Stuart Forster interviews Markus Trinker, creative brewmaster at Wildshut Stiegl estate near Salzburg, about organic farming and Austrian beer.
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The Wildshut Stiegl estate is located close to the Austro-German border and opened as Austria’s first brewery farm in 2012.
The estate practises a circular economy. It features an organic farm on which rare breeds of animals are reared. Old grain varieties are cultivated and used in brewing. Wildshut has a ten-hectolitre (1,000-litre) brewery plus a distillery.
Organic farming and Austrian beer
I met with Markus Trinker, Wildshut’s creative brewmaster, in the Kitzsteinhorn mountain’s Gipfel Restaurant. At an altitude of 3,029 metres above sea level, it’s the highest restaurant in Salzburgerland.
Along with other guests, I dined on a menu of traditional regional dishes paired with specially selected beers. After eating and sipping Stiegl and Wildshut beers, I chatted with Markus about brewing in Austria and the evolution of speciality beers.
“In Austria, as in every country, there’s a place for new beer interpretations and more daring styles. You’ll notice that many young people yearn for variety. Pale ale and IPA attract many, as they taste good,” said Markus.
“Because of these reasons, many Austrian brewers make speciality beers, ranging from classical lagers to barrel-aged or strongly hopped ales. That’s good. It underscores brewing competence, brings new, fresh beers in and reinforces the brewing industry,” he explained, adding that people have markedly different expectations of special beers to regular brews.
“The beers are presented differently and consequently demand a different price. They have a completely different audience,” he added. I learnt that most of the bottles we’d enjoyed during our meal were priced between €6.90 and €9.90, each being big on character and flavour.
Wildshut Stiegl estate
“We use only old grain types for our Wildshut beers. We grow the grain and malt it ourselves, producing beer from it. There’s a lot of manual work and, accordingly, the beer is more expensive,” said Markus.
“The larger bottles, they’re shared between two or three people with food and celebrated like a good bottle of wine. They’re served in wine glasses. There are many types of beer glasses similar to wine glasses. You speak of beer degustation glasses but I’m of the opinion that glasses that are good for enjoying wine are also absolutely suitable for special, characterful beers,” he asserted, pointing towards wine glasses on the table next to us.
With his fingers, he traced their barrelling shape and explained how their form made it possible for drinkers to stick their nose in and inhale a beer’s aroma before enjoying the flavour on their palate — similar to appreciating a good wine.
“When you drink a single beer in various glasses it tastes differently. Therefore, you get different beers of character suited to wine glasses,” said Markus.
Craft beer in Austria
I was keen to understand if Austria is undergoing a craft beer revolution comparable with that which has helped invigorate North America’s brewing scene.
“In Austria craft beer makes up just two to three per cent of the market. Austria is not the USA, where craft beer has a good 12 per cent market share of the beer market. There’s a reason. Namely, here in Austria and Germany, we’ve always had a well-maintained beer culture. We had good beers and the tradition lives on strongly here and there wasn’t much of a place for craft beer,” answered Markus.
“In the USA the development came in the 1980s. People who wanted to drink beer didn’t have a wide choice of expressive beers. Therefore, the term craft beer is far more established in the USA than it is here in Austria,” he explained, putting the development of the North American craft beer movement into context.
“Almost all breweries in Austria, from small to large, are dedicated to brewing speciality beers. They may not be craft beers but the term ‘speciality beers’ fits. They are something for special occasions — maybe not for a beer tent or every day. It’ll certainly grow a bit more but Austrian Märzen, pilsner or wheat beers will always stay top,” he responded when I asked about the market potential.
Beer purity law of 1516
Markus explained that Austria’s food purity codex has similarities to the German beer purity law based on the famous Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516, which permitted only water, hops and barley to be used in brewing.
“We don’t use any chemical stabilisers. We brew pure natural products; malt, water, hops and ferment with yeast,” said Markus.
But does that limit Austrian brewers’ creativity in brewing beer, I asked?
“We have a codex chapter for creative beer. If creative beer stands on a label then other natural raw ingredients are permitted — for example, honey, spices or fruit. But the character of the beer must remain upstanding. That’s important. It’s very strictly controlled and it’s an honour for a brewmaster to sustain the regulations. That’s a peculiarity of beer; beer comes from simple, pure products and can’t be improved,” he said with obvious passion and respect for his profession.
Ideas for new beers
I was keen to understand how he comes up with ideas for new beers.
“You have experiences that inspire you. There are times when I say ‘wow! I find this beer tasty’ and will have an idea how I’d interpret it my way. That’s how new beers arise; whether malty, boozy, hoppy, fruity or sour. At the moment there are always more sour beers coming along. I love gueuze beer over everything. That takes time and it will come too; I’m sure in three or four years we’ll sit around and share one,” answered Markus before heading off to share another of his creations with diners sitting in the Gipfel Restaurant.
Having enjoyed sampling gueuzes in the Pajottenland district of Belgium and been impressed by Markus’s beers, that’s something I’d love to return to Austria to taste.
Getting to the Wildshut Stiegl estate
The Wildshut Stiegl estate is near the Austro-German border. It’s approximately 90 minutes’ drive from Munich Airport or 40 minutes from Salzburg Airport.
You could travel by train from Salzburg Hauptbahnhof to the Gut Wildshut station on the Salzburger Lokalbahn (S11). The journey takes 39 minutes.
Cycling along the Tauernredweg, along the River Salzach, is also an option for travelling between Salzburg and the Wildshut Stiegl estate.
Books about Austria and beer
Thinking about visiting Austria or keen to know more about beer? You may find the following books useful:
The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth:
The Scratch and Sniff Guide to Beer: A Beer Lover’s Companion by Justin Kennedy:
Visit the Wildshut Stiegl website for more information about the Austrian beer farm plus the food and drink served there.
The photos of Markus Trinker and the Wildshut Stiegl estate are © Marco Riebler, supplied courtesy of Picker PR.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.
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A version of this interview was initially posted on Go Eat Do on 18 January 2020.