Saturday, 28 November 2015

Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln - Salzburg

Salzburg in all its finery
My recent short break in Salzburg represented my third trip to this delightful and picturesque Austrian city. My first visit took place in late December 2006, at a time when I was very much in need of a break. I was six months into a new job, whilst at the same time trying to sell our Off-Licence business as a going concern. It was all getting a bit much, so when my wife suggested I get away for a few days, I jumped at the chance.

I’m not sure quite why I chose Salzburg, but my desire to escape to somewhere person-sized and with a touch of class about it undoubtedly influenced my decision. Whatever the reason though I was glad I selected Salzburg as my bolt-hole. The weather back then was cold and crisp and, part from a sprinkling of snow on our first full day in the city; it was pretty much the same this time around.

One place I was determined to visit on that first trip was Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln; a brewery attached to a monastery, not far from the centre of Salzburg where the beer is served straight out of wooden casks. Ron Pattinson’s excellent European Beer Guide website had first drawn my attention to this establishment; so on my first full day in the city, I set off to try it out.

Augustinerbräu does not open until 3pm during the week, so after a morning’s sight-seeing, followed by lunch in an establishment in the newer part of the town, I set off in the rapidly fading daylight and the increasingly cold air to find the place. It was a short walk from my hotel down to the river Salzach, which I crossed by means of a footbridge. It was then a case of following the road along the riverbank until the floodlit exterior of the monastery church, perched on the edge of the Monchsberg hill, came into view.

Entrance to the Bräustübl
The entrance to the Augustinerbräu Bräustübl is through a large wooden door, where a long tiled passage leads to a further door behind which a flight of steep stone steps leads down into the heart of the establishment. The first thing I noticed was the half dozen or so kiosks where customers can purchase a variety of hot or cold food to accompany the beer. Alternatively you can bring in your own picnic, as many of the locals do.

There are three large, cavernous beer halls, plus a number of smaller, more intimate rooms that are available for private hire. For the summer months there is a large, shaded beer garden to the rear. The main attraction is of course the beer and as mentioned before it is served direct from large wooden casks. A full-bodied lager, known as Märzen  with an ABV of 4.6%  is brewed all year round, whilst from November through to Christmas a stronger Weinachtsbock (Christmas Bock) at 6.5% ABV is produced.

Unfortunately, despite visiting the day after Boxing Day, the entire stock of the festive beer had sold out, so I never got the chance to sample it. The well hopped, malty and satisfying Märzen though more than made up for it. As the beer is served straight from a wooden cask there is no excess gas to bloat one’s stomach, and the beer slips down a treat!
Grab a bite to eat from one of the kiosks

I quickly sussed out the ritual necessary to obtain a beer. There is a serving area just round the corner from the end of the food kiosk corridor. Here you help yourself to a stoneware mug (litre or half litre) from the dozens laid out on a series of wooden shelves. You then rinse the mug at the ornate marble fountain before queuing up and paying the person sitting behind a glass screen. In exchange for your money you are given a ticket, which you then hand to the man dispensing the beer. He takes your ticket, fills your mug with beer and then slides it back over to you across a perforated metal counter.

Grab a mug

You then wander off and find a seat in which ever beer hall takes your fancy. When you want a refill you simply take your mug back to the central kiosk, pausing perhaps to rinse it clean at the fountain, before repeating the process.

I tried all three different beer halls during the two visits I made to the Augustinerbräu Bräustübl on that first trip, but preferred the non-smoking one to the left of the serving area. As it was still relatively early in the evening there were plenty of wooden tables to sit at. What I especially liked was that Augustinerbräu appeared popular with people from all walks of life and also from all age groups. Groups of young people were just as eagerly getting suck into their mugs of beer as their older counterparts. When I left, after more than a few mugs of beer myself, I witnessed no signs of trouble.

Rinse your mug
Some eight months later, I found myself back at to Augustinerbräu; this time accompanied by my son and at the height of summer. On that occasion we sat outside in the shady beer garden at the rear of the establishment. The beer was now being served from one of a number of hatches (the others were dedicated to serving food). The same ritual of selecting and rinsing your mug still applied though. The place was packed, but we managed to squeeze around one of the tables, and sat there, under the shade of the chestnut trees, enjoying our beer. Matt was only just old enough to drink at the time (16 years is the legal age in Austria), but he enjoyed the beer every bit as much as I did.

Fast forward eight years to last week’s trip, and I’m pleased to report to Augustinerbräu Bräustübl  is every bit as good as I remember it; in fact I’d say it was even better than I recall. My wife, son and I arrived shortly after the 3pm opening time, having caught the bus up from the Old Town. As we walked along the corridor and then descended the steps to the corridor where the food kiosks are situated, everything came flooding back

My favourite of the three halls
We settled on the furthest hall; the one past the serving area. This hall allows smoking, much to my wife’s approval. It was fairly empty, so we grabbed a table, but before I had the chance to go and get some beers, a waiter appeared and asked what we would like to drink. I was slightly disappointed to be missing the self-service bit, but it seemed churlish to send him away. I ordered a beer each for Matt and I (Märzen), plus a lemonade for Eileen, and we settled down to enjoy the whole monastery brewery experience.

It was whilst we were sitting there conversing, that Eileen’s confusion became apparent. For some unknown reason she had thought I was taking her to the abbey where the opening scenes of the Sound of Music were filmed. She seemed far less impressed that I had brought her to a beer hall; albeit one of the finest and one with definite spiritual connections. I thought I had made the nature of our current location abundantly clear, but obviously not. Fortunately, the opportunity to enjoy a cigarette indoors in the warm won the day and we started laughing about the mix-up.

Weinachts Bock at last!
A small “A”- fold sign on our table advertised the presence of the Bock Bier; something I‘d already ascertained by the sight in the serving area of a smaller wooden cask alongside the larger one. This time I went for the self-service option, and ordered myself a mug of the Weinachts Bock.

The beer was everything I expected and more, being rich, malty and strong enough to taste the alcohol. In short, it was excellent. I was tempted to go for another, but thought I might be pushing my luck. I settled for another Märzen instead. During the hour or so we were there, the hall had really begun to fill up; such is the popularity of the Augustinerbräu Bräustübl.

It was dark when we left, and the gods must truly have been shinning on us that day as, when we reached the bus stop, I noticed a No. 27 bus was due along shortly, and this would take us directly back to where our hotel was situated, adjacent to the main railway station.

Märzen on the left; Bockbier on the right
I managed a second visit to Augustinerbräu, but this time I went alone. This was on the afternoon of our last day in Salzburg, and having done the majority of our packing, I remarked to the family that I fancied a wander into the town for a last minute look around. Neither my wife nor my son were keen on accompanying me, so I set off set of on my own. Eileen gave me that knowing look as if to say “I know where you’re going”.

She was right of course, and after a short bus ride along to Mirabellplatz, I crossed the river, by means of a footbridge, and arrived in the Alt Stadt. I was a bit early for opening time at Augustinerbräu, so I had a quick look round before heading up in the direction of the monastery. I arrived at a similar time to the previous day, but before grabbing a beer ordered a Schnitzel roll from one of the food counters. I then obtained a mug of the Weinachts Bock and took myself into the beer hall to the left of the serving area. This was the one I preferred from my first visit back in 2006.

The main entrance for those walking up from the city
It was already quite busy, but I found a seat ok and sat down to enjoy my food and my drink. One thing I noticed was the large number of signs on the wall, stipulating that many of the tables were Stammtisches. These are tables reserved for groups of regulars but, as the signs indicated, most were only reserved on specific days or at specific times. For example, one such Stammtisch was for a pensioners’ group which met at 19.00 on the first Thursday of the month. This meant that at other times, the table was available for other customers to use.

I liked this aspect, and also the rows of coat pegs hanging up along the walls. This is another welcome tradition in the German-speaking world, and it prevents people hogging a disproportional amount of space by spreading their coats along the benches or over the chairs. I was very tempted to have another Weinachts Bock, but I wasn’t quite sure how strong it was. (I later found out it was 6.5%). I opted for a Märzen instead, and before leaving I enquired about the availability of bottles to take away.

I discovered they were only sold in packs of six; an amount which would have put my baggage weight allowance over the rather paltry 15 kg allowed by Ryanair, but the helpful man at the cash desk told me there was a shop across the road at the back of the brewery which stocked Augustinerbräu bottles.

Not exactly small beer - the impressive brew-house.
I left by the back door, pausing to look at the beer garden which stripped of its tables for the winter, looked rather bare and forlorn. I also saw the impressive brew-house at the rear of the Bräustübl, and was surprised by the sheer size of it. Brewing at this monastery is certainly no small beer!

I found the shop alright, but they only had bottles of Märzen available, and no Bockbier. I bought one anyway, and then made my way back to our hotel on foot. My route was the same one I’d taken back in 2006, and despite stopping on a number of occasions to take photos, I was back with the family within half an hour.

If you ever go to Salzburg, whether for business or pleasure,  a visit to Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln is a must. Not only is the Bräustübl tavern the largest in Austria, it is also one of the finest and most traditional beer halls anywhere in the world!


Ron Pattinson said...

One of my favourite places in the world. I could happily spend the rest of my life in the beer garden.

Paul Bailey said...

I too would be quite happy to spend the rest of my days drinking at Augustinerbräu, but I would definitely want to be inside during the winter months!