2018 was both good and bad and definitely both

Die Craft Bier Szene im Umbruch? Is the craft beer scene changing?

It feels like Craft Beer is at a crossroads. We are doing this review for four years now and never before have the answers been so contradictory and never before has there been as much concern among all the excitement. Some praise the community, others already see reason for criticism. There’s improvements in quality, but not enough. Some celebrate expansions, others had to close. Growth and consolidation. Left and right. Up and down. Hazy and clear. Optimistic and pessimistic. Let’s dig in.

Considering the inherent dichotomy of “Craft beer”, a dichotomy in the answers should not surprise us. It’s primarily a business, but also a community. Or it’s primarily a community, but also a business. Those at the edges emphasize the romanticized aspects of the trade and the community, while for many in the business, it’s, well, it’s primarily a business. “It’s like with music bands: Some fans abandon a band once it’s too popular. In Craft Beer a brewery gets criticized or abandoned if it shows a minimum of a business decision. But it is a business” says Markus Forster of ProBier, organizers of the Craft Beer Festival Zürich. It’s not a surprise then that the partial sale of Beavertown to Heineken gets several mentions. However, not only was Beavertown criticised, but also the brewers that pulled out of their festival, as noted by Tom of Brew By Numbers. The craft beer crowd is fickle.

Asked what made him wonder in 2018, Chris of 3 Floyds wrote “the ever-changing landscape in the beer industry” and Fred of Hopping Frog wrote the “craft beer market saturation”. Many breweries celebrated expansions or new equipment (Four Winds, Brew By Numbers, Brekeriet), while Van of Gigantic wondered about “how much debt breweries have”. Brewing is a business and the worries of a production brewery are different to the worries of a beer ticker who only wants to drink a bear once (to the criticism of a good number of panelists) or who jumps from one darling brewery to the next. Brewers wonder “how to efficiently get the last bits of grain to the back drain of the lauter tun” (Katie of White Frontier) or “how many hours can one person work in a week?” (Chris of White Frontier). And in Switzerland, brewers have to pay alcohol taxes, something wineries do not have to do – as pointed out by Ben of Black Pig.

Cue Underworld’s “Born Slippy”

However, there are also changes for good. Never before did we have so many mentions of “exotic” countries: places or breweries in Italy, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Greece, Poland and Vietnam get nods. This is mirrored by Stu of the Yeastie Boys who recognizes a “general improvement in beer quality around the world.” Competition from imports is not necessarily something a brewer is looking for, however, or as Robby of 7 Peaks writes: “I hope to see the imports/industrials shrink and the swiss craft breweries grow!”

Darryl of Beerbliothek wonders what the next trend or hype will be. There appears to be a desire to return to simpler times, or “beer that tastes like beer – not juice or a cake” as Van puts it. This shows in a lot of people talking about Lagers, notably Roger of Brygger Øl, Mike of Lervig, Jonny of the Craft Beer Channel and Urs of UG Bräu, as well bierversuche’s own Christian. There’s still a lot of chatter about IPAs, of course, but much more controversially: Stuart of Magic Rock enjoyed drinking West Coast IPA in California, while several others are annoyed by all the New England IPAs out there (e.g. Jérôme of BFM, Brent of Four Winds, Tore of Fjord & Fjell, Fredrik of Brekeriet, Van of Gigantic or our friend Biit) or happy, like Alain of Beer Guerillas or Markus of ProBier. Hence, there was more criticism than praise for last year’s hype style.

There was also little to no enthusiasm for Brut IPA, with Darron of Siren, Fredrik of Brekeriet and Jay of the Kajüte Bar being specifically suspicious. Interestingly enough, plenty of people still voiced their dislike for sour beers (we opt out of naming names here). Considering the group of people answering – all being closely linked to beer, it gives Tom of BBNos question extra weight: “Is there a market for wild fermented beers beyond the craft beer enthusiasts? I’m interested to see how the new Overworks beers sell on a larger scale production.”

Switzerland’s brewery scene grows up or jumps the shark

The long summer made it a good year for brewers, at least according to the answers of Alex of Öufi, Simon of Lägere and Jérôme of BFM. Despite that, Switzerland really seems to grapple with what it means for a market to grow up. It’s been a particularly conflicting year with good news (more restaurants, more stores, more festivals – to the chagrin of many commenters). Switzerland reached 1’000 registered breweries (read our analysis of that here), to the bewilderment of many, with several more voicing surprise that this number is continuing to grow. But there was also bad news, no other worse than the closing of legendary 523. Despite such closings, there was a lot of expansion or upgrading at existing breweries like Broken City, Nébuleuse, Haarige Kuh, Brausyndikat or even Aabachbier. But you’ve got to wonder, who is going to drink all of that beer? Because, there may be more stores and restaurants, Martin of Sudwerk for example mentions the Impuls Restaurant in Wetzikon, but is that enough? Particularly, considering that availability is still a problem or as our own Jan wonders, why it’s still so difficult to purchase Swiss beer in Switzerland.

There’s a big group of people who praise the increase of quality, among them Samuel of Blackwell or Robi of Zur Palme Brewing. On the other end, you have commentators who are not mincing words: Laruent Mousson, Tom of Full Measure or Stephan Zwahlen of importer and distributor Amstein are really dishing out: Laurent hopes that Swiss breweries get their shit together to only doubt it. And he puts his finger on something specific: “Way too many beers from small microbreweries with serious fermentation issues: stuck fermentation (unfermented wort notes), stressed yeast (overly estery with fusels on top), beer sold way too young (acetaldehyde levels through the roof), etc. It’s as if those brewers keep their eye on the ball until the wort is cool and ready to ferment, and then just stop to care… And many of them don’t want to hear about it either.” Tom seconds this with him wishing for “some serious self-critical reflection from brewers.” Showing that the quality discussion is not exclusively Swiss are Stu’s quote mentioned above, while Jonny of the Craft Beer Channel wonders: “Are we too forgiving of bad beer because they come from small/independents?”

Collabofest 2019

Crafty practices have also entered Switzerland with big breweries dabbling in “craft beer styles” (whatever that may be), while continuing their domination in the general market, going as far as sponsoring “sport clubs and big events to have exclusivity. It looks to me we are facing “bribes” and this practice is not fair!” criticizes Ben of Black Pig. But it’s not just the big ones, according to Robby of 7 Peaks: ”I was irritated by some of the games our bigger “craft” breweries played to grow.” Stefan of Brauwolf talks about fights and threats among craft breweries and Fabricio of Totally Beer bemoaned “breweries that help less and less each other.”

This happened, however, at the same time as many praised the Swiss scene and community, like Adrian of MN Brew, Oliver of 4655, the guys of Endo or Xavier of l’Apaisée, giving an international example, mentioning how he was invited to a beer festival in Canada. 2018 was also the year Nébuleuse and White Frontier did several international collaborations including its own minifestival. It will be curious to see if there are going to be more Swiss collabos, as Robby of 7Peaks is hoping for. He should find willing collaborators in people like Ben of Black Big, Tore of Fjord & Fjell, Eric of Brasserie de la Mine, Robi of Zur Palme Brewing or Martin of MashBrothers, who all mention their interest in doing collabos.

Agree to disagree

When reading all the responses, it’s difficult to find much consensus. Does the variety of people mandate such disagreement? In the end though, all the professional brewers, bottle shop owners, semi-professional brewers, observers, journalists and fans still talk about the same thing.

In any case, there’s way too much of interest in all the answers to really go through everything in this post, so take some time and dig in yourself. It is a fascinating look into what’s currently thought, praised, criticized, dreaded and wished for. Craft beer is at a crossroads. It was a year of contradictions, challenges, adversaries, but, after all, also good news, so reminds us Andy of Partizan: “North Korea being a bit more friendly was nice”.

  • Adrian Minnig, MN Brew GmbH
  • Adrian Rösti, Glattfelder Privatbrauerei
  • Alain Bruttin, The Beer Guerrillas
  • Alex Künzle, Öufi Brauerei Solothurn
  • Andy Smith, Partizan
  • Andy Taylor & Glynn Gillies, Haarige Kuh Brauerei (The Hairy Cow Brewing Co.)
  • Beat Ming, Reinecke Bräu / MashBrothers
  • Ben Bost, Brasserie BlackPig
  • Biit, bierversuche.ch Frontendler
  • Bov, bov.ch
  • Brent Mills, Four Winds Brewing
  • Chris Boggess, 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
  • Chris Kneuss, aabachbier
  • Chris Treanor, WhiteFrontier
  • Christian, bierversuche.ch / wortspiele.org
  • Christian Stoiber, Brauerei Altes Tramdepot
  • Darron Anley, Siren Craft Brew
  • Darryl de Necker, Beerbliotek
  • David Kägi, craftbrew.ch
  • Dominic, Francesco, Sandro, Endo-Bier
  • Eric Nussbaum, Brasserie de la Mine
  • Fabian Ehinger, Kitchen Brew
  • Fabio Colombo, Broken City Brewing
  • Fabricio Ataide, Totally Beer
  • Fred Karm, Hoppin’ Frog Brewery
  • Fredrik Ek, Brekeriet
  • Gabrielle Beck, Brasserie du Virage
  • Harley Williams, Unterbad Brewery
  • Jan, bierversuche.ch
  • Jan de Ruijter, El Caballero Brewing
  • Jan Kemker, Brauerei Kemker
  • Jay Tanoa, Cafe Kajüte
  • Jérôme, Brasserie BFM sa
  • Jonny Garrett, Craft Beer Channel
  • Julien, À tue-tête / Brassage & Assemblage
  • Julien Brandli, Cinq 4000
  • Julien Manetti, Chien Bleu
  • Karin, Barfuss Brauerei GmbH
  • Katie Pietsch, WhiteFrontier Brewery
  • Kouros Ghavami, La Nèbuleuse
  • Laurent Mousson
  • Marcel, bierversuche.ch/wortspiele.org
  • Marco Bleisch, BCB Bleisch Craft Beer
  • Marco Hemann, Hermann Bier
  • Markus Forster, ProBier / Zürich Bier Festival
  • Martin, Sudwerk Brauerei
  • Martin Droeser, MashBrothers / MartinsCraftBeerTable
  • Matthias Jäggli, Les Garçons
  • Mike Murphy, Lervig
  • Ole, BrüW – Brewpub
  • Oliver Martini, 4655 Brewing Company
  • Oliver Zemp, Brausyndikat
  • Patrik Feller, Strättligen Bier
  • Pierre Elser, Bear’N’Stein
  • Raphaël Mettler, Brassere Trois Dames
  • Richie Waldis, Bierwerkstatt NordSud
  • Robby Collins, 7Peaks Brasserie
  • Robi Schenk, Zur Palme Brewing
  • Roger Brügger, Brygger Øl
  • Roland Singer, The SIN Brewery
  • Ronny Mathieu, brauerei-kompass.ch
  • Samuel Aeschlimann, Brauerei Blackwell
  • Silvia Herzog, Brau- und Rauchshop
  • Simon Dankwa, LägereBräu AG
  • Stefan, Dr. Brauwolf
  • Stefan Hahn, Getränke Hahn AG
  • Stephan Zwahlen, Amstein SA
  • Stu McKinlay, Yeastie Boys
  • Stuart Ross, Magic Rock Brewing
  • Thomas Schneider (ttt)
  • Tom B, Full Measure Brewing
  • Tom Hutchings, Brew By Numbers
  • Tore Haugholt, Fjord & Fjell Nano Brewery
  • Urs Flunser, UG-Bräu
  • Van Havig, Gigantic Brewing Company
  • Xavier, l’Apaisée



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