Salzburg is already one of the places I most recommend for couples making one of their first few trips to Europe. It’s as romantic as Europe gets, and is a good home base for amazing day trips into the Alps. However, if you enjoy a proper beer garden, Salzburg should rocket up your destination list.
Salzburg is the home of my favorite beer garden in Europe, and therefore my favorite beer garden in the world: the Augustinerbrau. While I later found out there is a different, front entrance, the magic started for us as we arrived at the sparsely marked entrance on Augustinergasse, and walked skeptically into the unceremoniously vacant initial room. No bouncers, no hostess, no other staff, just an empty room to great us as we came in off the street. We almost turned around and left, thinking we hadn’t found the right place, but we heard noises coming from downstairs and decided to keep exploring. As we came down the stairs, we found ourselves entering a buffet and food market wonderland straight out of my dreams. The long hallway with dramatic, Gothic archways full of food stalls offering a plethora (“Jefe, do you know what it means to have a plethora?”) of German favorites leads to several large rooms seemingly out of a Renaissance Festival fantasy. Dark wood, long tables, and medieval décor set the mood and provide the ideal atmosphere for a liter of beer and some slow cooked meats. These are the kind of rooms that don’t need televisions hanging from the walls as it takes hours to soak in all the ambiance and you don’t want to be distracted. I was already in love with this place, and I was still yet unaware of the best parts.
The first highlight is the process for acquiring a brew. You pre-pay for a large or small stein, and then you choose your own stein from the shelf on the wall. No pint glasses here, only magical beer steins – but more on that soon. The next step is to ritualistically rinse your selected beer vessel under the ornate water fountain just in front of the beer barrels. Already the interactive nature of the beer experience is both a little different and fun. You bring your newly baptized glass to the appropriate register and wait for a moment as a gentleman fills your mug straight from the barrel in exchange for your ticket.
There is draft beer and then there is cask beer. This is cask beer, and it’s absolutely as good as it gets.
In front of the wall of steins was a double doorway, which we pushed open to unveil a large, beautiful beer garden. As much as I was initially drawn to the traditional, Germanic rooms inside, the beer garden was too amazing to pass up. I floated down the stairway in anxious excitement and we settled into a table about three or four from the front. The temperatures were mild, but it wasn’t crowded as we were traveling during off season and we were also there around three in the afternoon. I leaned back and took my first sip. If you’ve never had beer in Germany or if you’ve never had a good cask beer, it’s hard to describe the beverage I was drinking in any relatable way. I’m not even sure you should call it “beer”. Germany makes wheat beer better than any country makes anything, and cask beer gives it an unfiltered, chewy mouthfeel unlike anything you try out of a pint glass or a bottle.
I was halfway through my large mug and yet hadn’t felt like I had even started. This must be what the advertisers had in mind when they came up with “less filling, tastes great”. I was amazed how my body accepted this beer as if it were water, but the flavor and texture was so rich and enjoyable. It was a bit greedy, but I decided to add another layer to this joyous experience by making a quick trip to the food stalls, despite not planning on eating anything when we arrived, and brought a frankfurter with sour kraut and a pretzel back to the table.
This combination of frankfurter, sour kraut, pretzel and fresh, German cask beer may have a more pedestrian connotation than, say, a fine wine with cheese or chocolate, but I assure you it’s every bit of a culinary pairing masterpiece.
The final piece of the memory I have of this wonderful beer garden is one you’re not going to believe. You’re going to say I drank too much, or that I was biased due to my adoration of the facilities and the beer. The objective truth is, however, that the beer steins used at Augustiner are indeed…magical. Every beer drinker knows the last few sips, even the bottom quarter of your pint, can or bottle, isn’t as enjoyable as those first few sips. To be fair, it was cool outside, but it certainly wasn’t freezing, but I swear to this day that the temperature of every beer I drank out of those stone jugs at Augustiner stayed constant from the first sip to the last. I also want to point out that I didn’t “chug” the beer either, in fact I walked around the garden, went inside to get food, and took my time in order to enjoy the wonderful surroundings. My conclusion, and I admit I’m dying to go back and try it out again for myself, is that the mugs, like the entire experience, were magical.
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