Drinks in Austria - Part II:
Schnap(p)s & Non-Alcoholic Beverages

Schnapps, all over the place

This is the national liquor, is common in all of Austria and comes from a large variety of fruits and berries. Distilling schnapps at home is perfectly legal in Austria for non-commercial purposes up to a certain amount. Otherwise tax is due; there are about 20.000 distilleries registered in Austria.

Distilling is done by many farmers and schnapps specialists ("Schnappsbrenner"), which means that it comes in dramatic variations of quality from disgusting firewater to exquisite drops. It is either distilled once (to about 40 percent alcohol) or twice (around 80 percent, "Doppeltgebrannter").

Traditionally, schnapps is taken after a meal, especially after a heavy one, or by itself. Expensive schnapps originates from apricots ("Marille"), Enzian root (an alpine flower) or rowan tree berry ("Vogelbeere"); mass-schnapps is most commonly made from plums ("Zwetschken"), and can be of various degrees of quality. Especially in Germany rum from Austria has a reputation, too. The national brand is "Inländer Rum", which is used as a supplement to "Jagatee" (a punch, often consumed in winter) or for cooking and baking.

Coffee, a national passion since the Turkish Wars

Coffee is not just a drink in Austria; it is religion, social lubricant, cultural item and the reason for our very existence. We don′t drink coffee, we live it. Like the legendary apple strudel and the Kipferl roll, the origin of Austria′s national drink is associated with the wars against Turkey in the 17th century. The story goes that after the defeat of the Turkish army at the second siege of Vienna in 1683, the troops fled in panic and left their tents behind.

The national beverage: Coffee

The troops of the Holy Roman Empire gathered all sorts of oriental goodies from them, including bags of strange, brown beans. The Viennese quickly discovered their passion for the brown brew you could extract from these beans and only a few years later, the first coffee houses ("Café" or "Kaffeehaus") opened. It is arguable whether they were the first in the Western World (Venetian and Warsaw cafes have similar claims), but they are definitely among the oldest - and most traditional.

A café in Austria - particularly in Vienna and Salzburg - is not a place for a quick stop-over to get a caffeine something. Cafes are places to sit for hours, read the daily newspapers, chat with friends, write. A good portion of Austrian literature was probably written with a pen in the one hand and a cup with "Melange" in the other.

There are always tarts, pastries and other sweets available and good cafes still have elaborate interiors and submissive waiters in dinner jackets. But let′s focus on the drink itself for the time being: Coffee might be consumed as plain filter coffee at home, but in Cafés you would go for a "Verlängerter", "Einspänner", a small or a large "Brauner" or a Cappuccino (sometimes called "Kapuziner" in the Austrian variation).

More recent Italian additions are espresso and café latte. The most important coffee speciality of Vienna is the "Melange", sometimes called "Kaisermelange" to add a bit of an Imperial touch. All these specialities vary in the type and amount of beans used, the kind and amount of milk or cream added and the way they are prepared.

Personally, I am more fond of tea than of coffee (I don′t ski, either; there are mutants in Austria...), but a visit in one of Vienna′s or Salzburg′s traditional Cafés just has to happen. Most kinds of coffee is typically served with a glass of still water, which helps to spread the flavour in your mouth, and a piece of chocolate.

Red Bull, a wing-giving novelty

This just had to go on the list. In the early 1980ies, an Austrian business man called Dietrich Mateschitz discovered on a business trip to Hong Kong the concept of "energy drinks". He found out that they originated from Japan and were popular in Asia. To introduce them in Europe, he founded a company with the aid of a partner from Thailand and sold his partner′s product in a slightly altered form with much pain and trouble in Austria.

It took a couple of years until it properly kicked in and today, Mr Mateschitz is among Austria′s richest people and lived happily ever after. The international headquarter of Red Bull is in Fuschl in the Salzkammergut, Mr Mateschitz himself lives in Salzburg where you can visit his private hangar (Hangar-7, an impressive building).

Red Bull grows and grows and grows, but Austria is still a core market and thanks to Mr Mateschitz′ recent move to become a philanthropist (he sponsors Austrian universities, sport teams and schools), he is a local hero in Salzburg. If you haven′t tried Red Bull, do it best thoroughly chilled and at a time when you want to stay awake for a while. It will keep you going…well, give you wings, I mean.

Return to "Austrian Drinks - Part I"

Further Reading

An Introduction to Austria Wine

Best Tours across the Austrian Wine lands

A Guide to Coffee in Austria

back to "dining & cuisine"