2019 was a year of saturation and standstill

2019 was a challenging year. We all probably didn’t have much time to really get serious about anything other than what was immediately and constantly happening. Never have the answers to our questions been so short and never have so many people written to us that unfortunately they don’t have time to participate this year.

We interpret this on the one hand as a phenomenon of last year, but also as a sign of a certain saturation: Andy of Partizan writes that he has a hard time formulating a discovery of the year. Roger Brügger and Martin Droeser feel the same way, and Fabio from Broken City even notes that craft beer does not excite him as much as it used to. “Am I bored or nostalgic,” he asks himself. The amount of distraction that is constantly and everywhere present these days can also be seen in the contributions that talk about an internet and/or social media break.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of very exciting findings in all the answers this year as well. We are doing this review because (secret) tips are repeatedly given in the responses: Stefan Hahn, for example, praises the beer garden of the Weltenburg monastery brewery, Julien of Chien Bleu suggests we visit the Dart Club in Lyon and Max of Five Points suggests Bohemian Place in London.

Secondly, the answers allow us to feel the pulse of the “scene”. This in accordance with our goal for this blog to not only write fanboy posts, but also to critically question what is happening, what is not happening or what should happen. In doing so, we rely on many answers from Switzerland, but we can reflect the findings with feedback from Europeans, US-Americans or Australians. Stefan of Brauwolf does this himself when he says that compared to “other countries in Europe, we still have a lot of catching up to do”. With this blog post we provide an opportunity to kickstart a discussion based on a variety of people and opinions.

Standstill is regression

The fact that people find it difficult to bring “new things” up for discussion indicates that little progress has been made in the Swiss craft beer scene. Perhaps except for several bars that have opened especially in French-speaking Switzerland. Particularly the Cylure Binchroom in Lausanne, many people seem to like it. However, this progress is going too slowly for Martin of Sudwerk: he recognises a large selection of beers at festivals, but not in restaurants. One such festival – the Beer Dome Basel – seems to have thrilled the scene, as the festival is often mentioned. The Swiss are still enthusiastic about À Tue-Tête. Brausyndikat from Zurich also gets several nods and thus can claim to be the newcomer of 2019. Stefan of Brauwolf mentions another great development in Switzerland, namely the mobile can filler from Lab63. According to Stefan, this shows that innovative people are willing to invest in the craft beer scene in Switzerland.

It is generally remarkable that Switzerland is not mentioned in the contributions of non-Swiss people. However, they mention places in Prague, Dijon, Berlin, Oslo, Leipzig, Bangkok. While other countries have been able to position themselves on the map, Switzerland seems to be having difficulty doing so. Perhaps the next point offers an indication of why this is so (although there are obviously other possible reasons).

Swiss beer is worse or better than its reputation

Something continues to worry many people: the quality of Swiss beers (but not only Swiss, because Jonny from the Craft Beer Channel also wants small breweries to take recipe development and quality assurance seriously). This is where the participants disagree, but Bov speaks on behalf of many when he calls for a better average quality in the Swiss offer.

On the other side of this divide are people like Karin of Barfuss and David of Craftbrew.ch/Old Hill Brewery. They call on the Swiss to drink more local beer and criticize the import by airfreight as ecological nonsense. But if Swiss beer is really so bad, who can blame the customers for switching to foreign beer? Stefan of Brauwolf also notes this, as he is worried about even more imported beers in 2020. As a solution he suggests that “as Swiss brewers we should improve our quality so that [imports] are less desirable”. [One way to find out how good a beer really is is the B&R Beer Contest. Considering how few Swiss brewers use this opportunity, and the arrogance with which they comment on not participating, is a recurring indication that many brewers are not at all interested in how a neutral jury thinks about their beers. Which then is an indication of how serious many brewers are about really dealing with their own quality – ed.].

In general, it remains to be seen for how long bad beer can still be sold, because Stephan Zwahlen is sure that consumers are becoming increasingly critical. But quality assurance does not stop after the beer has been bottled; it is also the retailers and bars that play a part here: Chris from Whitefrontier is annoyed that many feel that beer is invulnerable to temperatures of 20 degrees plus, and Patrick Thomi from Doppelleu would like to see more chilled shelves. That should actually be normal. What is no longer normal, however, is a certain “fresh above everything” behaviour: Mike von Lervig tells us that in the past the rule was to drink a beer within 2 months. Today the rule is that a beer may not be older than 3 weeks. How could one still export, he asks himself.

Had enough of haze

The NEIPA hype is over. The difference to last year is amazing: Back in 2018 a lot were still excited, but the critics are now much more numerous in 2019. Harley of Unterbad agrees that he likes a lot of NEIPA, but that many of them taste the same. Many complain about the sweetness of the beers and the corresponding lack of bitterness. It is therefore hardly surprising that many contributors are looking forward to the return of the West Coast IPA, for example Markus of Vaat, Jan of bierversuche.ch, Stuart of Magic Rock or Jonny from the Craft Beer Channel.

The ongoing criticism of milkshake IPAs or pastry stouts with tons of adjuncts goes in a similar direction. Instead, Richi of Nordsud wants beers that not only make an impression with great ingredients on the label, but also with good taste. Van of Gigantic wonders how popular beers that don’t taste like beer continue to be: “If I want to drink a fruit slushy, I’ll buy a fruit slushy that tastes really potently fruity”. The simplicity of a lager or generally of sessionable beers is missed. “Less crazy beers, but good beers” is what Reto Widmer demands, for example, or as Katie from Whitefrontier says: “More beer with a beer flavour”.

Nevertheless, Lager still divides the field: Simon from Lance-Pierre enjoys the “crispyboys” like Czech pilsners, which are increasingly brewed in Switzerland. A preference mirrored by Susanne of Doppelleu. This desire however does not necessarily match that of the customers, as Katie notes: She’s annoyed that although lagers are incredibly popular in the industry, Whitefrontier can hardly sell those beers.

The participants are equally divided on whether low ABV beers are good or not. Sarah Gianesi of St. Larentius is enjoying the Riegele Alkoholfrei IPA, Raphaël of Trois Dames the non-alcoholic IPA from Lola and Markus of Vaat wonders “why there are no more low-ABV brews. There is so much possible between 2.5% and 3.9% “. Disagreeing with that is, for example, David from Hoppy People, who is annoyed about alcohol-free beers.

Less and less beards

Lana Svitankova tells us a pleasing observation when she writes that the craft beer audience is becoming more diverse, i.e. no longer exclusively white men with beards. Furthermore, the scene starts to criticize the sexist bro-humor or even partly punishes such behaviour. One reason for this is explained by Eva von QoQa: “I recognize a greater interest in beer and its various styles from non-beer people”, an observation which Ralf of Drinks Of The World confirms. Also, it’s probably about time that the dominance of beer tickers among Swiss customers ends. Their behaviour is perceived as at least astonishing, with Roland Graber observing: “beer hunters seem to forget what it’s all about because of all the ‘Sorry, I have to check this in the app’: passion, pleasure and sociability”. Such hunting behaviour has also led to rarity being found more attractive than quality, says Jonny.

There are many, many more interesting contributions, such as Simon’s call for real collaboration, in which the brewers in Lausanne buy equipment together, that Gabe of Bierfactory is afraid of gossip, while at the same time Ronny still sees an open and constructive exchange among the brewers – but Markus warns, that this will change with the growing competition. Only one person mentions the failed attempt of a Swiss Craft Brewers Association, many agree that there is no need for more breweries in Switzerland and lastly, that one hype has not yet arrived: Kveik. We will see if this beer style will dominate the survey in 2020.

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