Getting to Grips with Austrian Beer Garden Culture Andy Montgomery | Posted: 12 February 2016
Beer garden in Salzburg

I have a confession: before my trip to Austria last June, I had never been a fan of real ale.

I put this flaw in my character down to being born and bred in Stockport, a town with a proud tradition of ale brewing in the form of Robinsons (or Robbies as it's known locally) which has been brewing premium ales since 1849.

There are two reasons why Robbies never got my devotion. Firstly I worked the other side of the cobbled street from the brewery for five years, years filled with the sickly smell of roasting hops. Secondly, their Robinsons Bitter smelt to me like a stink bomb in a glass. What it tasted like, I haven’t the faintest idea, I never got it past my nose.

Food stalls at Augustiner Brau, Salzburg

Arriving into the beautiful city of Salzburg, I thought it was high time I put my distaste for all things hoppy and malty behind me and headed to the famous Augustiner Bräu Beer Gardens to see what all this real ale fuss was about.

Brewing beer since 1621, Augustiner is Salzburg's largest brewery with vast indoor and outdoor seating areas. Walking through the cloisters that led from the side door entrance, following a group of people we hoped were heading in our direction, we found ourselves in  a sort of beer drinkers' Nirvana. Counter after counter of food outlets lined the corridors, their displays of hot specialities causing havoc with my attention and leaving us cursing ourselves for having eaten before we got here.

Andy samples a beer

We could have chosen spare ribs, sausages, Schnitzel, pies, black puddings, meatloaf, roast chicken, roast pork, grilled fish, potato wedges or dumplings to accompany us to a table. Or we might have opted for cold cuts, coleslaw, pretzels, pickles, freshly made bread, cream filled pastries, speciality cheeses or any combo of all of the above.

Heading down steps and through a nearly empty dining hall, we emerged into the dappled sunlight of the beer garden to discover exactly where most of Salzburg's population appeared to be. Beneath a canopy of chestnut trees, tables and chairs stretched as far as the eye could see, their occupants chatting loudly, drinking enthusiastically and tucking into a feast of food.

Radish shavings

But first things first, where was the beer? We spotted two people emerging from the building with steins filled to the brim with frothy beer, and headed in the direction from which they had emerged.

A quick peruse of the set-up and we were pretty sure we knew how this thing worked.

First you go to the man on the till who sits in a small alcove beneath the stairs. There you hand over your money, €6 for a litre, €3 for half a litre and get two tickets in exchange. Next, you grab your stoneware stein from a cupboard full of these lovely, simple yet elegant vessels (I was waxing lyrical about them by the time I'd sunk my second half) and head to the main man.

Street art

Like a bartender in a Western movie, the beer man took our steins and filled them from one of the wooden barrels at his elbow before sliding them along the bronze counter with the precision of years of practice.

For a moment, I envied him his job and yearned to have a go. Instead, we headed outside, found an empty table and took our first taste of Märzen beer.

Meine Güte! How many years have I wasted without this heavenly liquid in my life?! Sweet amber heaven kept chilled from first sip to last by that stoneware stein and slipping down the throat as easily as a butterfly floats on a summer breeze. I felt the poet in me rising to the fore.

Beer garden at Augustiner Brau, Salzburg

I later learned that you should rinse the stein in the water fountain alongside the till before getting it filled but that really is taking perfection to obsession stage.

As we drank, and chatted, and drank some more, I noticed that virtually every table around us had what looked like a plate of prawn crackers amongst its epicurean delights, even those who had brought a packed lunch rather than avail themselves of the on-site selections. After seeing more and more of these plates being carried from hall to garden, curiosity got the better of me and I went in search of whatever this eminently popular snack was. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I would never had guessed the correct identity of the mysterious white food.

Beautiful Salzburg

At the only counter with a queue, a woman was shaving thin layers off a giant white radish which was slowly revolving on a stick, kebab style. A generous sprinkling of salt, an exchange of €1.90, and the plate of radish was on its way to join the ranks of its peers. Naturally, I bought a tray and returned to my beer, excited about the prospect of discovering another new taste sensation. Excitement turned to hesitation as the radish came within smell distance and was found to have an odour not dissimilar to Robinsons Bitter. Hesitation turned to disgust when I discovered it had a taste to match.

Though none can compare with the sweet savour of Märzen, real ale has now become a part of my life. Robinsons bitter and radish shavings have not.

Related Holidays & Further Information

Enjoy a beer in Salzburg

After a walking or cycling holiday in Austria, why not add a stay in the captivating city of Salzburg? Apart from ornate buildings, elegant squares and elaborate fountains, this is Mozart’s city of birth, and there's a busy calendar of concerts and recitals throughout the year, the centrepiece of which is the annual Salzburg Festival. The cuisine is rich and sumptuous, and the beer hard to beat...

More about our city extension to Salzburg >

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