Steigl: What's good enough for Mozart...
Vienna is a brilliant city, home to amazing museum collections, sublime architecture and great food. But, for some reason, they are more proud of their wine than their solid Austrian beer. Grabbing a late-night sausage at a wurststand, nobody wants grape juice, do they? I know I didn't. As I looked over the row of beers the vendor had on offer, he suggested a Stiegl. He claimed it was a small local beer that most Americans would probably like. Pretty much completely wrong on both counts. It was the perfect beer for the sausage.
After a bit of research from more knowledgeable sources than a clueless hot dog vendor, I found that Stiegl comes from an old brewery in Salzburg, dating back to 1492. It's not just a local beer – it is THE local beer. For the entire country. Though family owned, it is the biggest brewer in Austria. Columbus should have stopped in to pick up a few cases for his little cruise. The brewery/restaurant in Salzburg is right next to the stairs to the Fortress, hence the name "Stiegl," which means "stair" in German. The key to this beer is probably down to the water from the Unterberg (Under Mountain), which may be part of the reason it has such a clean taste. Mozart actually drank this beer, and I can see why.
It has a bright gold color with a quick-fading head. The aroma is soft in a grainy, grassy sort of way, but also spicy with some cloves and cinnamon. Nothing overpowering, but you are well aware that this beer is going to be something several notches above the diluted slurp 'most' Americans claim to like.
Stiegl is an easy-drinking beer, excellent on an Indian Summer day, and nicely balanced. It starts off with a bready, biscuity malt taste and finishes with a dry snap of hops. With its medium body and almost creamy texture, this is what the WaterBeerLites should be. There's nothing particularly challenging in the flavor – a good everyday beer – but it's not so light that you don't even know you're drinking it. Not only great with sausages, this beer is ideal for lounging under the umbrellas of those ubiquitous outdoor tables all over Europe. Having one here in the States transports you right back.
Certainly there are some fancier light lagers out there, but sometimes fancy isn't called for. Pilsners in general, and, in Stiegl's case, Helles', are drinking beers. A poor one stands out and is spotted easily enough, but the better ones are made to be nice to drink, not dramatically unique. These are beers that enhance events. They're not events themselves, as some beers aim to be.
Stiegl will go well enough with just about any kind of food, but for me, they washed down many an excellent sausage better than anything else could. You might want a good Viennese wine paired with a superb schnitzel, or anything overly delicate, but for any typical meat and potatoes or spicy fare, Stiegl will do nicely.
I hesitated reviewing Stiegl because I didn't think it was available in the US. Probably still recalling the misinformed opinions of the hot dog vendor, I had a cursory look around for it back home. Not seeing it, I quickly got discouraged and intended to forget about it until the next time I found myself sitting under an umbrella in some Germanic region or other. Then, there it was. Apparently, it had been here all along. So, the next time you're thinking about just blindly grabbing another box of WaterBeerLite cans, take a look a little further down the aisle, it just might be there. Stiegl will be familiar enough, but it actually bothers to taste the way the cheap American imitators pretend to taste.