If I’ve learned anything in this past month abroad, it’s this: Beer is delicious. Coming here, I never understood why people in Austria and Germany looked at beer the same way I look at my pet dog – like they can’t live without it. It’s just a drink, and it doesn’t really hold up compared to a nice red wine or fancy mixed cocktail. But given that my regular experiences with beer centered on Bud Light, you could say I wasn’t exactly prepared walking into my first Austrian bar or biergarten. Now, a summer semester later, I finally feel like I understand the drinking culture in Austria – it is tradition.
It took me a while to grasp this concept of drinking as tradition. Austrians aren’t a bunch of beer-drinking alcoholics; they’re really just people that are excited about beer and food. So when we were assigned our final project for the History of Brewing, I was thrilled to learn that we could get to pair our own beer and food for the class to try. I worked with one of my fellow bloggers, and we chose to pair a local Austrian beer with a fresh summer salad.
The beer we selected was the Stiegl Columbus 1492 Pale Ale. We paired it with a strawberry, feta and walnut spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette. As we prepared the salad before the tasting and cooled our beers in the fridge, I thought to myself, “I really hope this works.”
For our presentation, we shared the history of the beer and the brewery, the ABV percentage, bitterness, and expected flavors of the ale, and why it should complement the flavors of the salad. But for all I knew, this pairing could’ve been crap. I was sweating and nervous looking around as I spoke until I caught a glimpse of my professor’s reaction as she took her first bite of salad and sip of beer – she liked it!
Talking about why we paired these flavors together suddenly got easier. Like talk show hosts, my partner and I started to spit ball facts and ideas back and forth about our pairing. We talked about why the pale ale is so important to American culture, and how cool it was that the Stiegl brewery mimicked an American style because of their admiration for our brewers’ adventurous and patriotic approach.
After we finished presenting our beer and food pairing, I finally got to sit down and try it. I smelled the sweet citrus tones of the ale and swirled the glass slightly to make the aroma even stronger. Then I look my first sip – just as delicious as I remembered. My first bite of the salad spoke perfectly to the pine and citrus hops in the beer. The second bite accented the honey-roasted malts that made up the Columbus’ backbone.
This was the first time I understood the beer craze for all its glory. My partner and I had paired beer and food perfectly, and I was really proud of us. This was the Austrian beer tradition I was missing – being excited and completely wowed by the flavors of a beer.
Suddenly, I understood why beer was so cheap to buy and why every menu in the city had a list of beers on tap that would pair exceptionally well with the food selection. Beer and food in America is very rarely paired; we’re so used to thinking of wine and food pairings versus simple beer tastings. But the fact was, the food paired better with the beer.
The food brought out these flavors of the beer that you wouldn’t normally taste. The creaminess of the feta cheese cut the malt flavors into honey and wheat with a caramel glaze. The earthiness of the spinach and sweetness of the strawberries made the hops in the pale ale more citrusy with an added floral component. The beer was the star of the show, but the food made its flavors shine. This experience completely filled my persona of beer for the better.
Beer isn’t just something you shotgun or drink fast to get drunk. It’s much more than that. Beer speaks to our cultures and to our traditions, and beer is delicious. The American drinking culture is great, and it’s really fun, and I don’t want to change that. But we are completely missing the food. By perfectly pairing a pale ale with something as easy to make as salad, I finally understood the Austrians’ passion for drinking a cold beer.
My time in Austria has felt really short. We’ve crammed a million adventures into four weeks, and sadly our time here is coming to a close. But I know the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve gained will stay with me forever. I have been truly blessed to be given the opportunity to study abroad in such a welcoming and lively city. With some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen, and with the most delicious beer I have ever tasted, I know my perception of the world has grown for the better.
Observing Austrian drinking culture wasn’t what I expected. It’s centered on tradition and appreciation for really good brewing and beer. The act of drinking itself can be anything you want it to be; a relaxing time with friends, a big party with tons of people, a night of dancing and drinks, or just a casual beer in the backyard. It’s the appreciation of the beer that makes things different. I can honestly say that I will hold on to the memories from this trip forever, and no American beer will ever be the same.
Follow along in the next two weeks with our bloggers as we readjust to American life. The group travels back on Monday and can’t wait to get home to their families and friends. However, my trip will continue on until the middle of July as my family plans to meet up with me here in Salzburg. It has been wonderful to share my observations and experiences with the Mount community in such a fun and unique setting.
Check out some of the pictures of us embracing drinking as tradition and community forming throughout our trip in this slideshow:
Thank you everyone for all your appreciation and support… Auf Wiedersehen und groß gott!