Saturday, July 19, 2014

Drinking in Switzerland

A bunch of us attended a conference in French-speaking Switzerland last week, and knowing of breweries like Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes and Docteur Gab's, I was looking forward to tasting more craft beers of that ilk while in town for nearly a week. Switzerland has a tradition of craft brewing, both German-style lagers and the more Belgian/British-style ales, but in the small town we were stuck in there were very few bars or restaurants, and almost all those we found served only cheap lager; at best there might be one brune on offer (and Swiss taste in brune seems to run to the yeasty and chewy, rather than any of the quality or flavour you might expect from French or Belgian styles). Where better quality beer was available, it was in the form of a white or wheat beer in the German or sometimes Belgian style, very crisp, dry, subtle—actually pretty nice on a hot day (although it was raining non-stop the mid-July week we were there!) and lacking the gummy, chewy, spoiled sweetness that some English wheat beers suffer from.

The first decent beer I got to taste was in a tradition bar/brasserie next door to the train station. This was after a rather nice meal with some exquisite local red wine made with unusual, rather antiquated "Humagne" grapes, so I only had one beer, the local brune, Cardinal, Brunette (above). Pleasantly tan-colored, with a subtle malty head that promised of flavorsome beer, this was served chilled and a bit more bubbly than I would have hoped; nevertheless there was a woodiness in the mouth that suggested good cask origin, and live yeast dominated the swallow. This may sound like a somewhat meh review, but after the first two days of refrigerated soda-stream piss, this was a very welcome brew!

On the last morning we spent some time in the old town, visiting the cathedral that overlooks the whole of this hilly town, and the "castle" (which is not much bigger than my house, but has nice, hanging corner turrets), and had lunch in a lovely little side-street restaurant that served locally brewed beers. Again I only had time for one, but San Martino, La Rossa was a lovely amber ale, strong but more cheekily fruity than most of the malty-yeasty local offerings, with a crisp finish and a sappy aftertaste that I could have happily gotten used to. I was very tempted to buy a couple of bottles of this to take home with me, but we were in a rush.

Finally, in Genève waiting for our flight home, we stopped in a large, warehouse-sized and touristy bar opposite the train station called Les Brasseurs, and had a couple of Belgian style beers in their collection, including "L'India Pale Ale", brewed by their own brasseur. This was a disappointing way to end the trip, because—despite some citrusy hop notes in the mouth—this wasn't much more than a brown lager, really; fizzy and yeasty in the swallow, more musty than pithy, and with no lingering aftertaste that you wouldn't get from a malty blonde. I guess you can't account for taste, even in an establishment that prides itself on its local brewing…

No comments:

Post a Comment