Back in 2006, my hardy band of beer cyclists gathered our spare tubes, route maps and brewery addresses in preparation for an epic assault on Central Europe. Once on continental ground, our strenuous two-wheeled rides were strategically interspersed with drinking bouts and hangover-day rail transfers as we moved steadily east from Bamberg to Prague, where on the south side of the city, a 170-mile sign-posted Greenway path to Vienna originates. Indeed, the Austrian capital was our ultimate goal.
Days later, quite exhausted, we arrived in Tulln, a small and lively city on the banks of the Danube northwest of Vienna. The original touring group had winnowed to three, with Graham breaking from the pack midway through the Greenway to pursue a brief, wholly separate train trip to Vienna in advance of traveling west to Belgium.
There’d be time to catch up with Graham once we got back home, and so the remaining trio of stalwarts pressed on. After a combined bicycle and train ride from Havraniky to Tulln on a gorgeous late summer’s Friday, we were delighted to find a pleasant weekend wine festival under way. After sampling fresh examples of the local vintner’s art, we accidentally stumbled upon Adlerbrau, a small, newish brewpub, and enjoyed soft, golden house lagers alongside heaping platters of regional pork.
Next morning, we rolled down the long-established Danube bike path, a veritable superhighway of the genre, cruising 40 riverside kilometers into Vienna. Rooming arrangements were made, and by early afternoon, it was time for beer. Although Vienna is consummately friendly for cycling, our posteriors ached and we elected to walk, strolling from the Rathaus along the majestic Ringstrasse toward Vienna’s famous Opera House, and vaguely aiming for the 1516 Brewing Company, which I recalled quite favorably from a previous visit.
Just off the crowded Karnterstrasse shopping street, there was a sign for the Crossfields Australian Pub, and as is my habit, I speculated aloud in an admittedly patronizing way about the sort of clueless tourist who’d travel all the way to Vienna just to have a beer in an Aussie theme bar – and then, glancing inside, my eyes bulged as I spotted the preposterously familiar answer to my question, seated right in front of me.
It was Graham.
It made sense, because Graham had once traveled extensively in Australia, so why wouldn’t he pause at an Aussie pub and enjoy those fine memories? But it was such a surprise to see him; he’d remained in Vienna longer than planned, and of the hundreds of places available to him for a last beer before the night train out of town, we happened by accident upon the one with him seated inside it. The reunion was joyful and raucous, and included an impromptu round of unfiltered Ottakringer Zwickl lagers, as well as the all-important exchange of road warrior tales.
At some point our erstwhile compatriot noted that 1516 was three short blocks down the street, and what’s more, he’d had multiple pints of Hop Devil during a previous evening’s visit there.
Wait, I said … you said Hop Devil … as in Victory Hop Devil, the delicious American IPA from Downingtown, Pennsylvania … a place nowhere near Vienna, and an ale markedly (and gloriously) dissimilar from the parade of admittedly fine but ultimately unchallenging lagers fueling our bikes across the hills and meadows of the Czech Republic.
One and the same, replied our Graham.
I was sure the heat, nostalgia or alcohol had gotten to my pal, but with mock indignation he offered to guide us all the way to 1516 to prove the veracity of his assertion, and so after settling the bar tab with the gracious hostess, herself an expat Aussie, we ambled over to 1516, where I requested a beer menu and prepared to savagely chortle at Graham’s fevered misperceptions.
Except there it was: Hop Devil.
While I scratched my head in befuddlement, Graham beamed and the patient server explained in impeccable English that Hop Devil had originally been brewed at 1516 two years earlier by Victory’s Bill Covaleski. Apparently the brewpub had started a “guest brewer” program with the help of famed Austrian beer guru Conrad Seidl, and afterward, some of the beers were installed as rotating seasonal offerings.
Thus, Vienna-brewed Hop Devil was on tap with a vengeance. Graham was right, I was wrong, and I’ve never been happier to find myself on the losing end of a bet. We desperately needed an American hop jolt after so many days of balanced golden lagers. As the beer menu observed, Hop Devil marked the “first time (that) whole hops were used in 1516 Brewing Company.”
I celebrated this miracle of timely convergence by drinking three imperial pints. Little did I know that fully a dozen beers and two huge meals remained in my day, spread out among two excellent urban breweries (Salm and Siebenstern) and the Bogside, an Irish pub far more Viennese in character than Hibernian; no matter, because the Guinness was fine, and the tunes even better.
Graham soon departed 1516 for the station to catch his overnight ride to Belgium. The single biggest surprise of that 2006 journey – perhaps of any of my travels – was our purely happenstance meeting with him. However, second place handily goes to the surreal joy of drinking Victory Hop Devil at a Viennese brewpub. American-style craft beer in the Habsburgs’ backyard?
Who’d have guessed?