Chocolate, watches, cheese, and: craft, microbrewed beer! We all know the traditional products for which Switzerland is famous. Now, add first-class, innovative craft beers to the list.
A unique set of guidelines for Swiss beer brewers
Operating outside of European Union (EU) regulations, Swiss microbrewers follow their own national guidelines. For instance, the EU requires that “allergens be declared and highlighted on consumer labels.” Anything “containing gluten (e.g. barley, wheat, rye, etc.) and other allergens must either be underlined or bolded in an ingredient list.”
“The EU wants a traffic light system with the most common ingredients listed. These include salt, fat, protein, carbohydrates (and their origin and calorific value.) We would only consider protein and carbohydrates with substances that are above the daily dose marked in red,” explains Mathias Oeschger. He is a master brewer and fifth generation member of the family that owns Brauerei Adler (founded in 1828) in Schwanden, canton Glarus.
Oeschger has developed a handful of delicious microbrewed beers alongside the brewery’s common brands. “But we, as Swiss breweries, try to defend against this as it requires a very expensive laboratory effort that can only be done by large breweries.”
Flavorful, microbrewed Swiss craft beers
In Switzerland nowadays, you’ll find microbrewed beers with chestnut, alpine herbs and flowers, anise, juniper, and verbena. The country is a patchwork of twenty-six fiercely independent cantons. Regional authority is greater than federal allegiance, a fact which is reflected in its alimentary products such as beer.
Absent Swiss IPA, for example, is made as homage to absinthe, a drink that originated in Neuchatel. Now brewed closer to Zurich at the “Bier-Factory” in Rapperswil, it has a taste reminiscent of absinthe, but instead relies upon alpine ingredients to simulate the powerful drink.
In Basel, at Brauerei Fischerstube, Anita Tremi Nidecker, head brewer, told me of new beers launched by her brewery. “We had a beer speciality with fresh dates and a grain called emmer (also known as farro),” she said. “We also have a seasonal brew with rosemary that is seductively tasty.”
David Schurtenberger, who went from a career in banking to beer, (“The key is the “b!” he said.) and is now executive director of the tiny Brauerei Luzern, spoke proudly of the microbrewery’s spring beer: MÄRZEN, only available from April through August, which has a citrus flavor, thanks to the use of sapphire hops.
Switzerland is a nation of (micro)beer lovers
It’s not just Swiss independence from the EU that led to a burst of growth: from eighty-one breweries in 2000 to 1132 today. Affluent consumers, great transportation and distribution infrastructure, and clean, delicious water are all contributing factors.
According to Christoph Lienert, a scientific assistant with the Swiss Breweries‘ Federation, Switzerland has the most breweries per capita in the world: “One brewery per 7500 citizens,” he told me.
And while not all of the 1132 breweries are micro, it is clear that this is nation loves its beer.
Four Swiss craft beers I dare you to try
Each of the beers listed can be found at COOP supermarkets that are all over the country. If your branch does not carry a particular beer, you can order it online and have it delivered.
This is a refreshing beer on the light side from the famous Appenzell Brauerei Locher brewery. Its claim to fame, the brewery notes, is that the beer, “combines high quality malt with the juice of 28 types of pear and apple from the Oberegg region to make a sparkling-sweet drink.”
BFM Saison Surette Sour Beer
While this is not as innovative as beers infused with all sorts of ingredients, it’s from the Brasserie BFM brewery. The Switzerland Beer Guide, the ultimate site for beer in Switzerland, has rated this Jura based brewery number one. The beer has depth, a funky taste, and a long finish.
Schützengarten Schwarzer Bär
A heavy duty, dark beer from Switzerland’s oldest brewery (with a beer museum) in the canton of St. Gallen. If you’re looking for a beer with malt, this "black bear beer" is the one.
Storm&Anchor Silly Nelson
This IPA comes from the Storm & Anchor Brewery in the canton of Zurich. It is inspired by the time one of the brewers has spent in Australia. Hence, it has what he describes as tropical flavors that come about because it is “hopped with a ton of New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops.”
An exclusive recipe for Swiss beer fondue
Rolf Beeler is one of the most famous cheese affineurs in the world. He supplies cheeses to high end restaurants, like the three-star Michelin restaurant Eleven Madison in NYC. And in Max McCalman’s book, “Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best,” 17 of the top 30 listed are from Rolf Beeler with the top spot going to Beeler’s Sbrinz.
I have known Rolf for many years, and he shared his exclusive recipe for a delicious Swiss beer fondue:
Rolf Beeler's Swiss Beer Fondue
List of ingredients (serves 2):
8 oz of aged Gruyère
8 oz of Vacherin Fribourgois
1 cup of Swiss beer
2 teaspoons of corn starch
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1. Grate cheese.
2. Combine and mix all ingredients in a bowl.
3. Add the mix to a fondue pot and warm it by medium temperature. Always stir in a figure-eight motion with a wooden spoon.
4. Cook just to the point that it begins to boil.
5. Finally, place the pan over a rechaud (food warmer).
6. En guete – or dare I say proscht?