Some years ago, as the craft beer scene in Switzerland was babbling (OK, it still is, mind you …) I thought that the missing link between good beers and the potential beer aficionados could be Stout. In my mind, as many people do like chocolate and coffee flavors, this beer style could well become the gateway introducing them to the new world of craft beers. I didn’t think about IPA because the majority of the persons pretending to dislike beers were (and still are) complaining about bitterness.
As we can realize it in Switzerland since about 3 years, I was just plain wrong, mainly because I fully underestimated the (mainly subconscious) aversive preconception of people for dark beers. On the contrary, the declared aversion for bitterness is mostly subjective and nonexistent: you can see a person complaining about a 15 IBU lager being too bitter while the same will appreciate a 65 IBU IPA where the bitterness has been well-packed with fruity or flavors.
So the role eventually went to India Pale Ale. And how ! So much in fact that some beer geeks (and I’m part of it sometimes) are irritated to see most of the breweries rushing to present an IPA. The fact is that IPA has been the most represented style among my beers tasted from Switzerland for 4 consecutive years now. Here is a graph helping you visualize this trend:
A common misconception is that IPA was a style of beer specifically invented for the voyage to India. So please, instead of repeating this to your next friend or publish it on your homepage, take a look at the great researches from the excellent Pete Brown.
As I really doubt any IPA has ever been brewed and commercialized in Switzerland during the past centuries, the very first one was probably the Hopfenbombe Tribute to Cascade from the legendary Bäre-Bräu (1998-2004) in January 2002. However… one may object that this beer was not an IPA as it was bottom fermented, so more an Imperial Pils or, what I personally prefer to call, an IPL (India Pale Lager). So the title of the first IPA could well be claimed by the Blonde Hufi 59 from the highly unknown brewery of La Laiterie (2002-2005), just ahead of the BFM with its Cuvée du 7ème or the Officina della Birra with its Chiara Extra Hops, all three available between Summer 2004 and Spring 2005. One year later, in 2006, appeared BeSte IPA, Trois Dames IPA as well as Meisibräu Teufelshopfen.
This beer style remains a taboo for the national breweries and has only been – until now – approached very cautiously by those of regional size. One thinks of the attempts of Sonnenbräu with its Craft1 (bottom fermented, 2013), Turbinenbräu and its Rotterdam-Mumbai Orion (very limited release, 2013) or, one size smaller, of the ominous Henri Schiffmann from Burgdorfer (2014), the Single Hop Black Ale and the India Pale Ale from Doppelleu (2013) or the Unser Bier Aypiey (2012). Few candidates and even fewer potential medalists …
It’s time now to take a look at my top ten which contains also retired beers, as well as Black IPA, India Pale Lagers and Imperial IPA. But just before that, I would like to mention some beers which just could not make it to the top ten, yet fully deserve lot of attention due to their high qualities:
- Degenbier Mamba
- Storm&Anchor Abyss
- Storm&Anchor Pacific Jade
- Storm&Anchor Columbus
- Storm&Anchor Ryepa
- 523 Pacific Imperial IPA
- Burg Braui Citra
- Full Measure Double IPA
Now to the top ten:
|10th||India Pale Ale Barrique 2010||Trois Dames||6.3%||A one-time variation of their standard IPA. Aged for three months in pinot gris barrels.|
|9th||Cuvée du 7ème||BFM||7.5%||Combines six types of aromatic hops (I’m sure Jérôme intentionally dropped a 7th type just to make people talking about it …). The single remaining bottle in my cellar is not sufficient to reconsider its availability …|
|6th||Nelson||Storm&Anchor||8.1%||A great single hop IPA with flavors of litchis, grapefruit and pineapple. Future availability pretty uncertain.|
|Bière de Zinal Baltic IPA||Brasserie des 5 Quatre Mille||7%||Red fruits, notes of coffee, licorice and much more in this beautiful and strong (9.6%) Black IPA.|
|Strong Ali||Barbière||6.5%||A complex Black IPA featuring dark fruits, herbs and licorice flavors. Hopefully they will brew it again.|
|5th||American Ninja||523||8.37%||Seasonal. A Black IPA with lot of class and character from a new and hugely talented brewery. Nugget, Warrior and Sorachi Ace as well as 89 IBU and 8.37% alcohol are working together for your pleasure.|
|4th||XXA Xtra Strong Ale||Bier Factory Rapperswil||6.7%||Available since 2010, this complex and beautiful 60 IBU IPA remains as a benchmark for the other Swiss beers of this style.|
|1st||Black||Storm&Anchor||8.1%||Using smoked malts, this wonderful Black IPA is for me the best beer among the numerous good ones from this brewery. Its future availability will depend on Tom’s mood …|
|Hop Suicide!||Blackwell||7.6%||Complex, fruity and very bitter (120 IBU). Looks unfortunately to remain a one-time release as the Blackwell crew is moving on at the speed of light to other projects.|
|Hopfenbombe Tribute to Cascade||Bäre-Bräu||5.4%||Retired as the brewery closed in 2004. Although bottom fermented, this beer has been the first – in 2002 – to really feature hops in a Swiss beer.|