Saturday 10 April 2021
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It’s the family-owned brewery that’s been harnessing fresh local water and the best Alpine ingredients for the past 500 years, yet whose state-of-the-art brewhouse is an architectural show piece. Its deliveries are handled by a team of six brewery horses pulling a cart, but also by an all-electric articulated lorry. Welcome to Stiegl, the world’s most thoroughly modern medieval brewery.
First mentioned in 1492 as the “Haus Bey der Stiegen”, (the house by the stairs - still reflected in its logo) Stiegl is the leading private brewery in Austria, having outlived even the Holy Roman Empire which used to own its wealthy home city of Salzburg. As well as being ‘sustainable’ in this very literal sense, Stiegl is also committed to minimising its environmental impact.
For Stiegl, the brewing process begins in the ground, and special attention is paid to soil health at the Stiegl-Gut Wildshut. This ‘beer estate’ – the first of its kind in Austria – is a think tank and experimental kitchen for all things beer, with a focus on the preservation of biodiversity on the agricultural side. The ancient grains grown organically here are malted on-site and refined into the characterful Wildshut beer specialities.
“Sustainability touches every part of our brewing process,” says Thomas Necker. “Our water here has the perfect minerality for brewing, we only use the best, carefully sourced Austrian malt and hops, and all of our packaging, logistics and distribution has the lowest possible impact. It’s more expensive, but it’s a core part of who we are.”
This prioritisation of principle and quality over profit margins permeates across the business, as evidenced by its coveted ‘Slow Brewing’ accreditation. One of the most stringent standards in the brewing world, the Slow Brewing seal is actually something of a misnomer; to qualify, breweries not only need to ferment and mature their beer for a set period, but also demonstrate superior shelf life, the quality and provenance of their raw ingredients and even the suitability of their company culture. What’s more, the quality of the final product is scientifically tested every month, meaning the accreditation could be stripped at any time if standards slip.
But what does all this mean for the beer? In short, its range of core lager-style beers and various specials are among the most technically respected in the world, having scooped trophies, cups and gold medals in just about every international competition you could think of.
“Our core range consists of 12 beers that we’ve built up and perfected over those centuries of brewing, though Goldbrau - our golden lager - is by far our best selling, accounting for around 80% of our production. Austrians drink 90% lager beer, then we do a little bit of wheat beer, a little Radler. British and American styles only make up about 2%!”
In the box: Columbus 1492
Something of a black sheep in the Stiegl family, Columbus 1492 is a bottom-fermented ale, first brewed four years ago to celebrate the brewery’s 525th birthday.
“The year 1492 was the first record of our brewery, and by coincidence was also the year Columbus made landfall in the Americas. So we decided to brew something that would be quite pioneering for us, in this case a rich, drinkable top-fermented ale, with an elegant body and fruity hops.
“So it was originally a kind of festival beer - a promotion for the anniversary - but it was very successful, so we added it to our regular line-up! We also have a number of other more ‘craft beer’ style brews, our ‘house’ range, which come in 75cl bottles and are really just for our home market.”
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