Beer has been made in the village of Zell am Ziller for over 500 years. The local brewery, Zillertal Bier, recently opened a state-of-the-art interactive exhibition inviting visitors to learn about how beer is made and the importance of good ingredients. We took a look around the “BrauKunstHaus” in the Zillertal Valley – finishing, of course, with the obligatory tasting session!
The year is 2020. All of Austria is dominated by one brewing consortium. All of Austria? Not quite. In one village, Zell am Ziller, a small brewery continues to resist the march of the multinationals and offers beer lovers in Tirol alternative ales. Zillertal Bier has been run by the same family for 16 generations and today produces a dozen or so different varieties. The most famous is its seasonal Gauderbock, a 7.8% ABV bucking bronco of a beer brewed each year in spring for the famous Gauderfest celebration in the valley.
The idea for an exhibition area at Zillertal Bier first arose back in 2012, when general manager Martin Lechner carried out extensive renovation work to modernise and expand the brewery. He was keen to offer visitors to the brewery in the Zillertal Valley a look behind the scenes. Fast forward a few years to the opening of the BrauKunstHaus, a hands-on interactive exhibition all about beer-making: from selecting the ingredients all the way through to bottling and distribution.
Visitors can’t fail to be impressed by the time and effort which has gone into the project. With Zillertal Bier’s rich history stretching back 16 generations and 500 years, it was decided to bring the former owners of the brewery back to life in the form of speaking holograms and let them guide beer enthusiasts through the exhibition, in either (Tirolean) German or English. “We were keen to include elements of Tirolean dialect in our spoken texts to make things as authentic as possible,” explains Philipp Geiger, a member of the team behind the BrauKunstHaus.
Each ingredient its island
Hops, grain, yeast and water are the four basic ingredients needed to make beer. Each has its own “island” in the first room of the exhibition, combining digital and interactive elements. The Hops Island, for example, invites visitors to smell different types of hops, while the Malt Island introduces Fiss Imperial Barley – an ancient crop native to Tirol which was almost entirely forgotted but is now once again being grown throughout the region.
From “Pils” to “Bock” to “Weizenbier”, the next room at the exhibition introduces me to the many different varities of beer which exist around the world. All that learning is thirsty work, but there is still more to experience before I can look forward to a well-earned beer. I get the chance to see what goes on inside the huge copper brewing kettles before moving on to the final stop, where the beer is filled into the brewery’s characteristic dark green bottles at a rate of several bottles a second.
„Large breweries produce their beer in around ten days. Our beer takes at least eight weeks.“
The Zillertal Valley – a special place
“Can we finally try some beer,” I find myself wondering as I enter the final room, which is dedicated to the beautiful alpine valley which gives Zillertal Bier its name. I learn about not only the flora, fauna and nature of the Zillertal Valley, but also the people, the unmistakable dialect and the valley’s proud musical history.
With my thirst for knowledge suitable quenched, it’s time to do something about my thirst for beer. We enter the large tasting room with its wood-panelled walls and ceiling. A series of shelves and fridges present all the wonderful beers produced here on site. I feel like a kid in a sweet shop. Or maybe Carrie Bradshaw in a Milanese shoe boutique.
Headache-free drinking experience
Depending on which package you book, there are between one and three beers included in the tour. All other beers are, of course, also available and can be purchased separately at very reasonable prices. Some of the more weird and wonderful options on offer include a beer matured in an oak barrel and served from a champagne bottle. My personal favourite is the “Zwicklbier” made from Fiss Imperial Barley. Friendly and knowledgeable members of staff are on hand to answer any questions about the individual beers and the brewing processes behind them.
“Large breweries produce their beer in around ten days. Our beer takes at least eight weeks. The longer the process, the better the beer. And the better the beer, the less chance there is of having a sore head the next day,” smiles Philipp Geiger. What may sound like marketing is, in fact, true. The difference between industrial beer and the stuff they produce at Zillertal Beer is a bit like deep-frozen pizza compared with a handmade margarita fresh from the oven. Cheers, or as we say here in Tirol: “Prost!”
Fotos: Zillertal Bier