It is too bad that the bus didn't stop at least once for pictures on the way to Austria because the views were beautiful. Lakes, trees and the Alps speckled with country homes on the hillsides, never got a picture except in my mind.
The Austrian portion of the study tour began in Salzburg at a large brewery called Stiegl. 350hl batches probably is as big as any of the AB or Miller plants in the US. This brewery was only a few years old from being updated and looked great! They also had a very large gift shop and biergarten which we all thoroghly enjoyed. Stiegl also claimed to have a brewery inside a brewery, because they had about a 5hl working pilot brewery that was located inside their museum. We couldn't spend much time in the musuem becuase of the schedule, but it was really well put together like the Field Museum in Chicago for instance. (see pic of mural with hops) Lunch and biers in the biergarten, of course.
We then headed across town to the Austrian Augustiner brewery (not be confused with the one in Munich). This is still owned by the monks from a different monestary and will 100 years old next year. They are still using the same equipment that they used 100 years ago, and plan to completely update and renovate for their centennial celebration. They gave us each a stein to take home and even though their beer was direct-fired and still cooled in coolships (see pic), I loved their maerzen, simply fantastic! What also was amazing was that they still use primarly wood barrels for serving their beers (an empty barrel weighs around 100lbs). Their biergarten was very old and had huge Chestnut trees (which I found out is the traditional biergarten tree) and was setup with food vendors along the perimeter where you had to pay separately at each place to get your food/beer. We had free beer but the food wasn't. A few of the guys bought and shared a steckerlfisch (grilled whole fish on a stick) they said it tasted awesome.
After checking into our hotel, we got back on the bus and headed to Gusswerks brewpub north of Salzburg....a little taste of American Brewpubbery. (I should point out that our first brewery that we visited this day was over 500 years old, the 2nd was 100 years old and this brewpub was exactly 5 years old....nifty) An entreprenuer, from Austria but studied in Ireland, started this brewpub using borrowed money from friends and built it from the ground up. He had several lagers but also some ales including.....a stout! They served us pizza appetizers and some amazing bbq ribs and semmelknodel (bread dumplings). Not surprisingly, we craftbrewer-types had 5-10 times more questions for our host compared to the big breweries that we visited, this hit close to home. Afterwards, Michael arranged for 5 cabs to bring us all home. As we were waiting I wandered around the grounds and found an art gallery that was still open at 11:30PM and looked around. The art didn't impress me as much as this motion-sensing projector that was mounted on the ceiling and pointed to the ground. I saw very realistic koi fish swimming around, when I walked onto the projection, I heard water noises and noticed the waves in front of my feed....the fish also reacted to me by swimming in the opposite direction. COOL! there was also popcorn popping and coffeebeans as well, but the fish were my fav. (This video shows something similar, but my fish were more responsive.)
The next morning we visited another very old brewery called Eggenberg...the brewery/castle burned down in the 1800's and was rebuilt again. This brewery is famous for one of the highest alcohol lagers called Samichlaus. The buildings were very cool and we ended in the upper room full of deer antlers as well as boar tusks and ram horns (see pic), also the best freshmade brezen I have ever had served alongside their beers. I didn't care for their other biers that much, but the 14% Samichlaus tasted great, as always (very dangerous beer because you can hardly taste the alcohol, too smooth).
We then traveled to Hopstetten brewery that was quite old, but has thwarted tradition in exchange for innovation and creative beers (still mostly lagers...give them a break for trying) They still used a huge leatherbelt driven grainmill and used the old copper kettles (as did most of the old breweries in Austria). Their main claim to fame is their steinbier. Since they are located in a region that mines a lot of granite, they have open fermentors and a lot of other things around the brewery made from huge blocks of granite. (see pic of me in garden watering tank, the fermentors were taller and wider than this, but not as long) In addition to primary fermenting their beers in stone, they also would heat up smaller stones on the fire and put them in the fermenting beer so that caramel flavors and colors would be imparted, these rocks sat on the bottom during the whole fermentation. Most Austrian breweries served an unfiltered lager called a zwickelbier and Hopstetten called theirs kubelbier ("bucket beer" because the owner's dad used to serve guests at parties by running down in the cellar and pull a bucket of beer from the zwickel tap for immediate consumption.) We tried the same. We also tried their maerzen (called "wedding beer" for the American market), a honey lager made with 25% honey (there is a large honey maker in the area), a honey bock and a barleywine. These all tasted fantastic.
We then headed to a town called Schlagl where there is also a large monestary that brews beer (the only brewing monestary still left in Austria). Half of us stayed at the monestary that night and I stayed with the other half in Schiffner's Gasthaus. This guy named Schiffner opened a bed, breakfast, restaurant and beer bar and employs his whole family. He is a professional beer sommelier (or "cicerone" in the US). They prepared a five-course dinner (each course is served with a different beer, see pic of menu) for us which was followed by a rare treat. There was a lot of "weird" stuff on my plate, but I tried everything and actually loved everything, it was so amazing. I have done two other 3-course beer dinners before, but these were served for 1000 guests and didn't have the extra care that was provided for our 40 person meal. I enjoyed all the food and the beers by themselves, but wasn't convinced that each pairing was better than the parts, not that I cared. After dinner the owner from Eggenberg brought us a 3liter bottle of 3 year old oak-aged Samichlaus. The beer held up wonderfully. Many people stayed up until dawn partying with the Eggenberg guy since he was bringing out more bottles of crazy beers like Brewdog's Sink the Bismark. I was still recovering from a bad cough and went straight to bed. If I was feeling a little better, I would have endulged in some of Schniffner's 150 beer selection from around the world.
The next morning we actually just walked down to the Schlagl brewery at the monestary and had another tour. Most notable about Schlagl was that they used a kettle and lauter tun that were square and painted blue from the outside....I'm not sure what they were lined with on the inside, I sure hope it wasn't blue paint. Even though they weren't that big, they were the only brewery that we visited that had a CO2 recovery system (see pic of buffer balloon). Large places like Steigl might have had one, but it wasn't pointed out to us. Something else that was unique is that many of the breweries had water treatment before sending the treated water down the drain to the city, but in the US, we like to brag about our "green" efforts whereas the Germans/Austrians just do it as a way of life and try not to draw attention to the "waste" portions of the breweries. Afterwards we went into their restaurant cellar where they had about 10 large wooden fermentors that they cut open and put dining tables inside. (see fuzzy, poorly lit photo that shows about 6 of us in one)
The last stop of the tour we actually headed back to Germany and on our way to Munich we stopped at Flottweg where they make centrifuges another other "separation technology." This company was SOOO excited to have us visit, they were giving us things and food and taking our pictures and kept reminding us how honored they were to have us visit. This was very perplexing to me because I tried to explain to the sales rep (btw, I think Austrians know better English than the Germans do) that since all of their equipment will only provide a payback after the brewery is over 100 barrels/batch, that we probably wouldn't be purchasing their products, albeit them very cool. He didn't seem to mind and they just wanted us to know about them and what they could do.
Most of the group was heading to Fruehlingfest at the Theresienweise (Oktoberfest grounds) but I had arranged another stay and didn't really want to go out anyways. Stina's parents, Clary and Rolfe Persson, live south of Munich and a few towns north of Aying in Hohenkirchen. They were both so hospitable. Clary did a load of laundry for me, let me call my wife, made supper, gave me biers and then next day offered to drive me to the airport. After supper we sat around the dinner table for about 6 hours just sharing each others company, I really enjoyed learning more about Germany, they even taught me Str8ts (a number puzzle like Sudoku). They can also see the alps from their town and were trying to describe a strong wind that they experience called a fohn. I didn't quite understand until I wiki'd it and the American spelling helped jog my memory. I will actually be experiencing similar fohn in Denver but on the east side of the Rockys they are called Chinook winds instead. Two interesting things they told me about the Alps fohn is that (a) they will have red sand in the air that they have traced comes from the Sahara desert and (b) the effects of the wind will seemingly magnify the Alps so close you think you can touch them (about 60-100km away in reality). I wish I could experience that because they said it isn't wavy like heat on the road, but crystal clear. Temperature swings of 30C hotter and then 30C colder in the matter of hours commonly give people headaches too, apparently.
The next morning Clary suggested that we go for a bike ride to Aying, which is about 8km south. Beautiful day and good suggestion. We stopped at the Leibhards biergarten again for one last German lager, and it was fantastic like Ayinger beers tend to be when fresh. When we got back we loaded up the car and head to the airport. Uneventful car and plane ride on Saturday, and unevent train and bus ride (Chicago to DSM) on Sunday.
Well, that's my brewery school summed up in 13 (sometimes long) blog posts. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as enjoyed the emails and comments. Jay might have me check back with a guest post in the future, but I am intending to keep this up on my wife/family's blog for at least the short term. The only future plans that I have right at the moment is to move out to Denver to join the rest of my immediate family (who has already stormed 2 weeks without me.) I'll then begin my search for a brewery position...here's to successful job hunting and putting my diploma to use.
[raises glass] Prost!