Switzerland’s national association of breweries recently held its first-ever Swiss Beer Award competition. Did your favorite Swiss brewery win a gold medal?
On November 29, 2017, the Schweizer Brauerei-Verband hosted a ceremony at the Bierhübeli in Bern to recognize the winners of its inaugural edition of the Swiss Beer Award. The association invited hundreds of breweries of all sizes and from all regions of Switzerland to participate in this new competition.
What is the Schweizer Brauerei-Verband?
Founded in 1877, the Schweizer Brauerei-Verband represents Switzerland’s beer industry. The association promotes and supports the professional and economic interests of its 19 member breweries. Based in Zürich, the association’s members are responsible for about 95 percent of the total beer production in the country. All of the member breweries have their headquarters in German-speaking Switzerland. To become a member of the association, a brewer must produce at least 200,000 liters of beer each year.
What is the goal of the Swiss Beer Award?
Switzerland reportedly has the highest number of breweries per capita in the world. With that in mind, it makes sense that the national association of brewers decided to start a new award to recognize the achievements of Swiss breweries.
On the evening of the ceremony of the Swiss Beer Award, I spoke with Marcel Kreber, Director of the Schweizer Brauerei-Verband. He described the current state of the Swiss beer industry as being very “dynamic.” In the early 1990s, only several dozen breweries in Switzerland were in operation, due to the Swiss beer cartel, which controlled the production and distribution of beer. When it collapsed, more new breweries started to open. Since that time, the number of breweries has increased exponentially. In September 2017, the federal government reported a total of 833 registered Swiss breweries. With such tremendous growth, the Swiss Beer Award helps to recognize and improve the quality of the beer being produced in Switzerland.
What were the entry requirements for this competition?
No matter what their size or geographic location, Schweizer Brauerei-Verband invited all registered breweries that are subject to paying a beer tax in Switzerland to enter the first-ever Swiss Beer Award competition. Membership in the association was not an entry requirement. By late July 2017, breweries had to submit an entry fee of CHF 299 for an individual beer entered in the competition and 4.5 liters of beer, equaling nine 500-ml bottles: three bottles for tasting, four for analysis and two reserve bottles.
What criteria were used to evaluate the beers?
The Swiss Beer Award competition had a 32-member jury that consisted of sensory analysts from the Zürich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), beer sommeliers and experienced appraisers residing in Switzerland or Liechtenstein. The beer itself had a two-step evaluation process:
- Laboratory Analysis conducted by Labor Veritas AG
- Tasting – Sensory Analysis
The laboratory analysis conducted by Labor Veritas AG gave the jury members, as well as the brewers who entered the competition, the chance to obtain detailed information about each beer. The test results described the characteristics of the beer, such as density, degree of fermentation, calories, pH value, level of bitterness, color and more.
Mr. Kreber told me how this process was intended to help breweries improve the quality of their beer and learn more about the Swiss standards for production. For example, through this evaluation, at least one brewer discovered that they had not been properly labeling allergens on their bottles.
Which breweries won the Swiss Beer Award 2017?
By the deadline for the competition, Schweizer Brauerei-Verband received 220 different beer samples from 51 breweries. In all, 66 gold medals and 109 silver medals were awarded to 31 different styles of beer. Here’s a quick summary of those breweries who won the most awards:
- Feldschlösschen in Rheinfelden was the big winner of the night with 27 awards.
- Heineken Switzerland in Luzern came in second place for the most medals with 13 medals.
- Brauerei Schützengarten in St. Gallen came in third place with 11 medals.
- Doppelleu Brauwerkstatt in Winterthur had 10 medals, eight of which were gold — the same number as Feldschlösschen.
The vast majority of the winning breweries are located in German-speaking Switzerland, which resembles the membership of this association. However, some of the winning breweries are small — like Brasserie La Collégiale in the canton of Neuchâtel, which is owned and operated by two brewers, Nicolas and Josquin. I spoke with them at the ceremony about winning the gold medal in the “Tripel” category. These two founded their brewery in 2016, after Josquin had spent several years learning to make beer at home. The name of their brewery comes from Neuchâtel’s Collégiale, the church located up the street from where they brew their beer. Inspired by Belgian beers and the craft beer movement in the United States, they consider their beers to be a blend of tradition and innovation. Their participation in the Swiss Beer Award competition allowed them to get a better understanding of their beer via the laboratory analysis, and they were very honored to be recognized during inaugural edition.
For breweries in Switzerland — whether a large, well-established brewery on the German-speaking side or a small brewery on the French side — the new Swiss Beer Award creates an equal opportunity for all participants. All Swiss breweries can receive a fair assessment of their beer, regardless of their size or amount of experience. Congratulations to all the winning breweries, and I look forward to the next competition in 2019!
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Correction: An earlier version of this post indicated that the Swiss Beer Award would be an annual event. In fact, it will be held every other year, with the next competition occurring in 2019. This post has been modified to correct this error.