Thursday, August 06, 2015

Swiss craft beer and cigars

For many people beer and cigars is a combo that doesn't match. For me it works very well, especially with the beers you get from Belgium or with the lots of other craft beers that you can find all over Europe and the rest of the globe.

Craft beer becomes more and more popular now in Germany and Switzerland but it's already a big thing since a long time in the USA or New Zealand. You can find a lot of homebrewers there and also many of the commercial ones are very often garage projects or have at least started like that. Just have a look on my report about the Great Kiwi Beer Festival 2014 in Christchurch, most of the 55 breweries, which had been there, are just small breweries and no comparison to the mainstream stuff.

During my roadtrip through Belgium earlier this year, I'd the chance to visit some fantastic breweries but sometimes it's not necessary to make a long trip to find something special but before I come back to this point let me show you some impressions from Belgium:

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Trappist brewery Chimay - a nice range from blond to dark

Trappist brewery Westvleteren - the world famous Westvleteren 12

Brasserie Cantillon - awesome Geuze and Lambic

Trappist brewery Westmalle - Dubbel and Tripel

As I said before, sometimes the good things are just around the corner... The craft beer scene in Switzerland is growing and growing, people start to care about quality and stuff besides the mainstream... one of those breweries which can satisfy these desires is Bierfactory in Rapperswil. The range of beers is varying, depending on the season and storage capacity, and the special brews are always sold out quickly...

Fancy names like Old H (Imperial Honey Ale), Vladibier (Russian Imperial Stout), Blackbier (Dry Stout), Absent Swiss Hop IPA (India Pale Ale with Swiss Herbs), XXA (Imperial IPA), Bombastus (India Black Ale), Happy Jack (Pumpkin Ale), Mystery Solved (Double Belgian IPA), Sommer's (Sour Mash Blond Ale) and so on... those kind of beers are for sure known to the readers from the States or New Zealand because there's a serious craft beer scene since many years. In Europe it's still in the fledling stage but it's growing and growing... even though many people won't drink anything they've never seen before. They stick to their traditional Lager beer or Pils and don't have an open mind for anything else.

I asked Gabriel Hill, one of the team of Bierfactory, some questions about his opinion when it comes to craft beer, the Swiss beer trinker and of course about Bierfactory itself...

1. When was Bierfactory founded and what were the reasons for that step?
Stephen Hart founded it. He was working at Hurlimann in Zurich and it was closed. .it was initially founded in 2000 and in 2013 we formed a new company to allow for an expansion through a public share offering. Thus, we are the Bier Factory Rapperswil AG. We do not plan on issuing any more shares.

2. How many different beers have you brewed until now and which one did you like most?
I think 14 or 15. My personal favorite is XXA India Pale Ale. However, Bombastus India Black Ale was a surprise for me due to its balance between roasted malts and hoppy notes.

3. What do you think about the "average Swiss beer trinker". Is Switzerland already prepared to get away from the standard stuff people are used to?
People are more open to new beers and craft beer in general. We've seen and are experiencing an upward trend. Lots of people contacting us for more of our beer. Our main group of interested people are men between 25 and 50. Older folks are usually comfortable with their beer of choice and not looking for something new. Really young people don't have the income to explore. There has been more interest from the 20-24 group in the past year though. Our Craft Bier Festival pretty much hits our demographic. Women are more present with about 30 % of interest.

4. What makes the brews of Bier Factory special in comparison to other brews?
There are a lot of great brewers in Switzerland and many innovative brewers. Our consistent beer quality, innovative approach to branding and new beer development make us special. We're not afraid to take risks. This is partly because of our personal interests in pushing ourselves to make interesting and great beers. It's also due to our background and understanding of the current market as well as the evolving market. We try to be in tune with what's going on as much as possible.


Old H 



The actual range


Since I've been to the Craftbeer Festival in Rapperswil in 2014 and it'll take place again on September 6, 2015. I'm in regular contact with the guys from that brewery and they've been kind enough to give me some of their beers to taste them in combination with cigars, thx for that generous gesture!

Sampling the Absent (left) and Vladibier (right) at the brewery

Before I begin with my reviews and combos of beer and cigar some words about my critics: people who know me are aware about the fact that I give honest feedback about the stuff I taste. If I don't like it, I say it straight forward. I know different stuff from Bierfactory, that's why I agreed in that and even though I got some bottles for free for those reviews I will also write my honest impression.

Bierfactory craft beers and cigars

The procedure for all combos was always the same: as I am familiar with the cigars that I've in my stock I first tried the beer without cigar and thought about a possible match. After that I combined beer and cigar for the following reviews.

Vladibier Russian Imperial Stout and Bolivar Petit Coronas from 1998

Roasted malts, coffee, a hint of pleasant honey sweetness and smoke. The hoppy bitterness with a touch of citrus is really surprising as such kind of beer is usually very sweet.

What a great combo... the earthy and citrus notes of the cigar match perfectly with the malty sweetness and the depth of this fantastic Russian Imperial Stout. The citrus of the cigar compliments very well the hoppy (and also citrus) notes of the beer, the coffee and sweetness of the beer give a good balance to the earthiness and the upcoming strength of the cigar. You can drink the beer slowly and enjoy it during the whole smoking time which was approx. 60 minutes.

Absent Swiss Hop IPA and El Rey Del Mundo Gran Coronas from 1999

The beer is a fantastic balance of hops and herbs. Not too hoppy to cover everything else but strong enough that it can stand a flavorful cigar.

The herbs and hops in the beer and the flowery, bloomy aromas in the cigar... what a perfect match. Multiplying each other and intensivating the flavor experience. The smoking time was approx. 95 minutes.

Old H Imperial Honey Ale and Sancho Panza Belicosos Finos from 2002

Malt, some sweetness and hops in the nose, not too sweet and well balanced with the hops. In the taste there's a good balance between the hoppy bitterness, herbs, fruits and some honey sweetness, going back and forth which makes it a tasty experience.

The sweetness of honey in the beer on one and the typical saltiness of the cigar on the other hand.: what a great combo and interaction of those basic flavors. It's a back and forth of saltiness and sweetness. Bringing both of them to a higher level. The combos before were always complimenting each other, here the two partners are the plain opposite but the result is just awesome! The smoking time was 95 minutes.

Blackbier Dry Stout and Partagas 898 uv from 1999

Smells of subtle chocolate, coffee and malt. Tastes of unsweetened, dark chocolate and maltiness. Slight bitterness which matches perfectly with the rest of the flavors. Very smooth, medium bodied, finishes dry.

Chocolate, coffee and malt in the beer, earth and leather in the cigar... together just a multiplication of flavors for a smoking time of 90 minutes.

Sommer's Sour Mash Blond Ale and Romeo y Julieta Cazadores from 1996

When I was at the brewery to pick up some beer and talked to Gabriel about my intention to combine those beers with cigars he initially pointed out that he thinks this should be very difficult to pair... when I tried it, it was obvious to me that it go very well with a cigar and that it needs a strong counterpart.

But let's first try the beer itself: fruity hoppiness with some hints of malt in the nose. Fizzling on the palate, decent bitterness with a good load of tropical fruits, grapefruit. Refreshing and thirst-quenching, definitely a nice summer beer.

I was really sure that this combo will be good but the result surprised me even more... it wasn't just good, it's perfect! The cigar, even though it's already approx. 20 years old, still has a lot of strength and a very intensive taste of earth and leather, a real outdoor smoke. The balance with the sour and refreshing notes of the beer is on a fantastic level, this can be definitely one of my favorite combos during the summer time after a good dinner. Because the cigar itself needs a good basis, if not it'll knock you out! The smoking time was 85 minutes.