a fruit. It’s just the imagination of the fruit, it’s the aroma of the fruit. Maybe there’s something in the after taste, and you would ask yourself: Is this passion fruit? Is this mango? Pineapple? Or is it just banana? Peach? Apricot? You can think of all the fruits in some of the beers, but not all of the fruits in all beers, and I’m happy some beers have no fruitiness and some that have a lot. Some are very sweet, some very bold, others are just dry and pleasant to drink.


The beer pope and one faithful (cc) dieKulturvermittlung

Adrien: Does this variety, this diversity that you describe here also exist in Austrian beers?

I sort of encouraged people to brew interesting beers and promised I will drink them up if they could not sell them.

Conrad: Diversity in beer styles has exploded in recent years. We did not have this much diversity around the world even 40 years ago. At that time, beer drinking was not very interesting. There were some small niches, maybe in Germany, Belgium and British beers. In Czech Republic, there was hardly any interesting beer except the well known Pilsner style. Now they have maybe 50 breweries that are brewing American ales. We see this American beer revolution coming to Europe in the last 8-10 years, definitely to Austria in the last 15 years. And I played a small part in this because I sort of encouraged people to brew interesting beers and promised I will drink them up if they could not sell them. But they can sell lots of this stuff.

Adrien: If I had to select my top country for beers, I would go for Belgium, maybe some would say England, or USA, Germany… But in Austria, it appears that beer culture is associated to quantity more than quality. Is your work also about to show that it’s both?

Conrad: Of course, part of my work is to showcase good beers, interesting beers, wherever they may come. May they come from Tirol, or from small breweries in Belgium or somewhere else. It is quite difficult to establish a new beer culture – and radically different beers – in a country who already has one. And in Austria, we do have an established beer culture. If you went to this place 5 years ago, they had maybe four beers on tap and people knew that they got good quality from these four beers. But that was it. Then they radically changed the whole concept and put a long list of craft beers on their menu. This happened not only here but in hundreds of pubs. On the other hand, that’s difficult in a country where 29% of Austrian beer drinkers would never ever drink another beer than that one brand they are used to drinking. Those customers are loyal to one brand. They are happy with what they’re having. That’s not a bad issue, they just have found their beer. It’s like marriage, some people are married to their brands, they would never consume other beers then the one they are used too, as they will never buy clothes from one particular brand because they have been buying another brand for decades….  The brand manager want to see this brand loyalty. I want to see diversity. I want to see different things. Many people don’t even like this traditional beer culture, for them it’s just an offer. They don’t want to try something else. But some want to try something else and they do.

Adrien: Is it true that Austria is the country with the highest amount of breweries per inhabitant?

Conrad: At the moment, I think it is Switzerland. They are 8 million inhabitants and about 500 breweries now. But that only happened in the last 2 or 3 years. Austria is 8 million with 200 breweries. What we have is the second highest per capita consumption of beer. I think we have 106 liters per head, which is a good per capita consumption, seconded only to the Czech Republic.

Adrien: The first time I saw your picture, and how I got to know about you, was when I saw these awards given by you in a bar. Do you do this every year?

Conrad: Yes, we do a beer guide every year. We try to find those bars that I love to recommend. We award them from 1 to 5 glasses. 1 would be for a nice place to drink. 2 would pay to make a small detour. 3 would be something more or less significant, you haven’t have been to that town if you haven’t been to that place, like the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. You haven’t been in Munich if you haven’t been at the Hofbräuhaus at least once. 4 would mean that’s a place you haven’t been to the country if you haven’t been there. You should really go to those that have 4. In Austria, that’s only maybe 50 or 60 out of 1200. The highest category, 5, these are world class. It doesn’t need to be a very posh or neat bar. If you think of the Tornado in San Francisco… that’s a bar the first time I didn’t even dare to go in because there was so many Harley Davidson motorcycles parked outside. I thought “Well, this is a rockers’ bar, don’t go in there”, because I don’t want to cause trouble. Then I was convinced to go there and learned these are all friendly people, they love to have the choice of beers they have. It’s a wonderful bar. I don’t think that you can find it in a San Francisco travel guide – or maybe in the Lonely Planet. But generally speaking, these are the bars that are really interesting to know, because they are the drivers for that what we understand as the new beer culture.

Adrien: So there’s no competition, it’s a year-long process?

I have to admit, it’s a fair amount of beer I’m drinking.

Conrad: I try to visit as many bars as I can but I cannot visit 1200 every year. But it’s a fair amount that I’m visiting and I have to admit, it’s a fair amount of beer I’m drinking.

Anna: In your opinion, what’s the best bar in Vienna?

Conrad: There are several that have 5 glasses, but it depends what you want. I think Känguruh has one of the best Belgium beer lists in the world. There are not many places that have so many different Belgium beers. On the other hand, the 1516 Brewing Company brew a variety of beers, and if they hear about new styles or get some ideas, they just try to brew them and most of the time it will be a very unique and very good beer. The Hawidere I love because they have changed so much. I knew them when they were just a neighborhood bar, and now they are one of the focuses of Vienna beer scene.


The Hawidere pub from the outside (cc) dieKulturvermittlung

Anna: So you would recommend these three bars to beer lovers that spend only one day in Vienna and want to try the best?

Conrad: If you’re only here for one day, start at 1516 Brewing Company at 11 when they open, so you can have a few beers and lunch there, then maybe take a walk over Naschmarkt and end in Hawidere for some early evening drinking and maybe some snacks. They have a lot of burgers and recommendations for them at the beer pairings. Then I would head to the Känguruh for some Belgian moods.

Adrien: Are you involved in some other beer projects beside the Beer Guide and the Beer Weekly?

Conrad: I do my Beer Weekly videos, I do my Beer Guide, I write for several other publications like Der Getränkefachgroßhandel or Craft Magazine in Germany. From time to time I write also for a beer magazine in America. There’s a lot of publications and when they want something special, they have my email.

Anna: You’re writing in German and English. Why is your English level so good?

Conrad: I worked for the United Nations when I was young, more specifically for the AIEA. I was in IT when I was young… I was cool! At that time the Internet didn’t exist, it was on punched cards. And of course I spent a lot of time in America, sampling beers, judging beers. Just today, a new video appeared on the Internet promoting the World Beer Cup in 2016, and they got my picture on this!

Adrien: For Vienna Beer week, you are organizing a tour in the old-timer tramway in collaboraton with Hawidere…

Conrad: I just agreed to be the special guest but I’m not organizing. I’m happy to hold a speech somewhere, I’m happy to give seminars but we don’t have the time to do any organizational work.

Adrien: And you will present there two beers, is this one that we are drinking also part of the two or will it be something completely new?

Conrad: I think that it will be a new collaboration with an English brewery and one from Carinthia.

Adrien: Have you already brewed your own beer?

I’m a beer critic, and I don’t sing operas too, I just drink my beer.

Conrad: No, I think this is one of the key things, that a journalist should never ever produce the things he is writing about. I’ve seen so many political writers who’ve gone from journalism to politics, and they all failed… It’s different to write about something and to do something. And you loose your objective view on things. You tend to love your own child more than the others. I’ll compare it to opera critics. An opera critic doesn’t ignore that he has a clear voice and that he can sing his arias at the best level, but he should never put himself on stage and try to sing for himself. You don’t do that. So I’m a beer critic, and I don’t sing operas too, I just drink my beer.

Adrien: You enter a bar and discover that they ran out of beer… what do you do? Do you take some wine? Whiskey? Do you turn around?

Conrad: If they don’t have beer, I hope there’s another bar on the corner. If I’m really thirsty I might order a glass of water but there’s no other drinks that would make me stay.

The three of us: Thank you, cheers! (Adrien and Anna, dieKulturvermittlung, 29.10.2015)


Conrad, Viktoria, Anna and Adrien inside the Hawidere pub (cc) dieKulturvermittlung


Speakout from Bierpapst Conrad Seidl: “Why beer matters”

Talk about beer history and beer revolution.


Conrad Seidl is an Austrian writer and journalist specialized on beer and politics. He is mostly known as the Bierpapst and for his articles in derStandard.


Highlights of the Vienna Beer Week:

• Eröffnungsveranstaltung mit großem Bierquiz und der Auszeichnung der besten gewerblichen Brauereien der Austria Beer Challenge in Brandauers Schlossbräu (16.11.2015, ab 19.00 Uhr)
• Erstmalige Verkostung des Wiener Lager der Schwechater Brauerei im Brauhaus mit Lesung über die Wiener Brauherren (19.11.2015, um 19.00 Uhr)
• Exklusive Kellerführung unter der Ottakringer Brauerei mit Blindverkostungen
• Bier & Wurst – Pilsner Urquell Wurstworkshops (17.–19.11.2015)
• Innovation in Kulinarik – Foodpairing mit drei Brauereien und deren Braumeistern im Lichtenthaler Bräu (18.11.2015, um 18.00 Uhr)
• Launch Party Xaver Altbier im Chelsea (18.11.2015, um 19.00 Uhr)
• Ringstraßen Bier Release – Präsentation eines neuen Collaboration Brews in einer Oldtimer-Tramway mit Bierpapst Conrad Seidl und Livemusik sowie Afterparty im Hawidere (19.11.2015, ab 18.00 Uhr)
• Craft Bier Fest Wien mit Kleinbrauerausstellung in der ehemaligen Expedithalle der Ankerbrotfabrik (20.–21.11.2015, 15.00–23.00 Uhr)
• Brautag in der Wiener Bier Brauerei von Erwin Gegenbauer als BIORAMA Lesersafari (22.11.2015, 11.00–16.00 Uhr)

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