The Beer Gatherer

Blogging about Israeli beer in general and Israeli craft beer in particular, following 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die and other beer musings.

Archive for the tag “beer trip to Switzerland”

A Weekend In Switzerland Part II: Tradition

When The Secret Agent and I decided to visit Basel and Zürich, two cities in German speaking Cantons, one of which, Basel, located practically across the street from the German town Freiburg, we expected to encounter a beer culture similar to that of Germany: large beer halls that’s been around for centuries and serve one or two dirt cheap, fresh house-brewed lagers on tap. Sounds boring? That’s the setting that The Secret Agent idolizes; he’d rather sit in a bierhall and chat in pidgin with local retired men over visiting any cutting-edge multi-tap bar.

However, his Bavarian fantasy didn’t come true over our Swiss weekend. The market is dominated by Feldschlösschen, once family owned that’s been a Carlsberg subsidiary since 2000 that brews pale lagers. With the help of Ratebeer, we visited 3 beer halls that have the patina we’ve been craving.

ueliLocated in the heart of Old Town Basel, a minute from the Rhine, is Restaurant Fischerstube, a lively brewpub in a 15th-century building that serves traditional Swiss dishes and the house beers on tap as well as bottled seasonals and specialties. As expected from a microbrewery in a town know for its winter carnival, Ueli Bier‘s icon is a (thankfully not intimidating) jester. Fischerstube is a packed, yet cosy place. Filled with chatter and clutter, a welcoming atmosphere and crowd that consists of locals and foreigners at once. We sat next to two women who were having a drink after a shopping spree and exchanged looks with them, over the loud Americans who occupied the opposite table and bragged about the thriving microbrewing scenes of Colorado and Idaho. In the corner there was a large table of 60-70 years-old women, celebrating something over wine glasses.



We loved the atmosphere and enjoyed the beer we sampled – 5 different beers in total, as those on tap are offered in different size glasses, from 100 or 200 ml. to 3L jugs. The spicy, almost-chewy Hefe Weizen was our favourite with the roasty dunkel a close follower. There was nothing really outstanding about the beers in Fischerstube, but their freshness and the lovely, lively happening around us added to our enjoyment.

IMG_2692You can buy Ueli Bier in Drinks of The World in Basel, which we mentioned in the first entry in the Swiss weekend series, but I’m afraid that outside the restaurant they’re just simple lagers, so if you can (and if you’re in the teeny-tiny town known as Basel, you can), drink it on location.

There must be other traditional beer halls in Basel, but we had only one evening in the city and opted to visit brewpubs (yes, in plural. Wait for part III). We arrived at Zürich on Friday evening, dropped our luggage at the spacious room we found on AirBnB and returned to the crowded train station, for a taste of Christmas Market and beer. Located in the main hall of Zürich Hauptbahnhof, Brasserie Fédéral that specializes in Swiss beer, attracts quite a few of the 400,000 passengers that enter the station every day. The menu offers more than 100 Swiss beers, almost all of them bottled, most of them conservative; beer from new Swiss micros wasn’t spotted on the menu. We were seated in a corner table and were served by an impatient waiter that was somewhat irritated that we read the menu and didn’t just opt for some Feldschlösschen. The prices were high, we were tired and wanted to switch to our pajamas so we ordered two bottles of hard-to-find stuff that’s in the 1001 book. Felsenau Bärni Dunkles Spezialbier an unfiltered dark lager thathails from Swiss capital Bern pours clear dark bronze and smells of honey and diluted caramel. Tastes rather sweet with a little sting, its body is light and the carbonation quite soft for a  lager. This is not a bad beer. It is properly done, but you can lead a peaceful life and die happily without trying it. Rosengarten Einsiedler Hell is another rather difficult to find beer. That’s a pale lager that, according to the book “is a must-try beer for scholars of the Swiss beer landscape”. Beers like that is the reason the 1001 book pisses me off so many times. There’s one Israeli beer in the book, a hard-to-find, tap only seasonal and then there’s this mediocre Swiss pale lager? Gee, Goldstar is much more worthy! Even Tuborg Red that has an interesting story behind it is worthier than Einsiedler Hell. Clear Golden with a quick dissolving white head, honey and mineral aroma, bitter, malty and roasty taste, light body and way-too-soft carbonation. Something was wrong with the bottle, as the flip-top opened without any resistance. Mediocre.

clearly uninteresting

clearly uninteresting

Our Classic Beer Hall craving was satisfied on our last day in Zurich. Restaurant Zeughauskeller, a huge, busy place in the heart of Old Town, has been in business since 1926. Before that the building that was constructed in 1487 was used as arsenal warehouse. The restaurant website tells that “[legend] has it that the crossbow from William Tell […] was issued here.” It comes as no surprise that the walls are decorated with all sorts of armor. It’s a touristy place and as such is expensive and offers multi-lingual menus, but when we visited on  Sunday noon, it also boasted of dining Swiss families. Menu is full-on Swiss traditional dishes, has limited vegetarian/ vegan options (but the bread is to die for!) and a small, but alright beer menu: a few Swiss beers on tap and a bunch of “international” bottles (Schneider Weisse, Chimay and more Swiss beer). Draught beer is offered in 300ml and 400ml glasses. We opted for the small ones and finally drank some beers from the aforementioned Feldschlösschen: Feldschlösschen Urtrüb that’s in the menu is called Naturrüb that was alright, with grassy, vegetal aroma that’s quite typical for unfiltered beer. We also drank Dunkle Perle that was a bit too watery for me, Oberländerbier Amber that was quite nice, bitter and malty with some caramel and the house beer that was brewed by local brewery Turbinenbräuhaus that was quite nice as well, with spices and biscuit in the nose and soft herbal, slightly dry bitterness.

more beams!

more beams!

I would highly recommend visiting these 3 places but more for the atmosphere than for the beer. Meanwhile,  Felsenau Bärni and Einsiedler Hell are beers #158 and #159 *I* Must Try Before I Die. You, however, don’t have to.


A Weekend in Switzerland Part I: Beer on the Go

The Secret Agent and I spent the last weekend of November/ First weekend of December in Switzerland. Sort of an early birthday getaway and making my latest biggest wish come true: seeing The Young Gods Live. I wrote about going to Switzerland and returning from Switzerland before, but it’s about time I actually write about the trip. I’ve already written a detailed account about the trip in our Hebrew blog, focusing on date and location, providing travel and (vegan) food tips to the readers. Since the nature of The Beer Gatherer is more geeky, I decided on a different approach for this blog.

First, some background and disclaimer: We spent 4 days in Switzerland, in Basel and Zurich. With 12 Swiss beers in my book, we were also mission-oriented. Naturally, tourists tend to generalize and get a somewhat superficial impression of their travel destination, and despite doing the best research Ratebeer, Google and Bov’s website provide, there’s a good chance we missed stuff or just didn’t get the essence of things due to a language barrier and general cluelessness. Having written that and making this introduction useful in a way, let’s begin with some shopping tips

Actually, in order to get your beer fix to Switzerland, all you need is one tip: Drinks of the World. A small chain that carries, well, drinks from around the world. If the store’s called *Drinks* of the World, it probably means that you can get there all kinds of whine and rum and tequila and scotch, but the truth is, we didn’t notice, because the two branches we visited, in Basel and Zurich, are so loaded with beer that we were almost blinded by the choices we had to face. But first thing first. A small chain, right? It has 5 branches at the railway stations of Zurich, Basel, Bern, Luzern and Winterthur. Unlike other places in the world, Switzerland’s railway stations are well-lit, safe spaces with a thriving commercial space – quite the opposite of Tel Aviv’s Central Bus station, to those who are familiar with the lovely scenery.

We read mediocre reviews about the stores and its selection, but since we compare it to what we know from home, we were thrilled. Europeans, there’s a nice, small selection of American beerP Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Kona, Anchor and Flying Dog (and also some Coors, Miller and Colt 45 if you insist). Americans – there’s a decent selection of European Beer. Good German stuff, Belgian ales, French stuff, English beer and also BrewDog. Everybody, there’s a vast selection of Swiss beer, including gift packs for the indecisive, and also a fair bunch of (mostly) pale lagers from “rare” countries: we couldn’t resist and despite being well aware that we’re taking room from good quality beer we bought bottles from Morocco, Mongolia and Cuba (did read this, Americans? Cuban beer).

Although we decided to leave beer shopping to the end of the trip, we bought a couple of bottles before getting on the Train from Basel to Zurich. We are target-oriented and used the 1 hour train ride to drink Schneider Weisse Original that we bought at the store in Basel. Cold from the fridge, this refreshing, full-bodied wheat beer was pleasing to drink, but since we had to look after our suitcase and share our seats with other passengers and, we decided to give up on the other bottle we bought, and take it home with us.

beer on the train

beer on the train

We visited the zurich store right before getting on the train back to Basel, the night before our flight back home. We bought a bunch of bottles to take home with us and since we had a night to kill at the airport before the morning departure, we decided to make the most of our free time and picked some beer to taste in the vacant airport. Here’s what we drank:

Ratebeerians are everywhere!

Ratebeerians are everywhere!

These were selected from the fridge. Vollmond is domestic, brewed only on full moon for mystical aura and promotional reasons, I guess. It’s a regular lager with a nice label and a nice story behind it, that’s all. It has funky piss-like as well as cooked-veggies aroma and that mediocre pale-lager bitterness, or in other words, almost tasteless. Why is it in the book? Probably because of the full-moon story. The other beers we drank in that nightly airport session were better, with Brewdog’s Dogma being the highlight of the tasting: rich tastes of wood and roast, bitter, a little sweet and a little coffee-like sourness and wood, espresso and acetone aroma.

Schwaben Bräu Das Echte Märzen was quite alright too, malty and balanced, and Schlösser Alt was just great: simple, robust, very drinkable although a tad bit on the sour side. Meanwhile at home we already opened our bottle of Trois Dames IPA from Brasserie Trois Dames, one of Switzerland’s new microbreweries. It’s a huge difference from most of the beer we tastes on our weekend, and that’s a compliment. Murky amber in colour with dry and fruity aroma and dry, fresh bitter taste, it is a good, refreshing beer.

Suffice to say that being true beergeeks, we didn’t only rely on these two chain stores. Paul Ullrich in Basel is another good source for beer and drinks in general. There we also explored the other shelves and let me tell you, their rum section is to die for, with great editions from classic and contemporary distilleries alike. Beer Planet in Zurich has a smaller selection than Drinks of the World, but it’s worth mentioning, because sometimes you can get harder-to-find domestic brews over there. We got a bottle of Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien 2011 there, a beer I didn’t even imagine finding in the German canton.

Stay tuned for more Swiss musings. Meanwhile, Schneider Weisse Original, Vollmond and Trois Dames IPAare beers #155, #156 and #157 I Must Try Before I Die.


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