Are you "thirsty" for knowledge? 12 facts and anecdotes that Bern craft beer fans should know!
Chocolate world champion? Not just that! With 1,069 official breweries, Switzerland is also the country with the highest density of breweries and microbreweries worldwide. Since the fall of the Swiss beer cartel in 1991, the local beer (brewing) market has been bubbling and flourishing; the variety of beer on offer nowadays is now forty times (!) larger than it was 30 years ago. And the love of artisan brewed beer, or craft beer, is particularly strong in Bern: 176 breweries and microbreweries – more than anywhere else in Switzerland – are registered here. Fermenting and brewing happens everywhere, including in basements, garages and yes, even in laundries. Who delivers just by bike courier? Which microbrewers name their beer after ex-girlfriends? And what does an archbishop have to do with the Bern craft beer scene? We will reveal that and much more in 12 facts and anecdotes!
#1 Thanks be to God (and the "Erzbierschof")!
We have a theology student to thank for the start of beer brewing in Bern. In 1622, the regrettably unknown Bernese hops hero employed a Swabian brewer to teach him the craft of beer brewing. He was probably inspired by the Trappist monks – members of a Roman Catholic monastic order who brewed beer and used their income to support social work, alongside their prayers and reading. Hundreds of years later, a second "man of the cloth" became a major pioneer in the Bernese craft beer scene. Toni Flückiger, who sold specialty beer from 2009 to 2017 under the company name "Erzbierschof", opened several beer bars and organized get-togethers with small breweries. We would like to take this opportunity to raise a glass to him in thanks – and a second glass to the heavens!
#2 The man behind Bierexpress
A pioneer? That also describes Bilal Erdogan to a T. In 2008, the then 39-year-old discovered a market loophole: If a shared-flat party in Bern was ever left high and dry, he would come on by with a few crates, even during the small hours. Small, uncomplicated and started off in his circle of acquaintances, Bilal’s Bierexpress, "a beverage retailer unlike the rest", now supplies alternative Bernese cafés and bars – and in doing so, spreads his love of local craft beer throughout the entire city. It’s hardly surprising that his name crops up more and more while talking shop with microbrewers, bar employees or beer sommeliers. Anyone who’d to meet Bilal in person should come and knock on the door of Lorrainestrasse 69. The beer lover has achieved a dream with the Zoobar, which is located there. Small is beautiful – he serves up carefully selected craft beer here, and sometimes also stands behind the bar himself. Cheers to this wonderful success story!
#3 Beer on two wheels
Bilal’s Bierexpress will never deliver the "Gascho" (beer) on the picture – unless he jumps into the saddle himself. As the name and the stunning retro label say it all at "Oberbottiger Kurbelbräu": The beer is delivered to customers with muscle power alone – i.e. by bike. The naturally cloudy beer is transported by the Bern Bike Courier. Anyone who serves a Kurbelbräu is therefore keeping their ecological footprint within reasonable limits and doing their bit towards building a better world with every sip (the carbon footprint sends its thanks!). The idea for a "green" craft beer was the brainchild of Peti Studer and Philip Walker. Lawyer and investment manager. And triathlon buddies. When the beer ran out during their triathlon club’s seasonal drinks in Matte, Bern, the two had to grab extra supplies with their bike – and then came up with the idea of producing beer themselves in the process. How cool is that!
#4 The perfect drop
Strong, self-assured and independent – that is Florence, a brown pale ale with dark and smooth hints of malt. Leonie on the other hand is light and zesty, with a touch of sweetness – a refreshing wheat beer flavored with citrus-mandarin and caramel malt. What do they and the other beers of the BrauKunst microbrewery in Bern have in common? They are a tribute to the ex-girlfriends of microbrewers Alex and Gianni – from the taste, to the name, through to the description of the beer on the website, everything is inspired by the individual women themselves. A creative (beer) idea which is soon to be followed by another. The two brothers would like to open the smallest gallery in Bern. Artists will have the chance to "display" their pictures and photographs on the BrauKunst beer bottles in the form of individual labels. We’re excited to see how they all look!
#5 From the garage to the pub scene
Creative heads are also at work behind Barbière. Ten years ago, a couple of thirty-year-olds were experimenting in their garage on their first self-brewed beer brand. It was so popular that they decided to pick up a hammer and chisel without further ado and to transform an old chemist in the heart of "Breitsch", one of Bern’s most popular districts, into a cool pub. Well, a delicious beer needs a great atmosphere to set it off, right? The night that Barbière (microbrewery, hip restaurant and district pub in one) opened, 1,000 liters of beer were sold and the traffic in the quarter was brought to a halt by the massive influx of patrons. And the beer is still flowing there today. In the brewery in the back of Barbière, named the "Garage" as a tribute to its origins, the two master brewers Matthias and Christoph work on their own creations, which are far beyond the mainstream. Inspired by the Belgian, English and American brewing cultures, they have now created more than 50 of their own beers. The sparklingly fresh house beers, which change regularly, can be exclusively enjoyed directly from the tap.
#6 Beer makes you beautiful
Barbière master brewer Christoph let us into a secret recently: As a passionate beer lover, he uses – who would have guessed it – a beer shampoo. And no it’s not to drink while he’s in the shower (that would fizz like crazy...), but rather for his hair. The malt drink contains more than 30 vitamins, minerals and trace elements which can truly work wonders for your appearance. Christoph really is a modern man. The household cleaner that great-grandmother Hilda used as a setting lotion for her hair has been experiencing a real revival in Bern for some time now. Anyone who is happy to risk a quick peek into someone else’s shower will see a beer shampoo standing between the shower gel and conditioner more and more frequently nowadays. And the Bernese beer shampoo of the soap manufacturer bblubb is for sale as a "typical Bernese" souvenir alongside classics such as the Aare swimming bag even in the Tourist Information Office at the main station in Bern. So: It’s time for a shower, dear craft beer fans!
#7 A kiss which tastes great
Once their hair looks great, men and women alike would be up for a delightful bit of summer flirting. However, anyone who orders a beer from the bearded bartender "only" gets a beer. As the "Berner Müntschi" (Bernese Kiss) is the flagship of the Swiss capital’s beers. The light, naturally cloudy blond with the legendary blue and red mischievous angel label, and brewed with a great deal of love and care in the Felsenau brewery, is slid over the bar umpteen times per year. And not just in Bern: Bärner Müntschi is popular across Switzerland and is definitely more than just a C-lister – it has even featured in several songs. People say that a few mouthfuls of Bärner Müntschi are a particularly effective remedy for anyone who is "Bernsick". No wonder it is also very popular among homesick Bernese natives living in Zurich.
#8 Visit the brewery by water
Anyone who has tried Bärner Müntschi knows that (almost) no one "kisses" quite like the Felsenau brewery. Johann Gustav Hemmann, founder of the Felsenau brewery swapped all his worldly goods for the property in Hopfenheld in 1881. It was a brave decision that paid dividends: Ten Bernese restaurants have already served the first Felsen Bügelbier, called Hemme beer. They include the Bierhübeli, which is still very well known in Bern. Nowadays Hemmann’s lifework is being run by the fifth generation of his family. And even if it’s been a good long while since the labels were glued on by hand, the focus is still on craftsmanship and tradition. The beer has also been produced at the same location right on the banks of the Aare, Bern’s favorite river, for 140 years. And you can also visit the brewery this very way: via the waterways. Rubber raft sailors and river damsels can float gently along the Aare rafting route from Bern to Lake Wohlen, stopping off to "lay anchor" at the Felsenau brewery on the way.
#9 Here’s to a beer with Finn
The "Altes Tramdepot" – a restaurant, brewery and tourist attraction all rolled into one – also brews directly on the banks of the Aare. It is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the BearPark, where Bern’s brown bears Finn and Björk live with their daughter Ursina in the 6,000 m2 natural enclosure. While papa bear Finn takes his daily bath outside in the Aare, inside 3,100 hectoliters of beer are brewed every year. The two huge, gleaming copper vats are located in the middle of the restaurant, and the brewing room located in the cellar also makes the route to the restroom a real experience which is reminiscent of a chemistry lesson or science fiction film for the laypeople among us. By the way: If you have to look up the difference between top-fermented and bottom-fermented in a dictionary (or just plain a simple Google), then master brewer Christian Stoiber and his colleagues can assist you. Every Saturday, the restaurant "Altes Tramdepot" offers a 45-minute journey through the world of beer.
To "Meet the Brewerie" (German only)
#10 Tap in the bedroom
How would a beer paradise look? Foamy beer baths à la Cleopatra, an XXL fridge full of craft beer and a tap right in your bedroom? Abracadabra. The latter of these wishes becomes a reality in the Swiss urban style Hotel Alpenblick in Breitsch, Bern. Anyone who steps over the threshold of Room 107 will certainly be met with a big surprise: There is a Gurten beer tap opposite the bed! It only emits sparklingly fresh Bern drinking water; however, the tap is a real thing of beauty, which makes the room a real hit with beer-crazy guests from around the world. A night there would also be a fun gift idea for Bernese beer lovers, right? We’re also going to relax into the soft pillows for a night and dream of times long ago when craft beer was still being made at the foot of the local Bernese mountain Gurten.
#11 Beer(brewing) in the museum
Beer in the bedroom. Ok. But beer in the museum? In many other places, the museum director would shake her head in absolute amazement. Not in Bern. In the capital city of beer, the terms enjoyment and culture do not contradict one another. The "museum beer" that the Bernese museums invite people to try on Thursday evening has attracted a new public into the culture houses. Here comes the second prank: Brewing in the museum! The Museum for Communication, which is actually the newly crowned European champion of all museums – invites visitors to view its medieval beer brewing workshop over an open fire. After all, beer was already being brewed long before the word craft beer was even on everyone’s lips! For four hours, you learn everything about brewing beer and get involved (i.e. start stirring) right from the start. While the brew simmers over the fire, you will be served up with exciting facts and amusing stories about the cult drink. Beer(culture) in the museum – we like the taste of that!
Reserve a spot (German only)
#12 The place of more than 200 craft beers
Psst...to finish things off, we’d just like to give you a good tip rather than any more anecdotes: Ok, everyone who has read up to here should take a walk to Marktgasse 38. A few steps down under the earth in a beautiful old vaulted cellar is the Bern shopping mecca for craft beer enthusiasts: The beer cellar of the Craft Gallery. Grain was stored there in the Middle Ages, but now it houses more than 200 different types of craft beer lovingly arranged on the wooden shelves. All of them come from small and microbreweries which work meticulously with passion and creativity to achieve the perfect flavor. From time to time, the Craft Gallery also organizes a Brewer’s Eve with the OnTap Bar in Rathausgasse. Within the historic walls, you can hear tales from a brewer, find out more about their personal history, and finally taste some selected gems from their own production. Cheers!
After reading these 12 facts and anecdotes, it’s hardly surprising that ”ä Stangä” (a lager) is being ordered less and less often in the capital city of beer. Men (and women) drink freshly brewed beer here and engage in lengthy discussions about stouts and IPAs. Where is the best place to do it? In (beer) bars such as Au Trappiste, Barbière or OnTap. At the Bern Craft Beer Festival ZAPF!, which takes place every summer – this year on June 15, 2019. It brings beer fans, connoisseurs and nearby beer producers together at the Warmbrächli Brache. At the Swiss Beer Award, which is conferred on the best Swiss beers in the Bierhübeli in Bern on September 19, 2019. Or on the ”Bern beer tour”, during which experienced beer sommeliers guide you through different breweries and beer cafés of the capital city. We also recommend the Bernese beer publication ”Hopfen und Falz” to those of you who are thirsty for knowledge. It combines craftsmanship from the barrel with art from the pen, and provides a very creative overview of local beer making.