Episode 13: Sipping through Austria
Is it like really hot? Or is it warm? It's it's like a bath. But it's sort of you know, loopy. Yes. That is a word. It's not unpleasant know at the end of the day. It's a hot tub. There's plenty of heavy news out there this week, the usual American slurry of voter suppression mass shootings and rampant wildfires, but let's pivot away from that for a minute go back to a hotel room in central Moscow where I shared many bar white wine with one of my most trusted editorial constantly Aries roads and kingdoms editor Alexa, van sickle. We talked about her homeland of Austria about whiskey made on glaciers, doctored sweet wines and gloomy. Beer, baths into Roleo. I'm Nathan Thornburgh. And you're listening to the trip drinking with exceptional people around the world. We're on the fourth floor of a very very design focused hotel in Moscow right now, we're about one hundred feet away from the victory day celebrations. And we're in Russia because we are doing some fact-finding for our new city guides which will be sent Petersburg and Moscow literally like a million people on sky, which is right on the corner where we are. And you really can't hear much a lot of hammer and sickles out there a lot of cool Putin t shirts, it's all the little unnerving. So I'm happy to be kind of hold up here talking about Austria, do you live in Austria? And you wrote this amazing piece that was something of a farewell to the country. We talked last year about having a series of road trips, and since I was in Austria sort of temporarily, and I was about to leave again after getting to know it as an adult probably for the first time I left when I was seventeen. So really what what fell to me was. Try to figure out a theme of what can you write about Australia? That's not super newsy and not super about chocolate cake classical music, actually, my first idea was to try to trace the borders because Australia's is one of those funny countries where wherever you are in country. It's sort of absorbed with the flavor of the country. It's next to. So there's bits that seem like Italy in bits seemed like Germany. And slovenia. And so I realized also that most of the country's borders are actually three thousand meters up in the Alps that wouldn't have worked for a huge portion you have an unusual Austrian story. You're not yourself Austrian know, essentially, my immediate family are from Austria in the sense that we were all born there. My parents met there in the nineteen sixties, and it's kind of random they weren't really supposed to be there either. My mother was a South African student in biology genetics who had been to Germany, and then sent to I think she got a job in Australia working at the medical school and doing research. And so she was hanging out there. You know, checking out Europe be seemed to be descended from people who escaped to the new world. And then decided they really like the old world and came back. So my father's people, for example were longtime on Tehran's fr. From Canada originally from the Netherlands, and then they sort of came back the generation before him and hung out in Romania for decades. One from Toronto to Romania. Yeah. From southern Ontario, so near Sarnia. Our love your old world people go to the new world make life themselves. Actually, you know what? Fuck this. Yeah. Let's go. Let's go elsewhere. I think what's what's funny with the van sickle clan. These Canadians who you're looking at Romania in eastern Europe. Like, yeah, this is where it's at. And then both times getting expelled by a continental war. Ungrateful. Occupiers terrible timing. So you were born in Austria. Yes. And spoke English at home, spoke English at home. My parents were very adamant that we all become hugely fluent in German. So we all went to St. Austrian kindergartens. So I mean, there was a time in my life that I probably spoke better German than English. So what does it mean, then to be I think you put it in your piece, Austrian? Ish you feel like an outsider are you relieved from the burdens of giving too much shit about Austrian politics and not just fully not Austrian, but not really fully British either. Because although that was our nationality. We didn't grow up there. I like to think that I have not really felt Austrian ever because we were always just, you know, this English speaking family, we're a nation unto ourselves, but it's not unusual to be from somewhere else in the summer for a while. But we are unusual in that we were in it for the long haul. We're not posted there. We were not somewhere in between. And I think that having a foot in several national lead nowadays gives me it gives me the right to be offended on multiple levels. Or also to not care. I've never understood the idea of having a 'nationality or nationalism. And but I've always felt that home being in between. And I think that's why maybe I am drawn to places like Canada or the US where everyone's a little bit. From somewhere else. In this the cycle begins. Yeah. Exactly events ical returns to the new world only to have future generations look around and be like, let's go back to Europe, man. Our generation grew up. The first thing we learned was, you know, about the war and also the school. We went to school with a lot of international kids from everywhere, you know, not just from the rest of Europe, but from Nigeria Pakistan, you couldn't have a better background for really drilling into that. Nationalities are arbitrary and not useful. At least for forming. Your opinions about someone when you're six years old again. It's like I just have to point out the extreme irony of this very correct opinion in my in my view that you have being expressed full one hundred meters from about five hundred thousand Russian flags Soviet flags. Cool Putin t shirts it is alarming. Not just because of the Austria connection. But. We are taught from young age to be very suspicious of ostentatious flag-waving, which is obviously something that happens in a lot of places, but it's felt strange to be on his, you know, in terms of how I feel being Australian ish. I think it's given me a real insight into being European growing up on the continent. And having these neighboring countries that are different, but you still kind of understand how they work, and when you go to the UK, which is from a from the US perspective in Europe. But really isn't. It's completely different in the mindset. And you know, obviously, we're seeing this with Brexit and all that that kind of stuff. So I would say that being Austrian Ishmaelites me feel European but not necessarily Austrian. So I was fascinated by this idea because I think I often have that feeling slightly different women you're thinking about leaving Austria for an extended period of time and you've been back there. Now, how many years I'd say it's off and on about two years road trip is like kind of that way to run your mind over the features of a country. And that's basically what you wanted to do in Austria sort of like, let me remember this place. Probably learn a little bit. About it before I had out. I think you had a very sensible approach, which is let's do this road trip as a series of different kinds of alcoholic beverages. Right. I very lucky that I managed to find something on the set of whiskey front beer fears everywhere near you weren't going to be able to do the Austria Moscow crawl no credibility. What they do. Have is a does a substance cold most, which is essentially the fermented wine grape juice before it's wine, but beyond grape juice, it tastes like grape soda, but it's actually pretty alcohol IQ, and it's very dangerous because people underestimate how much they're having. But there is such a thing as the most corridor for pears apples. But it was the wrong season. Okay. I couldn't do that. I did want to write about wine because that's the geography that I know. I mean, that's where I grew up. I grew up in a part of China that produces one, you know, my my life was very much. Dictated by that. That's what people did certain times of year. The first restaurant. I ever went to probably was one of those wine taverns, it's been there for centuries, and we had very good family friends who are actually from wine producing section as well about an hour west. And so we used to go pick wine with them, and they were from a very small town where they were not actually fulltime winemakers anymore. But this town of two thousand people almost every family had vineyards left or the really old wine cellar because it's not a place where it's just in the fabric of their lives. And so that to me was Austria. All right. Well, let's start with wine then so you were in the neighborhood. And this is something that's actually that. You've taught me that's quite special at the end. It's the only capital city in Europe that has like winemaking within its limits. The official line is that it's the only one with significant amount of wine produced in its city limits, and that seven hundred hectares, I think you are you would find some places in Germany and Switzerland do but it's. On to the same scale. I don't wanna drink Berlin Wall. So they have two parts of the northwest and northeast, which are actually the very very end of the elps if you look at a map of relief map of Alps, the very very last set of hill just stretches into the Anna. And that's where the wine is it grows on these hills of China. And we'll I I wanted to talk about wine at some point. But I'm just lucky that there was some beer stuff going on and some whiskey stuff going on to Austria had. It's got a unique moment, I guess it's wine history because it had some some crises in the past. Right. What was that about in? Like how does that affect what what's happening with Austrian wine? These days in the early eighties. The fashion for wine was to have very very sweet table wines, who's fashion, Germany and Austria think MO the biggest consumers of Austrian wine where the Germans back then consumers of Austria, also. History. And so I think what ended up happening is they had a few bad harvests where they couldn't make the wine sweet enough in some chemist in a very enterprising dude in Vienna had figured out that glycol, which is an ingredient in antifreeze could make the wind sweeter. Now. I don't think he he meant to do, you know wholesale poison entire industry. I think he I don't think he was aware of the health issues. But yes, so it was him and a few other people in became this, huge network of wine doctors, essentially who had been doctoring wind for years, and then actually reached pretty high up into local government and stuff. So the town that I mentioned earlier my friends are from there Folsom Burgum. Their mayor was one of the ringleaders. I'm not a chemist. I don't know what glycol sounds like another kind of sugar, but it's it's a bad sugar. It's the bachelor it's something that you don't want in your wine. Yeah. I love it. This is the fucking. Problems like they could not make their wine sweet enough, which to me is like not a problem at all not at all. Like how 'bout you make that white last week, please? That was the market was for sweet wine. They started adding glycol to it. And they basically had this like huge conspiracy among politicians in winemakers to cover it up. Yeah. And then it came out and German. Scientists had started testing the wine, and it all came up quite quickly in July eighty five I think it was so in one week, basically, the Austrian wine industry was destroyed. They had to destroy, you know, millions of bottles. Yeah. The streets ran rid Germany had been consuming this one. So it was mostly Germany that shut down the the market, but they were pissed they were not happy about it. Because a lot of the a lot of German wins had been doctored to Australians wine for export yet, Germany. Yeah. I mean, listen not at well. In the war. They've done worse. But this does not excuse poisoning. Their wine isn't that on a mass scale in nineteen eighties. So I mean the way that I was told by someone I interviewed in the peace. So Elvin your chick who makes wine. Now, he said about maybe half, the people in that area had been involved in the wind scandal somehow had been doctoring their wines. And everyone else did not and did not make a lot of money. So they were really struggling. But because the guy, you know, this mayor had been one of the ringleaders it was very hard to express your dissatisfaction. Losing market share to dudes who were adding chemicals that are whining. Exactly. I mean the way he put it was the, you know, once the scandal broke that really saved Australia's wine because not only did it sort of level the playing field for everyone who's not to mix metaphors, but the people who are not cheating. But also they had to stop focusing on sweet wines, and they had to sort of start from scratch and start to make really really good natural wines with no funny business, and they had all this time to do that. So now, you know, the really strong winds coming out of Austria are dryer reds and dry whites. I mean to me that's a story with a very happy ending. Yeah. I'll say it again, fuck sweet wine and not a fan either. So that was the wine part of the trip. You did a bit of a road map for how do we experience Austrian wine? Sure, the route that I took around Australia, which was divided into three trips of a few days each I did sort of go from west to east starting from his far away from Vienna. As you can get and then coming back, and there is this. There's a really great place to go for wine. I mean, there's a it's called a how it's basically a few miles along the Danube and is just got town. After town of hugely historical vineyards and wines, and people can quite easily drive that in a day and drink some wine, and or, you know, get a boat on the Danube. These are seriously old vineyards, they're famous for being incredibly steep, and really uneven sort of really kind of medieval looking, and there's castles a live at the place as well. Wine stuff. This came from the Romans, right? Yes. So I believe that the Celts had been doing something with wine before that. But the Romans really can have made it into cultivated products. They imported the ones middle the Danube valley has been a wine producing area for very long time. So all right. Get yourself to Vienna to the Vauxhall designated boat. Captain, then go from winery row winery. Among all the castles done. I'm ready for it. You had to other spirits that were sort of your guide posts for this. Kind of trip around Austria, you had beer and you had whiskey. Why whiskey and where did you find it and is an Austrian good question? So I've been speaking about this trip with a few people former Austrian dwellers who'd maybe laughter come back and someone did bring up whiskey, and I remember seeing a bottle of whiskey in the airport. A couple of times in thinking. Wow, that's probably pretty nasty. I just did some digging into turns out there is a very very, you know, sort of small that blossoming whiskey seen the whiskey is happening in the forest quarter in the eastern part of the country. That's an actual name. Yes. The Austria has these of regions of agricultural goodness. This like a wine quarter and a forest quarter. Within those sections this parts famous for making grape juice in this parts famous for making wine. So the vote fatalist they call it is where all the whisky action is happening. But it seems to be that most of these places are. People who already have a brewery or schnapps distillery so schnapps as the, you know, the really strong fruit brandy that you get from Austria to Romania beyond whiskies just really big right now globally. So they've decided to diversify and quite a lot of them. It seems just went to Scotland one time in hung out. I really liked it. And then like, I could do that human reaction. Yeah. That was a small thing. And now there's like an Australian whiskey association, and they have competitions. But I think that the sort of narrative is that there's this one person called Joseph Hyder, I think his his company's j h who is the really good whisky producer who started years ago, and everyone else is sort of playing catch up in the forest quarter. He is in the fourth quarter. Probably if you're gonna see it any in any stores, it'll be his whiskey most likely there was also a little bit of a strange novelty, whiskey called Brexit, like the whole idea is like, well, here's some whiskey that's not from the UK. So it's Brexit with. Key. And it's like, well, let's not really vibe, you get basically they're saying, no, we're breaking up with Britain and the whiskeys breaking up Scotland, we're like, oh, okay. I think this this bottle was a fundamental misunderstanding of what what Brexit means. As a hashtag as a concept within Europe engine the U K fair enough. Did you go for your whiskey experience? So it was sort of a happy accident that this part around Salzburg, which is sort of like, the west center part of the country. I just happened to find out that this glass here called the Dutch dine happen to be stealing whiskey. Okay. And so they the glacier like the mountain. It's health obviously, isn't distilling the whiskey or the people who operating the ski resort which is what it is orange making the whiskey, but I I tracked down the whiskey producers got it, which we're about an hour away, which is a really really small farm halfway up a mountain, and they are taking water from the glacier their entire farm up. Operates on water that's to siphon directly from the mountain. But they are also I mean, there's a thing in Austria. That's very common word which album, which is essentially a farm that sort of in the mountains and often it's a sort of self sufficient, you know, farm-to-table operation and also has hotel beds. So often they'll have animals, but it's a huge huge destination for tourists say they come in have some of that alpine goodness. And they'll go to the album, and you have beer often. You'll find people who have a working farm are also in the tourist business. Right. So they're forming in the summer, and then basically opening some ski since key runs in the in the winter. And that's how it started out. And so this is a family of four that just have been making schnapps for years. So they've been doing it not for very long eight years for some reason they decided, hey, let's see what happens if we put single malt in Iglesia for five years. In the glacier. Yes. So they've got some barrels distilling inside the glacier underneath the ice. Okay. And we're in year two of a five year experiment that seems a little gimmicky I found so a little bit but working with like glacial waters. Interesting. Yeah. Every water company on earth says they are coming straight from glacier, but in this age of global warming. Maybe we have some like really old interesting water that's coming to us because it's been frozen for since the ice age. And now, it's a it's coming back were they excited about ancient waters. Thank for sure. I mean, this is the thing about, you know, the birthright of people who live in Australia mountains, I mean, they they expect nothing less than ancient glacial motor got it. They've been doing brandy for years. They have all kinds of Hazel nut and Plum, and all that kind of, you know, all those usual flavors, but they are now doing whiskey, and I think they actually make more money with whiskey now than they do. The sort of family business that is globalize tastes always say in fairness like I've I've lived in schnapps countries, I could be schnapps fan. If if I was so inclined. I'm not I mean, they can be incredibly great for just kidding fucked up. I mean, I'm sure there's some like really refined schnapps, but that's mostly what I remember is like gas station schnapps like these kind of burning fruit memories that will never leave. You. You know, I'd never really drank schnaps growing up because it's not really what you go for as a teenager. But it's such a part of the amounts. You know, it's like after every meal, so I like him a little bit. But I'm not very hardcore with schnapps. So, you know, all occasionally have a. The apricot one or hazelnut that one and then I was in Prague a couple of weeks ago, and I bought a tiny bowed loosely Bubis. Yes. And it burns my face. This family that's up in the mountains making whisky, you know, like little scrappy whiskey makers. So how was the whiskey it was kind of schnaps like? Burying lead there, and it was mostly I it's very young. Yeah. It's a little bit. It's definitely tastes like whiskey. It reminded me a little bit of Sri Lankan Iraq. When you're like. Okay. Well, there's some whiskey to this. But there's also a sweetness to it. So it's sort of a a whiskey dressed as a bourbon perhaps or from? That's awesome. This sort of heroic story of their transformation from schnapps makers to to whiskey people is is not yet Britain Puno, their new members of the Australian whiskey association. But really, this is really a strategic thing in the know there are a small operation, but they you know, they they're buttoned butters tourists that come through the summer. So I think they are looking at what's going on in the world of whiskey, and who comes to Austrian, y and you know, if you can sort of corner that market then you know, you probably in a pretty good position. They weren't just tasting. Whiskey in Scotland in thinking oh rate. Nice. They were probably also looking at the infrastructure, the whiskey trail the cheer amount of people who go on whiskey poem commissions. And all right. Let's let's let's start to add some of this who are our portfolio. Yeah. They are under no illusions that they could ever be, you know, making mcallen quake in their boots. And they've got like thousands of years versus ten, but I think it's just it's good business to be in booze. And you got to visit the Salzburg region. I mean, that's the Austria of the imagination short. That's the sound of music and the chocolate boxes and those salt caves, and this is the thing that I remember it from being a kid in one of the reasons I wanted to to drive through this landscape. Now, I had a car I could look at all this stuff. Again, really lovely. You know, there's some pretty pretty crazy views, I think the in certain other countries might come with a, you know, park entrance fee and a t shirt. That is just what things look like here when your days filled with looking at beautiful things like that. It's it can be kind of energizing. It's a pride that you don't remember until you see it again. On this kind of constant lifetime scale of Austrian to not Austrian. This is something that takes the meter a little bit. Like, I'm feeling a little Austrian. Right. Yeah. I mean, this is what I looked at when I was growing up how long does it drive from from China to that area? It's about four hours. You know, that's a big chunk of the country. It is it's like a sort of the it's hard to say half because Australia has this really long tail in the west east ahead. But you're you're basically going from the very eastern border to the very western border. All right. So that brings us to what is probably my favorite beverage among the three these beer, right? This was a tricky one to find. So I have friends who are from Innsbruck who had been living in Australia for a long time, and then moved back, and I was like so what's good into role? They pointed me to a few sort of mountain lookouts and a suspension bridge. And I decided that wasn't really gonna cut it. I'm not tore group that I think when I found this some your spa brewery is when I kind of I was permitting myself to make it a boost themed road trip because I had the wine in the beer, and I thought schnaps, but no actually to ROY. Role is a really interesting place. So that's the very like it's almost to the very far west of Austria. But it sort of was this independent minded place south to roll is in Italy. But it's all German speaking people because the border, Scott, arbitrarily bisected. Yes. And they sometimes make noise they wanna be independent to roll is probably my favorite place to visit in Austria because it is a little different and very beautiful and hugely mountainous. And there's just something a little bit. You know, there's something a little bit different about it to the rest of the country. Innsbruck was actually where I started my trip so chronologically, okay? And then from Innsbruck, I drove west to the Toronto valley, which is just one of those really really. Ridiculously pretty alpine views that you might see in a postcard. So you were in Toronto valley. Yes. And what did you find there? Well, I found a very old brewery coach doc and Bagga which has been brewing for a couple of hundred years maybe five hundred years maximum used to be run by women only. It was a castle for these nights that used to rule that part of to roll and eventually it passed into the hands of a wealthy who passed it into someone else's hands. So it wasn't. It wasn't by any means supposed to be a woman brewery goddess, that's how it went for a long time and in two thousand nine the current owner bought it and he's a dude. So that ended, but they're not a huge operation either. They are starting to make whisky to they had all these really atmospheric from entail tanks in the basement of their medieval castle. And I think they just said let's make this into a beer spa and spa. Yeah. Yes. What does that mean? Essentially, it means that you are there. These sort of large tanks, maybe fourteen square feet that used to hold the beer. And now they fill that with water. And then they will take about a month worth of brewer's yeast and put it in the water. And then you jump in the water a well. Yeah. Okay. And I think you can the idea is that it's like a large group might do it for a celebration. But then you sort of sit in this beer broth. It's supposed to be really good for your skin. It doesn't give you look athlete's foot. I don't know. Maybe if you do it all the time. Okay. And it's a strange concept go on your own on your own cognizance. Dear listener, it's a hot tub and the room is a lot cooler than what you'd usually get looks cooler. Yeah. I mean, you're beams or ancient, and there are old murals that looked like they could be really old. But they're really just a a modern artists who did them and you go in with your bathing suit. Yeah. I would I would say that. It's not expected that people do that. It's not it's not exactly tabu to where bathing suits in a sauna in Australia. But it kind of is you don't want to be that person. I would say that the idea is you come with a bunch of friends, and you all hang out there. Yes. Which is what people do in this on it. Anyway. But there's also a unlimited beer tap. Oh, wow. That's also great drinking a lot of beer in a hot tub. So I think I think the idea was also that it was a package deal because they also have this really big cavernous. Medieval dining hall. Okay. We're talking four hundred seats. So I think the idea is they wanna have a wedding. And then you get like eight twenty people to have a beer spas. Well, then they did tell us that, you know, this was a conscious effort to make use of a space that was really not being used at all. And they do get a lot of bachelor parties people come over from the US to do this. But I know I know they have beer baths in Prague where you sit in a bath tub with a tray and a beer and you're bathing in actual beer, but they are not just water with us. Yes. So beer beer. But that is just a bath tub. My guide pointed out this is the first of the size. This is full immersion. Very proud of having. Largest kind of Glueck spa. Yes. It sounds like a hater. It's consume. I'm a little bit of a hater consumes grows over is it something that you're just like. Yes. Ounce weird. But once you do it. It's like amazing. Well, I wouldn't need to repeat the experience for the the east part of it. Okay. I'm the fan of hot tubs. Sure. I'm a fan of crazy looking castles. And they're they're they're interesting people there. It's definitely an odd thing to do. I went to the other side of Austria. It's not very far from me. I think it might be odd to fly over from LA to swim in yeast bottom of the castle in Austria. But I mean, maybe that's their target audience fair enough. And are there other sponsor versus she gave me some beer shampoo. Your shampoo. Yes, right. Yeah. It's not very good. This is look suspiciously. Like a bottle of beer. It's sort of like unpleasantly herbal think may maybe that was not your shampoo. Maybe that was herbal schnapps shampoo. Give me the ticket back shampoos a lot like Schnapp. I won't be beer shampoo. You know, it's still a functioning brewery. That's the thing. Like, you you go there to drink beer and immerse yourself in it. If you want a warm, and you go to book, you go to book ahead, busy, oh, really popular and his popular. So can I can take all the my skepticism than just smoking because they're they're doing business out there. Thank you. Alexa. I have now to through ideas. I'm really psyched to do in Austria next time. I get there talk to you later. Thank you. The trip is hosted by me, Nathan Thornburgh produced by Josie Holtzman and Daniel Roth future projects or editors roads and kingdoms taffy Malkin yahtzee or executive producers are me and MAC Goulding. Also of roads and kingdoms. Shouts is always the Dan the automated for the music into Adele Rodriguez for the art next week. I'll be with JP McMahon. One of Ireland's greatest shifts in Galway talking a lot of shit, and drinking elder flower liqueur, we'll meet you there.