Stollen 1930: gin tasting inside a 600-year-old Austrian cave

by Dec 10, 2023Austria, Recipes

Entrance Stollen 1930 Speakeasy Kufstein

Stollen 1930 in Kufstein, Austria, boasts one of the largest collections of gins in the world, deep inside an historic cave carved into the rocks beneath the fortress walls. It’s a remarkable place to visit, even for those who don’t love or even like gin.

My wife wrinkles her nose at gin. Therese is a whiskey gal, served neat. While I love the taste of gin, Therese just cringes when describing what she perceives as an astringent smell with an overpowering juniper taste. Which made her decision to book a gin tasting for both of us at Stollen 1930 in Kufstein, Austria, somewhat surprising. Until I learned Therese was not really interested in tasting gin. Sure, we were both curious to see what the “world’s largest collection of gin” looked like, but what really piqued Therese’s interest was that all these hundreds upon hundreds of gin bottles line the walls of a cave beneath the Kufstein fortress — a cave that was hewn out of the rock over 600 years ago.

And that is how we found ourselves seated inside Stollen 1930, a speakeasy-style bar housed in a cave that plays host to over 1,300 different types of gin. Make no mistake, I was there to taste gin. Therese was only there for photos of the cave and bar … or so she thought….

Stollen 1930 Kufstein Austria

A quick history of the cave and the Stollen 1930 bar

While the cave is now all about gin, it wasn’t always so. Over 600 years ago, the Auracher family worked for over 19 years to carve a tunnel into the mountain rock beneath the walls of the Kufstein fortress. Since Kufstein sits on the Inn River, ice blocks and beer could be stored in the cave and shipped easily to destinations needing ice for storing perishable foods. Auracher Löchl. then an ale house, opened in 1448, and it also relied on the cave for brewing beer and for cold storage.

In 1896, ice production stopped, although the ale house remained open. The cave was subsequently used for various purposes, including a wine cellar, horse stables, storage, and a hideout during the Napoleonic wars. In 1992 Raimund Hirschhuber purchased the Auracher Löchl – now a hotel with a restaurant and the cave – that straddled the old town main street. His son, Richard Hirschhuber, took over operations in 2003 and had a vision to turn the cave into a wine bar. Eventually, that became today’s gin bar, Stollen 1930, with the idea slowly evolving to make it the best and largest gin bar in the world, we were told. For the record, the “stollen” in the bar’s name means “tunnel” in German and is not named after the Christmas cake called by the same name.

A world record gin bar,… or not?

For those who care about world records, Stollen 1930 was in fact recognized in 2014 by Guinness World Book of Records for having “the most varieties of gin commercially available.” However, Guinness World Records (it changed its name officially a few years ago to reflect its more digital format) told us via an email that currently it officially recognizes Shelley Green of Evil Eye Lounge in York, England, as holding the record with 1,026 varieties counted. So who has the most?

As we sat in Stollen 1930 listening to “assistant gin engineer” Ante Sintic talk about the history of the cave and the bar, we were told that currently Stollen 1930 has over 1,100 different varieties of gin with more bottles being added regularly. That is indeed a LOT of gin. Is it a world record? I suppose unless Guinness, the official arbiter of world records, recognizes the number, it is not an officially recognized world record. But who cares really? There are certainly other bars around the world that make claims to housing stunning varieties of gin. Atlas bar in Singapore asserts it has over 1,300 “thoughtfully curated physical gin collections.” Ivory Peacock opened in New York City in 2022 and already it boasts 860 varieties of gin available for sale. So let’s just agree that Stollen 1930 has a lot of gin and ranks among the largest in the world. In this small city in Austria.

Gin Bottles Stollen 1930 Kufstein

Consider that there are, at last count according to the website Ginspiration, 5,498 different gin brands in the world, and 350 different tonic waters. That leaves plenty of opportunity to keep chasing records.

Bottom line: Putting aside all the claims about numbers of bottles of gin, what really makes a gin bar shine is the experience of the bar with its signature liquor – gin – and the atmosphere. And that is where Stollen 1930 gin bar, in a cave beneath the fortress in Kufstein, Austria, shines.

Stollen 1930 gin-tasting experience

To enter Stollen 1930 is to step into the days of the speakeasy – top secret bars and clubs where the well-connected went to socialize and drink alcohol during prohibition. Stollen 1930 recreates the atmosphere of a dimly lit, comfortable, hidden bar wonderfully. It is open daily from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. to anyone over the age of 21. You really don’t need to book a gin tasting to enjoy the bar, its mysterious atmosphere, or a gin drink. We even went back after our tasting to just sit and enjoy a gin and tonic – yes, even Therese, but I’ll get to that.

Gin Tasting Stollen 1930 Michael

However, to really experience the bar and all its gin knowledge and glory, booking a gin tasting experience is a must. A tasting takes approximately one and a half hours and the cost at the time of this writing was 60 euro per person (approximately USD $65). For that, you get to sample four gins, learn about the different types of gin, learn a bit about gin’s history, learn how tonic water should be matched with the correct gin, and understand how different types of gin pair with various foods – and that’s just the start.

HITT Tip: If you have the time (perhaps on your way to or from Kitzbuhel) and your visit is timed right — ours was not unfortunately — Auracher Löchl hotel restaurant in partnership with Stollen 1930 (owned by the same company) offers on the last Sunday of each month a special gin dinner experience by reservation only. For 148 euro per person (at the time of this writing, or USD $162), you get a 5-course gourmet meal while also learning more about gin and food pairings. The meal comes with six different gins paired with six different tonics.

Let’s start with a quick gin history lesson … and it does not begin in England

While the British may have made gin and the gin-and-tonic drink globally popular, gin did not in fact originate in the British Isles. On the contrary, gin is originally from the Netherlands. A Dutch doctor by the name of Franciscus Sylvius de la Boe is considered the creator of gin. In the 16th century, he made a schnaps distilled with juniper berries called “jenever” (pronounced “juh-nee-ver”) which was consumed as a medicine. During the Eighty Year’s War (1568-1648) British and Dutch soldiers drank jenever before battle which led to another name for it: Dutch courage. In the 17th century, jenever found its way to England, and the name went through various iterations before becoming, more simply, gin. The English thus popularized the drink.

So much gin was being distilled and consumed at home with no quality controls that the British government stepped in with a series of gin bills to regulate gin consumption and production. Quality of the gin improved, as did the quality of life.

It was in the 19th century that the origins of one of the most requested long drinks in the world, the gin and tonic, can be tracked. With the British occupying India, soldiers, officers, and government officials living in India were required to consume quinine every day to ward of malaria. Quinine had such a bitter taste that upper class Brits began mixing their quinine with gin, water, sugar, and lime. A British businessman, Erasmus Bond, created a tonic water with carbon dioxide. And the gin and tonic was born. Today’s tonics still contain quinine but in only trace amounts, just sufficient to add the needed bitterness.

Gin ingredients include juniper by law…but also so much more

The making of gin starts with a neutral spirit distilled typically from wheat, barley, potatoes, or grapes. The flavors of gin come from the botanicals that are then added to the spirit through steeping, vapor infusion, or vacuum distillation. But there are rules governing the making of gin. First, there must be at least a minimum percentage level of pure alcohol called ABV (alcohol by volume) which is 37.5 percent in the EU and 40 percent in the United States. You find this on the label of a bottle. Proof is another way it will be listed with a 40 percent ABV translating to 80 proof. Sip your gin cocktails wisely as it is very easy to get drunk quickly!

In addition to alcohol content percentages, all gin-makers must add juniper berries to the botanical recipe. If there is no juniper in the alcohol, it cannot be called gin. It is the juniper berry that gives gin its somewhat sharp, piney, medicinal flavor (precisely what makes Therese wrinkle her nose). The more juniper, the sharper the flavor profile and most certainly the nose. Once the juniper has been added though, it is a Wild West of choices with an increasing number of gins showcasing very creative flavor combinations.

Peek at a list of included botanicals on any gin bottle, and you’ll frequently find classic botanical ingredients such as citrus peel (lemon or orange), Angelica root, cardamom, and coriander. Other common botanicals include licorice, cinnamon, black pepper, cucumber, cassia, nutmeg, ginger, and almonds. Japanese gins include Sakura leaf, Sakura flower, yuzu, gyokuro tea, sencha tea, and sansho pepper. Beyond these, you’ll find even more creativity that is only limited by the botanicals gin-makers can get their hands on and their desired flavor profile.

Tasting at Stollen 1930 in Kufstein, Austria

Ante put on quite the show as he prepared each gin he was serving. A quick summary, in the order each was served, is below. For each, Ante poured a straight shot of gin, so we could experience and taste gin without being influenced by the flavors of a tonic. Then he mixed a gin and tonic, making note of the tonic that the gin master at Stollen 1930 has found pairs best with each gin.

For each gin and tonic, Ante first added three to four ice cubes. Then, he measured and poured 2 cl of gin over the ice — a typical gin and tonic served at the bar would be 4cl to 6cl but since this is a tasting and Stollen 1930 doesn’t want to get you drunk, it reduces the quantity of gin for each drink. Next, Ante added about half of a small single-serve bottle of tonic water (a regular gin and tonic would use the full bottle). Finally, he added garnishes depending on the flavor profile.

Stollen 1930 Gin Tasting Kufstein

Here are the gins and food pairings we experienced in our tasting at Stollen 1930:

Nordes Gin — Spain

  • Served with Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic.
  • Food pairing:  Char fish marinated in gin, with watercress.
  • Known botanicals: juniper, bay leaf, lemon verbena, Salicornia, mint, eucalyptus, and sage.

Nordes is a Spanish gin made, of all things, with an Albariño-grape-based spirit instead of the more commonly used grain-based spirits. Ante served a straight shot of Nordes alongside a gin and tonic. The nose leaned into lavender, with hints of citrus (Ante told me it was the lemon) and lemongrass. My initial taste from the shot glass hit my palate with mint and floral notes and then definitely juniper at the finish. Therese just wrinkled her nose at the smell and kept clicking her camera.

Koval Gin – Chicago, Illinois

  • Served with Aqua Monaco tonic.
  • Food pairing: beef tartar.
  • Known botanicals: juniper, angelica root, coriander, rose hip.

One might not think of Chicago when contemplating woodlands, but the Koval distillery, best known for its whiskeys, relies on woodland spices and barrel aging to create its unique flavor. Ante prepared me a bit for what I was to smell and taste (perhaps cheating in my favor a bit), but upon taking a deep inhalation, I certainly noticed the nose of juniper, wild grasses, and wild flowers. A first sip revealed a dry gin with light floral notes and spicy notes, which transitioned into a warm, classic juniper-flavored taste at the end. If you are a whiskey-lover, this gin might be for you. Koval was that Therese, a whiskey lover, said she “could” drink. But since it still had that distinguishable juniper bite with each sip, it’s not one she would ever buy or choose in a bar.

Ante Sintic Stollen 1930 Tonic

Bobby’s Dry Gin – Netherlands

  • Served with 1724 tonic from Seventeen.
  • Food pairing: schmalz (a rendered pork fat) flavored with onion, salt and pepper spread on dry crackers.
  • Known botanicals: juniper, cloves, coriander, cubeb pepper, fennel, lemongrass, rose hips.

From the country that lays claim to being the creator of gin, Bobby’s was first created in 2014 using a recipe that was inspired by and named after the creator’s granddad, Bobby Alfons.. The tall bottle is a nod to the type of bottle that used to hold traditional jenever. This gin is an exotic one, with flavors that are both floral, citrusy, and spicy. The nose is peppery. And the juniper? It’s still there, but well blended with all the other botanicals thus not such an in-your-face bite. The result? It was one of my favorite gins, although I also love the classics that are juniper heavy. And Therese? Her eyes opened at the aroma and the flavor of cloves and spice, mixed with the smoother, citrusy 1724 tonic. As soon as we left, this former hater of gin had fallen so hard for Bobby’s, she immediately went on a search to see about buying some bottles. Proof that amid the thousands of gin variations out there, it’s worth it to keep sampling since each is so very different.

Brockmans Gin — London

  • Served with Thomas Henry tonic.
  • Food pairing: unsweetened fruit compote with blackberries and blueberries.
  • Known botanicals: juniper, citrus peel, coriander, blueberries, and blackberries.

Gin Tasting Stollen 1930 Ante Brockmans

Ante held the open bottle out for me to sniff, and right then I knew this was not going to be an ordinary gin. I could smell the blackberries, blueberries, and citrus. In fact, given the nose, I was expecting a somewhat sweet flavor. I was very surprised. The first sip brought a bit of heat and citrus followed quickly by soft flavors of berries and a hint of licorice. There is an undercurrent of juniper, but it’s well-blended. The finish was very dry. To me, I think it would be almost better drinking on the rocks without tonic. Therese gave the Brockmans a sniff, a sip,… and then passed.

Four gins down, many more to go

The day after our Stollen 1930 gin tasting, we headed back one more time to the dimly lit cave to nestle into one of the mysterious nooks and crannies of this marvelous speakeasy just to sit, sip, savor and take in the ambiance.

Therese Iknoian Bobbys Gin Stollen 1930 Kufstein

The damp cave creates a wonderful atmosphere, perfect for relaxing, with furnishing and decor in a 1930’s style. We both ordered gin and tonics. Made with Bobby’s, of course. As I watched Therese happily sip her drink, I harkened back to something Ante had said the day before, “With gin, anything is possible.”

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2 Comments

  1. Greg

    This looks amazing!!

    • <div class="apbct-real-user-wrapper"><span>Michael</span><div class="apbct-real-user" title="The Real Person (TRP)"><div class="apbct-real-user-popup"><span class="apbct-real-user-title">Michael acts as a real person and passed all tests against spambots. Anti-Spam by CleanTalk.</span></div></div></div>

      Greg it was soooo amazing!


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About The Author

Michael Hodgson

Adventurer, curious traveler, photojournalist, and lover of gin. Winner of multiple gold, silver, and bronze medals from NATJA for travel writing & photography excellence -- earning medals every year since 2018. Gold medal winner 2021 to 2023 in the IFWTWA Travel Photography Awards, Best in Show award winner in the 2023 photography awards, and winner of the Excellence in Journalism award in 2022. Winner of a Juror's Award and Best in Show in the 2023 California State Fair photography competition. Still searching for the perfect gin and tonic.