The European Beer Consumers Union tells us that “The eastern two-thirds [of Switzerland], that is roughly the German-speaking part […] is very much pale lager country, with very few deviations from the Germanic norm. Even micros and brewpubs tend to produce little else than unfiltered pale lagers, a few dark variations and the odd Weizen.” unfortunately, the newer beer institutions we visited on our short weekend in Basel and Zürich did little to contradict the quoted statement.
We drank the first round of beer about an hour after arriving to Basel. We checked in at our hotel, Ibis near the Railway station and headed straight to Unser Bier. Located in a converted factory that is now used for a trendy backpackers hostel, the brewery and the brewpub, Unser Bier was established in 1998 by a group of homebrewers, owned by thousands of shareholders and in 2011 produced some 600,000 liters that were consumed locally, in Basel and vicinity. Whereas the cheeky king can be seen in trendy cafe’s all over town and crates adorned by his face fill the local Drinks of the World, it was nowhere to be seen in Zürich. We were lucky to visit the brewpub, as it is open only two evenings a week. We were also fortunate to find the entrance (which is to the left of the main entrance of the building, in a courtyard).
High ceiling, minimal decoration, smartly dressed audience and a supercool lampshade made of beer glasses make it a modern, trendy spot. The Secret Agent and I prefer more shady looking watering holes, but we thought, maybe the creative design indicates creative beer? Well, not quite. We sampled the 4 beers that were offered on tap: blond, amber, Wheinschaft – Christmas beer – and schwarzbier. All were really fresh and accurate. Granted, you may think, we were drinking at the brewpub, with only a door standing between us and the fermentation tanks. It isn’t taken for granted in Israel, that’s for sure. Fresh, accurate, filtered and not bad, but nothing was really great. We then shared a bottle of Aypiey, their organic IPA that again was alright: some citrus and pine in the nose and unoffensive bitterness in the mouth, but again not exciting. It’s cool that Unser Bier offers more than the traditional styles, but a bit more risque would have done them good.
Later in the evening, after fun time in Fischerstube we dropped by Cafe’ Hirscheneck, hoping to score a vegan meal. The kitchen was closed by the time we made it there, so we stayed for beer. Appenzeller on tap. Locher Appenzeller Naturperle was first brewed in 1996 and is Switzerland’s first organic beer. This unfiltered, unpasturized brew contains 5.2% abv and smells a little like vegetable broth, as well as malt and grass. Broth is also apparent in the mouth, along with malt and canned corn water. It has a light body and smooth texture, but hardly any carbonation. I guess it’s because it’s unfiltered that the drink reminded me of vegetable soup, but hey, it was quite fine. The Secret Agent ordered Appenzeller’s helles lager, called Locher Appenzeller Swiss Mountain, which was also quite alright for a lager.
We told you about our first night in Zürich in a previous post. The following day, Saturday, began with hunting down Amboss 5. This is a local brewery that contract brews its stuff elsewhere. Their German-language website and a review on ratebeer indicate that they have some kind of brewpub/ Club. 10:30 a.m on Saturday may be a little too early for beer, but the place was open and we learned that there’s no brewpub in the address, only a warehouse/ distribution center. However, there were people at the place who pointed at a neighbouring cafe’ that pours Amboss 5 beer and brews Amboss coffee – they also roast and grind beans. I love coffee in my beer, both as an addition or as roasty porter/ imperial stout aromata, but these are two separate businesses. The beers we sampled were two rather standard lagers. Amboss Amber, Märzen beer, is grainy and has just a little roast, with fruity bitter taste (quite untypical for the genre). Amboss Blond is standard light lager. Again, alright, refreshing – which is the last thing you want from a beer in the freezing Swiss winter – but standard.
A couple of hours later we were the first customers on the bar at Steinfels, a trendy bar that serves burgers and brews beer in a well-designed space. The beer menu shows an attempt to think out of the Swiss box and we jumped at the opportunity to taste Swiss Saison. Well, it was as aromatic as tea, with cinnamon and jasmine and clove and tasted like tea as well. Nice, but definitely not Saison. The Weizen, however, was very good, with orange peel aroma, biscuit and somewhat sour taste. One of the better beers we tried at the brewpubs we visited.
With the 1001 mission in mind, we allowed ourselves to drift away from Swiss beer and visit Bonnie Prince Pub. Located near Zürich’s touristic old town, this is a Scottish-like public house that serves commercial Heineken bottles and cans as well as Scotch and Scottish beers in a stuffy atmosphere with velvet-covered walls, wooden bar and squeaky stools and Walkers crisps for sale – of course. They offer some 8 different Scottish beers, out of which we chose Isle of Skye Black Cuillin which is a rather good porter and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, our reason for dropping by and staying in despite the bartender’s refusal to let us use the Wi-fi. This is the 4th Harviestoun beer we ever drank and like its predecessors, this is one great beer. All black, with honey and cocoa aroma, aggressive cocoa and coffee taste and syrupy, engine oil-like texture. A great beer and definitely a fresh change in the Land of Pale Lager.
Locher Appenzeller Naturperle and Harivestoun Old Engine Oil are beers #162 and #163 I Must Try Before I Die. Stay tuned for the 4th part of the Swiss Weekend series and other 1001 Beers adventures.