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Do you know your haxenspreizer from your zirbenschnapps?

Going on your first ski holiday can be initially exhilarating until you enter the bar or restaurant and suddenly have no idea what to ask for or are presented with a menu and have no idea what half of the terms mean. Allow us to present you with this cheat-sheet / advisory guide...

Each country has its own specialities so I have subdivided them accordingly, and will begin with Austria:

Let us start with the drinks. As some of you will know the Austrians love their schnapps, but it helps a lot to know the different varieties on offer. The Austrians take pride in producing some truly wonderful concoctions; we're not talking archers peach schnapps here.

My first piece of advice is never, ever accept a Krautinger (turnip schnapps). It's the local specialty, along with Vogelbeer schnapps, for much of Tirol, but neither seem to particularly agree with a British palate. The good news is they also have Williamsbirne (pear) or Marrillen (apricot) schnapps, which can be mouth-watering, especially if you get an 'Alte' version; they usually cost more, but you can sip them rather than shot them. If you want to try something a little more unusual but equally delicious I would recommend a Zirben (pine-cone) or Zwetsche (plum) schnapps. For those caught out by the cold this is the perfect drink to immediately warm you through to your toes; it can also help give beginner skiers some much needed confidence. The warming effects can be enhanced even further by ordering a heiße-zwetsche or heiße-eierlikör (egg liqueur or a thicker style of egg-nog), which are shots, served hot, usually with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

If it's a slightly longer hot drink you require, you will no doubt have heard of Gluhwein (mulled wine), which can also be made from white wine incidentally, but you may not have heard of Jagertee. This interesting concoction is made of equal parts black tea, red wine, spiced rum, orange juice, and a liqueur (most commonly plum brandy or a schnapps). Lemon, sugar, cinnamon sticks and cloves are added to give it that winter flavour. One of these is generally enough to help you recover from a cold or numb the pain from any ski accident, and two of them will result in you dancing on the bar or passing out where you sit. You have been warned. If a Jagertee seems a little too excessive for elevenses the Austrians do a great range of black or fruit teas and wonderfully creamy hot chocolates. It is not uncommon to add rum to these (usually Stroh - watch out for the 80% proof), though not if served to children.

After a long day of skiing you might engage in a spot of Apres-ski. If you're looking for something to sip in 'a lady-like manner' I would recommend trying a local Riesling or Gruner Veltliner (both regional white wines). If it's bubbles you're after you can't go wrong with a Hugo (an elderflower, mint, lime and prosecco concotion) or Aperol Spritz (grapefruit flavoured). I've been drinking these in the Austrian alps for years and much to my excitement they have recently started popping up on bar menus in the city, though they don't seem to taste so good without the fresh mountain air to accompany them.

If these options seem a little feminine for you, or you're under 21 and on a budget, you may be better off going for a variety of beer. Obviously being a germanic nation they have the usual lagers and pilsners, but for those not so keen on a regular beer flavour I'd advise trying Weiss-bier (though always get this in a glass, never swig it from the bottle) or a Natur-Radler, which is a shandy but made using fresh or cloudy lemonade; a definite improvement. If you fancy something sweeter it's quite common to get a beer with coca-cola instead of lemonade. This has a variety of mostly un-PC names, but asking for a Cola-bier should get you one.

Later in the evening you may venture out to the bars and shots might make an appearance, occasionally balanced on a ski. Most alpine bars stock some simple shots such as Kleiner Feiglings, which are a sweet, easy to drink fig vodka. They may also serve Lady Killers (apple vodka) or Killer Ladies (cranberry vodka); until recently you could peel the labels off these to reveal images of soft-porn, but these have now been made classier by replacing them with some sexist jokes. If you're looking at the local Spar for some pre-drinking shots or ones to keep in your coat pocket whilst attending a New Years Eve street party, the dubiously named Party Knüller (in Swedish this sounds like party f***ers), come in handy. You can buy a box of them and they come in a selection of flavoured vodkas including plum, fig, sour apple, and cherry.

Jager-bombs are as commonplace here as in the UK, but you may not have tried a Fliegenderhirsch / Turbo-jager or a Haxenspreizer (the literal translation is 'leg-spreader'). In case a jager-bomb isn't challenging enough for you, a turbo-jager involves pouring a shot of vodka into the red-bull before dropping the shot of jager in. A Haxenspreizer consists of a shot of vodka, a shot of lemon juice and a sachet of sugar. You pour the sugar in your mouth, following it up with the lemon juice and then vodka; shake it all around in your mouth before swallowing the mixture. My best advice for these is a) never accept the shots in glasses fresh out the dishwasher - warm vodka is foul, b) try to aim for the centre of your tongue with the sugar otherwise the granules get left stuck between your teeth and lips, and c) don't take too much of the lemon juice or you end up wincing from the acidity rather than the alcohol.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is your guide to drinking in the Austrian alps. Just remember you do still have to make it home to the chalet through the cold and snow after sampling all these beautiful beverages.


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