14 January 2011

The last waltz

As I said on Monday, Vienna 2003 was an early, pre-blog beer hunting session of mine. I came away awed by 7 Stern, another of the city's many brewpubs. Its use of unusual ingredients inspired a love of odd beer recipes that I still have today. Last week I dropped in again, to test if the memory was as good as the reality in 2011, and to get some notes down on those beers.

First up it was Hanf, the hemp beer. A pale yellowish amber it's very light of texture and relatively low on fizz, designed to be refreshing. This it does wonderfully, with a lemon zing followed closely by sharp pepper. A real eye-opener, this: not so far-out that it stops being properly beery or anything, just a really interesting way to make flavoursome and thirst-quenching beer. Mrs Beer Nut went for the Winterbock, from the rotating seasonal bock list. It's a big-hitting warm-hearted affair, creamy and a little smoky as well.

My second beer was the Chilli, another I'd had before but couldn't really remember much about. It's a clear gold colour and looks like a totally innocent plain lager. Tastes like one too, except with about four or five drops of Tabasco in it. The flavour is all chilli, all burn and very little beer. This has been brewed purely for the endorphin rush and, despite the total lack of subtlety, I really enjoyed it. Last beer before moving on was their Bamberger Rauchbier. It's pretty clear they're going for Schlenkerla Märzen with this, and it's almost right on the money. It's just a bit fuller bodied than Schlenkerla and the strong smoke flavour has an almost greasy, cheesy ring to it. OK, that sounds horrible, but it is very tasty.

That was all we had time for. The less gimmicky beers will have to wait for my next visit. I still love 7 Stern, however.

I had much lesser expectations of 1516. We stumbled across it in 2003, on an evening when it was loud and crowded. We just about squeezed in by the door, the beer list was a grubby laminated sheet and I don't recall what we had, just that it was a bit boring. On our return visit we found the place much quieter and were able to give the beers -- six of them -- more considered appraisal.

Elb Weisse isn't actually brewed by the 1516 brewers at all. It's made on their kit by the Erste Linzer brewing company and is a light and pale weisse with lots of lovely fruit and spices: oranges for refreshment and cloves for a warming headiness. Next to it is a glass of Alt Bayrisch Dunkel, its standard measure being 40cl for some reason (strength, I'm guessing, but the menu doesn't give ABVs). If I were assigning styles I'd call it a doppelbock: it's very heavy with lots of burnt caramel. However, there's much more of a hop complexity than any German doppelbock I've tasted.

In fact, they're not at all afraid of the hop at 1516. Or, unusally for this part of the world, the three-letter A-word. Their Amarillo Single Variety Hop Pale Ale is not at all the kind of thing I'd expect to see on a beer menu in a German-speaking country, especially given the mostly-workmanlike performances at Salm and Wieden. But there it is, and it's lovely: that signature orangey Amarillo aroma. The taste is a little bit tinny: "grandad's spoons" said the wife. I got a similar sort of galvanic effect from BrewDog's 5am Saint, and this is along similar lines, though even more hop-forward. To back up the notion that someone with access to the 1516 brewkit is a defiantly unparochial beer fanatic, there was also a clone of Victory Brewing's Hop Devil. This is a big and quite sticky pale ale, this time loaded with Cascade for the zesty citric Americanised flavours. I don't really care how accurate an interpretation it is -- just that I loved drinking it.

To darker stuff, and the questionable decision to name their Irish-style stout Eejit. It's so-so, as a stout. The hopping levels are high, perhaps even as high as Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX, but it's a lighter beer so you're left with a sticky liquorice affair that doesn't really deliver in the dry roast department.

Our printed menu was in need of some updating, so there was no pumpkin ale to be had. Instead, a board above the bar advertised the enigmatic new seasonal Bo-Rye. I'm not a fan of the grassy flavour of rye in a beer, and thankfully this had next to none. Instead, this red-brown beer has oodles of fresh hops on the nose, balanced beautifully in the taste by soft dark malts for a fruit and nut chocolate bar effect. Sumptuous, and a high note on which to leave 1516, ready to promote it to my list of top-flight brewpubs.

And that's it all over bar the bits and pieces of miscellaneous beer I came across in Vienna. Some Ottakringer Dunkel passed my way briefly at one point: a dry and crunchy plain schwarzbier. And my last beer of the trip, with dinner before heading to the airport, was