The Austro-Bavarian Beerlands

Schaerding is definitely worth a visit. It’s 12 minutes on the train from Passau, or a nice 15km bike ride along the banks of the Inn. It claims to be Austria’s prettiest baroque town. As it’s the only Austrian town we’ve ever been to, we can’t confirm the superlative, but it’s certainly pretty.

There are two breweries in town, handily located opposite each other on the way into town from the station. As in Bamberg, the air was heavy with the smells of brewing: first, malt and then the exact green, tea-like smell you get when you dump hops into the boil. This boded well.

We sampled Baumgartner in the hilariously named Wirtshaus zur Bums’n, apparently a staple of the local Good Beer Guide. We started on the zwickl, which seemed to be the only beer advertised, and it was a stunner — really bitter with a very subtle sourness.  We asked what else they had, and in the babble of Austrian German that followed we discerned “the normal maerzen and dunkles”. Both were extremely good. The maerzen was heady and sweet, and the dark actually tasted dark (as opposed to tasting like the helles with brown food colouring in it, as with so many). It was like treacle, in the best sense.

Then onto Kapsreiter. First up, hearty “landbier” helles and dunkles. The helles was almost chewable — sourdough bread? It would certainly have passed for a pils in much of Germany. The dunkles meanwhile had a lovely deep caramel aroma and an absurdly high, rocky head. Boak thought it lacked a bit in the aftertaste but Bailey thought it was as good as the Baumgartner.

We approached the Bio-bier with caution, having found in the past that organic beers are usually much ado about nothing, but this one was as good if not better than the helles, with a little spicy note at the end (almost a little gingery). Their wheatbeer was also a little spicy, making it more interesting than the others we’d had over the holiday, while ticking all the right banana clove notes as well. Finally their pils (only available in bottles) was more aromatic, paler and sparklier version of the Helles.

Which brewery was better? Hard to say but, on this evidence, we’d say a little local competition is healthy thing.

And so, in conclusion, the best brewery in Passau is actually in Austria…

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