at Känguruh Pub
Bürgerspitalgasse can look deserted on some evenings: It is a dimly lit side street in Vienna’s 6th district with some even darker corners, close to Westbahnhof, one of the largest train stations in town, but much safer than it sounds and, indeed, looks. Some visitors feel slightly uneasy when they walk the street at night, and that was certainly the case one winter night four years ago when I took two American friends to the Känguruh, a beer bar that is definitely worth the short walk on that street. All of the sudden a young lady appeared out of the dark and hugged me – much to the amusement of my friends. In other parts of the world, you might have expected her to be a mugger.
Beer drinkers generally are nice people, as was the woman who was leaving the Känguruh as we arrived. She was a reader of my books and was proud to have just discovered some new imports from Belgium on the beer list of which I was unaware. She recommended them to us, but this time we had come for a beer that is neither new nor from far away: Kübelbier from Landbrauhaus Hofstetten, a beer regularly on tap at the Känguruh.
Owners Alice and Freddy installed their small beer bar in a former storage room 35 years ago, at a time when many bars in Vienna bore the names of animals. (Känguruh, as you may have guessed means kangaroo). And Känguruh did not only have an appealing name, it was also just across the street from a dormitory. Heavily smoking and beer drinking students were the first customers, and the walls and the ceiling of the bar retain to this day the yellow-brownish color that results from decades of smoking, although the location has been smoke-free for many years now. From the very beginning the couple tried to offer specialty beers to the students – back when any beer that did not come from a big brewer was considered “special.”
Kübelbier is a perfect example. It is brewed by the Krammer family in a farmhouse near St. Martin im Mühlviertel. The oldest records mentioning the farm date from 1229 and owner Peter Krammer insists that there was then a brewery on the site, which would make Hofstetten the oldest brewery in the country. While this claim is challenged by other brewers who point out that a Hofstettner brewery was first mentioned only in 1449, the brewery has been independent and craft since its very early days.
It was never a very rich or big brewery – in fact it was bankrupt when Kaspar Krammer bought the farm and brewery in 1847 at an auction. Faced with a brewery that required rebuilding in 1929, but unable to afford a new brewhouse, the Kramer family found a used one in Carinthia that could be disassembled and transported to St. Martin. It served its purpose here for 88 years.
It is uncertain at what point in the long history of Hofstettner beer production switched from top fermentation to lager brewing, but based on the structure of the old lager cellar it must have been well over a century ago. Peter recalls that natural ice was used to cool these cellars for many decades before refrigeration was installed in 1969.
Filtration had also been introduced to Hofstettner brewery quite some time ago. Unlike today, by the middle of the 20th century consumers expected filtered beers. “The beer that we sold at the time had to be perfectly clear, otherwise no one would touch it,” says Peter.
No one? His father, Franz, knew better. In the early 1980s, when the avid diver’s friends would visit his farmhouse, he would simply cross the yard to fetch some beer from the cellar. Those friends agreed that his unfiltered beer from the bucket – in German: Kübel – tasted much fresher than any of the beers they could buy elsewhere.
The word about “Kübelbier” spread quickly and soon Krammer got calls from pubs in nearby Linz (and later from Vienna) asking if this medium to full-bodied, lightly hopped and unfiltered beer could be made available for people outside of his scuba diving team.
In the years following, Kübelbier became the first unfiltered lager on the Austrian market, available in both bottle and keg. Of course it still tastes the freshest when sampled at the brewery, although most visitors to the small tasting room in St.Martin come to sample the more adventurous brews Peter brews for the international market, including his honey lager, Hochland Bio Honigbier, a Granitbock that is brewed with glowing hot granite stones, and the Wildbrett, a Brettanomyces-fermented version of the Granitbock.
While some Hofstetten beers have even made it to the US market, Kübelbier remains the flagship beer at home, although it is now brewed on state-of-the-art brewing equipment using organic ingredients that were not available in the 1980s.
And even the regulars at the Känguruh know little about the huge variety of craft beers from Hofstetten. Most of them visit for the impressive range of bottled Belgian beers, or a hearty, unfiltered lager from Hofstetten, well worth the short walk from Westbahnhof.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.