Basel and Zürich
Last Updated : 31/01/10
e’d enjoyed our first trip to Switzerland immensely – Geneva and Lausanne, a couple of years back – and by common consensus it was about time we planned a return trip to the country which had entertained us by being nothing like as boring and tedious as we’d expected; how can a nation which holds a wine festival with a temporary bar in a barn where you can buy 100+ wines by the glass as well as local cheeses and grape juice whilst listening to a brass band playing random modern music and watching ancient tractors pulling carnival floats ever be categorised as boring? And don’t even get me started on the ostrich-men…
This time, however, we meant business with the beer side of things; in Geneva and Lausanne we’d merely dipped a toe into the Swiss beer scene as none of the brewpubs had been anything to get excited about (with the notable exception of Chateau in Lausanne) but this time the trip was to take us right into the brewing hotspot of Zürich where, hopefully, we’d be able to find a whole ruck of winners. Similarly, we hoped that Basel would yield us some scoops to go with the large tram networks in both cities plus the added bonus of trolleybuses, funiculars and cogwheel railways… this was going to be one Aspergers-satiating trip!
I booked our flights to and from Basel for a very reasonable £45 each and, after a week or so of beer research, I was amazed as to just how many brewpubs and micros existed in the region – and there were plenty of opportunities to scoop most of them! We’d tentatively pencilled in a trip to Luzern on our second day in Zürich but it was now obvious that with the bewildering array of attractions requiring scooping – both transport and beery – we’d not have the time and so I set about finalising our beer move; at a conservative estimate I reckoned we could scoop 30 beers, but as to the upper limit… well, that just depended on how desperate we were!
Thursday 17th May 2007.
Three in three.
Another trip, another early morning flight from Luton. You know the drill; we woke up at silly o’clock, drove along deserted motorways, arrived at the car park, got a bus to the airport, checked in early, sat in the tedious departure lounge until the flight was called, boarded flight… yep, that’s about the size of it, apart from the fact it was raining, and not just any old rain – this rain was seriously torrential and didn’t make the drive down a bundle of laughs. By the time we arrived it had relented into a continuous downpour and I didn’t hold out much hope of seeing anything out of the plane window…
We were in the clouds before we’d passed the M1 (if you know Luton airport you’ll know how close this is!) and stayed there until we touched down in a drizzly Basel a couple of hours later; this wasn’t exactly the weather we had in mind for four days of scooping but, having been pre-warned by the Met Office website that we might be getting wet for a couple of days, we ignored the rain (which was, admittedly, a lot less heavy than back in Luton) and joined the queue for passport control.
This was a remarkably swift procedure and we were soon stomping towards arrivals with the aim of acquiring some Swiss Francs and, hopefully, some maps and other information about Basel. Before we reached our target, however, we saw a sign on a change kiosk which declared that bus tickets to the central station were available there; these were priced in GBP, EUR and CHF so, after a quick bit of mental arithmetic (so those years sat bored in maths class at school were of some use after all! Sorry, Miss Williams, if you’re reading this: you were right) I confirmed that the prices were the same as I’d been quoted on the Basel transport website and therefore, not knowing whether to speak French or German, I approached the kiosk.
Either would have done – or English, for that matter – and we were soon in possession of two single tickets to the centre of Basel which I’d paid for with the Euros which we had very fortuitously packed “just in case”! Outside the terminal we soon located the bus stop, complete with ticket machine, and a bus soon arrived complete with a luggage trailer… typical of the sensible Swiss to think of such a thing!
Basel not so Faulty.
The bus travelled along a peculiar fenced road to Basel as, apparently, the airport is in France but the road is physically Swiss territory! Once at the rail station I was mightily relieved to see that the rain had relented leaving crisp, clean air over the city with a watery sun striving to fight it’s way through the clouds which meant one thing: the move was on! I’d been delighted to learn that there was a chain of beer shops called “Beers of the World” and – even better – there was one at both Basel and Zürich stations! We walked through the gloriously turn of the century station, complete with an amusing door labelled simply “France”, past the very handy supermarket and food stalls, until we found the beer shop – closed!
Luckily for us this closure was merely to allow the sole member of staff to bring some extra stock in from a delivery truck and we were soon inside the shop and wondering how we were going to choose from the huge range available - not just Swiss, but a whole gamut of other countries’ beers were featured with examples ranging from the appalling to the massively rare! As we only had one night in town (the story of our life, it seems) we had to limit our haul to eight bottles of the rarest Swiss winners and so, with our packs suddenly feeling extremely heavy, off we went in search of our hotel where – we hoped – we’d be able to offload our clinking cargo!
We called in at a cake shop on hauptbahnhofplatz where we bought two gorgeous strawberry cakes… we didn’t want to but, as European cake shops do, the wares on display looked so amazing that we were powerless to resist their fruity charms. After a walk through the centre of Basel, which was extremely attractive and infested with trams of all vintages, we arrived at our hotel which was situated in an impressive area with the castellated Spalentor at the end of the road, a spectacularly decorated iron fountain outside and a curry house too – oh, that was the hotel’s restaurant! The reception wasn’t as impressive as the exterior, being a simple room with no one at the desk, but a slightly dodgy geezer soon appeared out of the office and checked us in without any problems and we even got the same rate that the Internet had promised me!
Our room, despite being a strange shape, had all the requirements for an evening of room beers – glasses of sufficient dimensions to hold the beer, a sink to pour any rancid ones down, an absorbent bedsheet to deal with any spills (beer-wise) and, most importantly, a TV to watch endless hours of drivel to keep us entertained as we supped! With our beers safely stowed in preparation for later, we headed out to see what the city’s tram system could offer us; we’d already seen a good variety of vehicles in service and were hoping to scoop as many as we could – and see some of the city, of course…
An unexpected bank holiday.
We spent the rest of the afternoon sampling the city’s trams on as many lines as possible and we even found time to ride on one of the city’s four “chain ferries”; these boats traverse the fast-flowing Rhein with no propulsion other than the river’s momentum to propel them, although we are still confused as to how they know which way to go and what the overhead cable is actually for… anyone know? During the course of our travels we saw some unusual things with the pick of them being a rollerblading deliveryman pushing a sack truck and the curiously named sex shops “Crazy sex centre” and “XXL sex shop”! Indeed… We also noticed that the city’s trolleybus lines seemed to have been replaced by ordinary buses apart from one – route 31 – and we resolved to scoop that in when we returned in Saturday! (The city’s trolleybus lines have been scrapped as of June 2007 – cheers then…)
After we’d had a quick multinational scoop in an old café on Barfusserplatz – Zum Alten Stöckli, Feldschlössen Perle Dunkel, which wasn’t as bad as I’d feared – and a few more hours of wandering around the city’s old streets it was time to begin the day’s scooping as we only had the one evening in town and there was quite a list of things to do! It had become apparent during our travels that we’d inadvertently stumbled upon a bank holiday and I was concerned that the bars and brewpubs I had planned for us to visit wouldn’t be open and – true to form – our first visit of the evening’s scooping was an unmitigated disaster.
After a short journey to Heiligeiststraße we walked up to the Unser Bier brewery where we hoped to score all four of the permanent beers on draught in the brewery tap and, maybe, something else in the wine shop next door. As we arrived, however, it became clear that we weren’t going to get anything scoopable as both the wine shop and brewery tap were shut up tight with absolutely no sign of life inside; cheers then, just our luck to pick a bank holiday when pubs were shut! We lurked around for a short while, peering through the glass, hoping to see, in hope against hope, someone suddenly appear and throw open the doors to serve us frothing glasses of homebrewed beer… no such luck, and so after deciding that there would be no scoops there that evening we decided to head off to the other brewpub, Ueli, via a stop at the station bottle shop where we knew Unser Bier’s full range was available – I was going to scoop the bastards somehow, bank holiday or not!
We took one of the lurid yellow and red “BLT” trams back to the station and were amazed by it’s route; it took an obviously newly built elevated section alongside some plastic offices before plunging down into the station where it whooshed through the main structure and emerged at the corner of Bahnhofstrasse to the obvious consternation of the pedestrians and drivers it encountered. A quick visit to the Beers of the World shop netted us three of Unser’s beers (blonde, amber and schwarz; we didn’t fancy the weiss!) and so, with our backpack yet again clinking as we walked, it was off to the tram stop for the journey across the river to Fisherbräu – and the remote hope that it would be open – although, as we clanked along the streets, it seemed as if life in the city centre was happening as normal despite the bank holiday…
Us 1: Bank holiday 1.
As we walked along Rheingasse I was fervently hoping that Fisherbräu would be open as, if it were closed, we’d have wasted a full day of our scooping time all thanks to some random bank holiday… luckily, as we approached the pub, lights could be seen glinting through the windows and when we arrived it was obviously open for business; cue vast amounts of relief all round! Inside was a surprisingly small and cosy with the brewery lurking at the rear behind glass. We were soon sat down and, just as the waiter came round to take our order, we realised that we were famished – which resulted in him being put off for a few minutes as we ploughed through the food section from where we both chose Spätzli (tiny pasta-like dumplings) with sauerkraut and ham – as well as the three draught beers on offer!
I began with the Spezial and was immediately impressed by it’s full, rich body and golden hue which led into a biscuity, nutty and very suppable flavour with lots of maltiness and character although I’d personally have liked a touch more hops! The Lagerhell was next up and this was a pale, dry beer with a whiff of lemon on the nose; I had high hopes for this one in the humulus lupus stakes but, despite being a decent enough brew with citrussy and grassy hop and a dry bitter finish over a light maltiness, it stopped short of being assertive enough for my taste despite being a good, light, hoppy lager.
The extremely efficient and sociable waiters whisked our food to the table and I was pleased to see that the food matched the surroundings and beer in the quality stakes with the tiny Spätzli going well with the accompanying smoked ham and sauerkraut; a good pub snack to aid our scooping was the agreed consensus and so, after being denied a bottled scoop as they’d run out, we got stuck into the final beer, Robur dunkel, a copper-brown brew with a surprisingly dry character, quite caramelly and toffeeish on the palate, then an easy-going toffee-malt finish which was a touch subtle and would benefit enormously from a larger pair of bollocks. Overall I liked the Ueli beers, although I can see that they are in the “old school” of micro beers and don’t take many risks flavour-wise although, when the beers are as drinkable as these are, this isn’t really a massive problem – I’d much rather have well-balanced subtle brews than tongueblasters with overloaded characteristics any day.
We paid the bill (never a pleasant thing in Switzerland!) and took a tram back over the Rhein to Bar-o-Meter which we’d clocked earlier and had been recommended to us by Paul Harrop as worthy of a visit for the rare Käppelijoch beers sold there. It was a strange kind of bar with a small downstairs area taken up mainly by the bar plus a couple of tables and the main room upstairs where everyone except us seemed to be heading! We plonked ourselves down in the front window in order to observe the passing trams – scooping whilst watching trams is a particular penchant of mine in a strange kind of way – and I was chuffed to see the four massive scoops on the beer list which, to it’s credit, listed brews from a good range of European brewers although it did have a tendency to focus on the more mainstream brews – apart from the Käppelijoch!
Our first bottle was Spez (5.2%) which was a hazy pale brew, obviously unfiltered, with an easy-going malty taste albeit somewhat one-dimensional and bland. Not a great start, but we persevered with the strangely named Pale Ale (5.6%, and it wasn’t pale!) a brown beer possessing a dry, caramelly maltiness with a hint of toast in the finish and then more dry maltiness and a very slight twang of phenols… at this point we considered abandoning the tasting as the beers didn’t seem to be particularly good but, with nothing else to do except drink bottles in our room, we resolved to see the beers through – after all, the last two were a dunkel and a 10% klosterbier - how could we possibly go wrong with these?
Schwarzer Engel (5%, and do I really need to translate this?!) turned out to be the best of the Käppelijoch beers that evening with it’s dry, toasted, burnt and fairly bitter flavour with multifaceted hints of treacle and even prunes/dates (honest, it did, or at least I thought so at the time) before a surprisingly dry, burnt toast aftertaste with a decent amount of complexity. It wasn’t the best beer I’ve ever had, but it was satisfyingly suppable and the best of the brewery’s output we’d tried thus far with one more to go – the scary 10% Klosterbier 2006!
This beer was procured and, whilst it was unquestionably strong, it wasn’t what I expected at all; rather than a powerful tongue-blaster of a brew we got an obviously alcoholic, sweet, malty, surprisingly thin beer with a pronounced banana character! It wasn’t what I’d call a classic beer by any stretch of the imagination but it was quite interesting, although I couldn’t help thinking that had Käppelijoch reined back the strength a touch then it would have been a far better beer without the fiery alcohol burn.
Staggering in the dark.
With our scooping in the centre at an end we decided to get ourselves back to our hotel pronto and make a dent in the worryingly large horde of bottles we’d already accumulated (this seems to be a common problem we have!) and so caught the next No.3 tram up the hill. We were soon in our room, staring at the bottles, wondering which of the nine to drink and which to take with us to Zürich as, with the time now pushing 20:00, we’d not be able to swig the lot that evening.
First up was Eichhoff Ziegelghof Zwickelbier (5%) which, despite being unfiltered, was pretty much clear apart from a slight wisp of crud at the bottom and, consequently, was a rather plain if a decent enough fresh and malty brew to start the evening’s session. Next came the first of our Unser bier winners, Amber Bio (5%), but this was little better with it’s plain, toffee-malt taste and a tiny hint of dryness. Locher Apenzeller Vollmond (5.2%) came next and, sadly, this was the worst so far – a pale, bland, slightly cereally fluid with very little taste whatsoever. Not a good start, then, for our Swiss scooping campaign!
The sub-standard beers continued with Felsenau Müntsch naturtrüb (4.8%) that was better than the previous bottles with a gentle hoppiness and some nutty malt but was still lacking a bit of vivacity. As we supped we made the best of the predictably dreary TV schedule, the only real highlight being the “Beavis und Butthead nacht” which, happily, was just as good in German as English… well, it’s not exactly Nietzsche, is it? I also seemed to have caught “roverbrain” at a worryingly early stage of the trip as, whilst writing the tasting notes into my book, I suddenly had to ask where we were… and for a second, we were both stumped!
Back to the beers… we decided to give Unser another go and so uncapped their Blonde Bio (5%) although that was even blander than the Amber and had little discernable character. Realising that this just wasn’t going to be our evening with regards to superb-tasting brews we picked out one more as a finale – Boxer Old (5.2%) – which, unsurprisingly, was an astoundingly insipid liquid with vague hints of malt, fruit and grassy hop yet giving an overall impression of nothing much at all! It was finally time to get some doss, but during the night I was apparently stumbling around the room the wrong way trying to get to the bathroom (which was, as usual for us, decorated entirely in beige)… I just didn’t know where it was, honest, I wasn’t pissed up or owt like that…
Friday 18th May 2007.
After a decent night’s doss, broken only by my alleged aimless wandering around the room, we trooped down for breakfast that was held, bizarrely, in the hotel’s integral curry house! All the usual items were available including some more unusual bits and pieces including hard-boiled eggs with luridly patterned shells! After stuffing ourselves with as much free food as possible (naturally) it was time to set off to the train station for our trip to Zürich, but first we had the small matter of collecting the pfand – deposit - on our empty bottles.
As Sue collects beer labels we routinely soak these off as we drink the beers which, by and large, isn’t a problem in this age of throw-away, disposable, use-it-once materials but Switzerland, in common with quite a few other European countries, still maintains the old-fashioned but incredibly sensible attitude that bottles are best when reused rather than smashing and remaking them each time. This is a very commendable national trait but it caused us a problem in that all our bottles were without labels… would the shop accept them back or tell us to get lost?
With our bags full of jingling, chinking bottles we rattled our way to the Beers of the World shop via Basel’s supremely efficient tram system courtesy of our still-valid free ticket received when we checked into our hotel (how intelligent, foreword-thinking and unique is this? All hotels in Basel supposedly supply this ticket on check-in valid for your entire stay) and tentatively piled our bottles onto the counter. The bloke half raised an eyebrow on seeing the label-less bottles but still reached into the till and a cascade of coins soon ran across the counter; wow, we’d received over a quid back in pfand, so it had definitely been worth lugging the bottles from the hotel rather than just leaving them cluttering up the bathroom as we usually do…
We were soon in possession of our rail tickets courtesy of a very user-friendly ticket machine and took the next train to Zürich for the second part of our scooping trip. Zürich station was a large multi-level affair with various shops, bars and patisseries scattered throughout the complex but there was only one we were looking for – Beers of the World! We found it one floor down and were pleased to see that the beer range was significantly different than the shop in Basel so, inevitably, we indulged in a trolley dash and bought another stack of bottled scoops including a couple of interesting-looking 75cl bottles from Brauhaus Sternen.
Water, rails and road.
Back on ground level we walked through the impressively airy arrivals hall where Brasserie Central (which sells a safe but scoopable enough list of over 100 Swiss bottled beers) is located; we’d be in there later, but first we needed validity so I bought us some 24-hour tickets from the incredibly friendly and efficient tourist office. Armed with our tickets (duly stamped in the machines on the tram platform) we now had a boat to catch; this was the free tourist service which runs along the river before venturing onto the Zürichsee and then returns to the Landsmuseum - all for absolutely nothing!
As we left the station straight away we saw a whole gamut of public transport swishing past outside in the guise of trams and trolleybuses which, naturally, we were itching to get in the book! First on our itinerary, however, was the free boat so we crossed the busy road trying our best to work out from which direction the trams and cars were coming from – with partial success in that we survived the crossing – but I have a feeling that this was more through the sympathy of Swiss drivers than any insight into Zürich traffic manners on our part.
We soon reached the boat’s landing stage to discover that it didn’t start running for another hour, which kind of scuppered (excuse the pun) our immediate plans; what to do now? Looking at our transport map we suddenly noticed that our hotel, the Ibis out in the west close to the Schiffbau arts centre, was bypassed by trolleybus line 72 and so, with our new-found enthusiasm for this rare form of transport, we took tram 13 along Limmatstraße past the old Lowenbräu brewery - which closed quite a while ago - and alighted at the strange interchange of Escher-Wyss platz, which consisted of a tram junction and associated castellated tram depot under a hideous concrete flyover which would surely have made Josef Stalin’s breast swell with pride had his regime constructed it. We soon realised that it would take us about as long to climb the steps up to the trolleybus stop (assuming we could find any) as to walk to the hotel, and so we stomped along in the dank gloom of the flyover which, ironically, gave some welcome shade from the increasingly ferocious sun.
Past the impressive schiffbau we walked, taking a quick peek inside at the steel beams and other reminders of the building’s former life as a ship building factory, before checking into the square, futuristic (and therefore, by default, hideous) hotel which is three of Accor’s brands rolled into one; the cheap Etap, mid-range Ibis and posh-ish Mercure all in the same building. Once we had checked in, with Sue scooping a remnant of Zürich’s long-past cow parade standing in reception, we unloaded our selection of scoops and were slightly concerned to see the motley collection of thirteen bottles staring belligerently back at us, daring us to crack them open and scoop them there and then… but as we had an appointment with a trolleybus we graciously declined and stashed the bottles in the wardrobe for later.
We took a different route out of the hotel and climbed some concrete steps up onto the brutalist flyover to find the trolleybus stop. Once aloft, however, it soon became apparent that we’d forgotten we were abroad and traffic runs a different way than home… so, after suffering altitude sickness hiking up the hundreds of steps to road level, we were faced with the choice of either risking life and limb trying to cross the road (no chance!), walking back down and up the other side (no thanks!) or taking a trolleybus then changing for a tram back into town – which was the option decided on!
Trolleybus route 72 runs frequently and one soon swooshed it’s way into the stop whereupon we took it as far as Hardstraße, changing for tram 8 – conveniently, one was sat at it’s terminus as we arrived – back into the centre of Zürich. I shan’t bore you with the details of our tram bashing over the next couple of hours, nor our scooping of the Dolderbahn cogwheel railway or Rigiblick funicular, except to say Zürich’s public transport system is one of the best I’ve encountered anywhere and has an amazing variety of traction types to scoop.
We tried the free boat again but found a large queue waiting for it’s arrival and just couldn’t be arsed to stand in the sun for twenty minutes and so off we went for more trams. We’d noticed on our travels that Zürich seemed to be quite an attractive place but, until we walked along the river towards the Zürichsee, we didn’t realise just how picture-postcard perfect it was… we spent a couple of hours simply wandering around taking in the city’s sights until we decided it was time for a beer – after all, that was one of the main reasons of our being here…
The brewpub that doesn’t really brew.
We made our way back to the Co-op supermarket situated on the river bridge between the rail station and the big tram/trolleybus/funicular junction called Central where we were presented with a free ice-cream lolly – very welcome owing to the increasingly slaphead-toasting heat – before stocking up on water and cheese for the evening’s drinking marathon, and a marathon it would be with the amount of scoops waiting back in the room!
Our rucksack laden with beer-soaking-up comestibles for the evening, it was onto tram 10 for the run up a surprisingly steep hill – resembling the Chotkova switchback up to the hrad in Praha, although not quite as precipitous – before alighting at Winkelriedstraße which is, fortuitously, just across the road from the pub. Linde Oberstraß looked as if it wouldn’t be out of place in Germany and we could see the fermenting vessels gleaming in their separate room (only fermenters, as the pub took hopped wort from Back und Bräu and fermented it themselves) and so, desperate for a drink, in we went to see what the beer from this most unusual “brewpub” would be like…
Inside all was quiet and cool in direct contrast to the busy, warm bustle of outside. We sat next to the brewery so as to observe what was going on – absolutely nothing with all the fementers empty, as it happened – and to help the beer on it’s way we ordered some food. Two brews were available, Huusbier and Altbier, so a glass of each was quickly acquired although I wasn’t expecting a lot from beer mashed somewhere else, trucked across town and fermented just behind where we were sat… well, that just proves how little I know about beer!
Both beers were remarkably good with the Huus being a mellow, malty brew with a fresh maltsack taste and a lovely juicy, nutty graininess to the finish with a slight oily hoppiness but the Altbier was even better, being slightly darker in colour with a similar smooth, mellow maltiness followed by rich toffee, honey and bitter hints with a dry, malty, very complex and tasty finish – a real quality beer and one which impressed me immensely despite my earlier reservations about the pub’s brewing techniques. The food was also first-rate with typically Germanic portions and it was good to see local asparagus (spargeln) on sale as it goes well with beer so, all round, we were impressed with Linde Oberstraß, although knowing what I know now I wouldn’t expect any home-brew to be on sale and we must have been lucky to get any! It also explains why the fermenters were empty…
Make the effort, get the beer.
Our next destination was café Bernoulli for, hopefully, a massive scoop in the form of a Hirnibräu beer; this is one the the city’s smallest brewers and their beers seemed to be correspondingly rare although, when I’d emailed them to ask about outlets, they’d helpfully emailed back with a couple of options with the Bernoulli sounding the best for us being only a few stations past Escher-Wyss Platz on tram route 4. After a few tram changes we’d arrived at the appropriately-named Bernoulli Hauser stop and there, just as promised, was the café over the road although the locality was a touch unusual; a main road, tramlines, offices, apartments and not much going on!
Undaunted by the lack of human activity we zipped across the road and into the “contemporarily spartan” café (these are my words, not theirs!) with it’s bare concrete ceiling and floor with a huge bar in the centre. We studied the menu and saw that this unusual café on a main road a fair way out of the city centre had a pretty decent beer list with the Turbinenbräu beers at the core of it; these would be scooped in due course at the brewery tap so we flagged them off and so, hoping for yet another brewery scoop, I went to the bar to see what would transpire.
The landlady (I assume she was, she seemed to be in charge!) was extremely sociable and, amazingly, didn’t raise an eyebrow when I explained that we were trying to sample as many Swiss beers as possible during our short stay; it was as if scoopers wandered into her little café at regular intervals, which they may do in search of the massive Hirnibräu blonde! We were soon in possession of a 75cl bottle of the beer and two glasses - although I’d almost got a half of the delicious-sounding Turbinenbräu unfiltered Pilsener (I reasoned that if it wasn’t on in the Turbinenhalle then we knew where it was) – and we settled down into a table looking out over the street to indulge in our tram-watching fetish whilst supping this colossal scoop.
With the sun’s last rays flooding into the café I poured the beer, not sure what to expect, but appreciating the sense of having made an effort finding out about the brewery, emailing them, locating their recommended café, getting a tram there and then ordering the brew in German – more effort than most of today’s scoopers can be arsed with – and hoping that our effort was justified with a classic Swiss lager! Sadly this wasn’t so, but it was a decent enough and very drinkable beer which needs some more hops to achieve a great score but, as it stands, was perfectly suppable and made for a refreshing adjunct to our tram watching (it’s not spotting as I don’t write them down – unless I travel on them…)
No scoops in the skip.
Tempted though I was with the Turbinenbräu pilsener we had other scoops to tick and so, reluctantly, paid up and bade farewell to that rare beast of a café owner who understood scooping and headed back to Escher-Wyss platz where we aimed to scratch the city’s main brewpub, Back und Bräu, which I knew supplied Linde with hopped wort and if the beers were half as good as Linde’s had been then we were in for a treat!
First, however, we called in at the IQ bar in the hope of locating a contract beer (Amboss) which I’d been told might be there… it wasn’t available and so we ventured into a kind of “lifestyle ghetto” area behind the main street where lots of branded outlets and restaurants stood together in a list of who’s who in eating out; the area was attracting lots of normals who milled around staring at menus which were, in all probability, made with the same ingredients from the same suppliers for the same low cost… we only had one aim, to find the brewpub, but it remained stubbornly elusive until Sue saw a tiny sign on a corner – result!
Well, not exactly… we were still unable to find it, despite a banner on a building, so ventured up some stairs to see if it was, for some inexplicable reason, concealed up there. At this point I was becoming concerned that the brewpub may no longer exist and didn’t hold out much hope for these tatty concrete stairs – with good reason, as we appeared into the reception of a dance studio! Feeling that we may as well as the receptionist if she knew any gen about the brewpub we soon found out that we were in basically the right place, but were several weeks too late as Back und Bräu had recently closed down!
Cheers then! We were totally finished by this news but thanked her for the confirmation and clattered back down the steps where we saw, in a skip next to the building, the mortal remains of the pub had been unceremonially thrown in and now lay damp and mouldering; the skip was six feet deep in menus, beermats, coasters and everything else you’d expect a bar to use although nothing was really salvageable having been rained on and soaked through. We peered, in the gathering gloom, through the windows and saw that the cellar bar had almost certainly been the brewpub but was now totally gutted and work was starting on converting it into, presumably, yet another faceless eatery… without a brewery, as there was not a sign of this inside the building or within the skip!
Feeling a bit disappointed that we’d missed out on the brewpub we decided that we may as well get back to the hotel and so headed off to the Ibis via a different route than under the looming underpass and within five minutes were back in our room trying to decide which beers to drink out of the ominously huge assortment of bottles we’d somehow amassed in just two days – why did we always end up with too many beers to drink? Were we that desperate? I think you can guess the answer to this question…
We were determined to decimate the bottles that evening (mainly so we could buy and scoop even more from Beers of the World…) and so, after confirming that all 40+ channels on TV were peddling crap as per usual, we began on the beers with Züri Hell (5%) - a contract brew which is allegedly from Turbinenbräu – and found it to be a piss-poor, watery and slighty grainy lager with absolutely zero to recommend it. Hoping for an improvement we moved onto Eichhof Klosterbräu Edeltrüb (4.8%) but found it little better as this was a pale, hazy, slightly malty beer with a slight dryness in the plain finish; was it going to be one of those nights again?
Müller-bräu Helles lagerbier (4.8%) hissed open next and I could see a definite, if hardly mind-blowing, increase in character on the previous two brews with a grassy dryness and a plain malt flavour. We quickly moved onto Schützengarten landbier (5%) and found it curiously similar to the Müller with a grassy/malty/dryish taste and little else. Lasser Tut-Anch-Ueli (5.4%) followed although, at the time, we didn’t know it was contract-brewed for Fischerstube and not brewed by them as I didn’t study the label closely enough (as per usual!). Containing – according to the label – dates and unusual grains this was our first potentially interesting brew of the evening although it was quite restrained in the mouth and therefore a touch disappointing with a vague sweet spiciness and a fairly sweet note to the malty aftertaste.
One of our scoops we’d lugged across from Basel was now opened, Unser Schwarz (5%), and although the flavour was a touch simple for a dark beer it at least had some flavour with caramel, malt and a dry chocolateyness that went down very quickly – although whether this was due to the beer being good or it being the best of a bad bunch was debatable! For our final beer of the evening we chose Wädi-bräu Dunkel (4.8%) which was by far the best brew of the session with a lovely full, bitter, malt and chocolate flavour with hints of toffee, caramel, hop and more bitterness in the finish; a good ending to the day’s drinking and one which pleased me no end as we still had the brewery’s other two beers to drink!
Saturday 19th May 2007.
Saturday dawned with a blazing sun in the east and promised to be even hotter than Friday, so we decided on another try for the free boat tour before the sun became unbearable for sitting in a glass-covered boat with no shelter. We’d got a fairly full day event-wise with a fair bit of beery attractions to do plus, obviously, more trams and the city’s final funicular as well as the boat so, after admiring the snow-capped jagged alps we could see from our window (as well as the trolleybuses scurrying over the neo-Stalinist flyover) we braved the morning heatwave and set off for the Landmuseum museum in the vain hope that the queue for the first trip on the boat would be small enough…
At the nearby tram stop we bought our 24-hour tickets from the machine and, in the process, almost withered ourselves… I’d not guessed that the machine would issue a ticket valid from when we asked for it; rather I assumed (naïvely) we’d get a blank one that we’d have to stamp in the machine. Luckily the validity would still be enough to get us to the station the following morning and so we avoided having to ching out for a single just in case any roving grippers (we didn’t see any all weekend) happened to be out and about on a Sunday morning.
A quick visit to Beers of the World was in order to cash in the pfand on our bottles and once again, despite the bottles having no labels and being lovely and clean from their dunking in our sink, the money was paid without question although we immediately spent it again on some more scoops from the extensive range… I blame the shop, if they didn’t sell so many winners we wouldn’t have to buy them… don’t they realise beer scooping is a compulsion?!
We rushed out of the hauptbahnhof with two minutes to spare before the boat departed and tore across the road junction relying on the goodwill of the various vehicles’ drivers not to run us over, and hurtled towards the landing stage… surely we’d missed it? Yet, as we huffed towards the waterbus stop, we could see a handful of normals lurking around the landing stage; our luck couldn’t be this good, could it? Amazingly - for once - it was and we were the last onto the sleek boat before it purred it’s way away from the stop. Despite our late arrival we still had a choice of just about any seat on the vessel so we bagged some at the back where we shouldn’t get crowded out by any sudden influx of tourists and sat back to enjoy the view; we already knew that Zürich was a very attractive city from having walked the riverbank and trundling around on trams, but we were hoping for a different perspective on the place from this trip at water-level.
Suffice it to say that the next 55 minutes was one of the best hours’ free entertainment I’ve had in a long time! We traversed the river, passed onto the Zürichsee proper, then Mr captain-bloke whipped up the engines for a quick sprint around the very Geneva-like jet d’eau before returning back along the river and thence to the landing stage where we disembarked with that feeling you only get by having something really good for nothing… one amusing incident occurred when we passed a duck preening itself to which a nearby American bellowed – in that restrained way they have – “look, that mallard is pecking it’s feathers”… you had to be there.
Sailing the lake had made us very thirsty (and hungry, but that’s nothing new) and so we decided to scoop a bar which seemed too good to be true; in the main hall of Zürich’s impressive station stands the Brasserie Federal which my research had noted as serving decent food and – more importantly – over 100 Swiss beers in bottle! Such a place couldn’t be passed over and so we re-crossed the busy junction, paying more attention to traffic this time, and were soon inside the bar which we’d clocked the previous afternoon, and I had a thirst on…
Inside the bar all was civilised and quiet; “café music” plinked away quietly in the background, the amazingly high ceiling gave a feeling of much more space than was physically true, the uniformed waiters swept around silently and I half expected to see Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie sat at a table scooping away; this is what you call a café, I thought, as we studied the beer list for scoops. Luckily I’d already been through the list back at home and had with me a list of which beers in priority order although, predictably, our excessive scooping rate thus far had rendered the list almost useless and I was forced to try and compare what we’d had and consequently work out what we still needed under the withering gaze of the matriarchal waitress who may as well have been tapping her feet with impatience!
Eventually I found a likely looking candidate for scooping (Sue wanted a coffee and I didn’t just want a scoop, I wanted a decent beer too… I’m just so picky!) and so, with an air of “about bloody time, you indecisive English tosser”, off she went to fetch our scoops and also two plates of rösti to satiate our hunger as we’d not wanted to line Accor Hotel’s pockets by splashing out €9 each for breakfast in the hotel. Our beers arrived and I was pleased to see that it was the one I’d asked for; with such places I always assume that they will bring the beers they think you want rather than the ones you actually request… so, day three of scooping was underway!
Stammheimer Hopfenbräu (5%) was duly imbibed and was found to be perfect for persuading the rösti to slip down my throat… and it tasted okay too, with a subtly hoppy taste but overall was a well-balanced and fairly tasty lager with a pleasing amber hue and came in as one of the better beers we’d had thus far during the trip. The food was very impressive too; the portions were positively Teutonic in size and settled into my stomach in the manner of ballast and seemed intent on stopping me getting up from my chair; maybe that’s the idea?
A surreal suburban subterranean experience in Zürich.
We left the relaxed and civilised atmosphere of Brasserie Federal for the slightly less civilised yet more tram-infested surroundings of hauptbahnhofplatz. A quick tram trundle over the river later and we alighted at Central to scoop our remaining funicular, the polybahn, which was duly caned in and was notable for the outdoor platform which allowed us to stand at the back bellowing at anyone we passed! The afternoon’s beer scooping activity was a rather strange one in that we had a limited window of opportunity to visit the strange-sounding Kleines brauerei Nord Zürich, also known as Schwamendingerbräu, as it’s direct sales department was only open from 13:00 – 16:00 on Saturdays and so, after a few fill-in tram moves, we arrived at the northern suburb or Oerlikon (made famous by a type of cannon) and proceeded to locate the address I’d found.
We soon located the building and a sign directed us to the rear where a set of steps plunged down into the earth with the brewery name above them; we weren’t sure how to play this one, but after seeing someone moving around in the murky depths it was decided that we should just go for it and so clumped down the concrete steps to see what would transpire, although what happened next must rate as one of the surrealist moments of my scooping career to date, and that’s including my experiences in the UK…
We were met at the bottom of the steps by a man in his 50’s (at a guess) who led us through to a room full of crates of beer… and a minuscule all-in-one brewery on wheels! Paul Harrop had told me that he thought they brewed here on a small plant, but he wasn’t sure – well, here was some kind of proof! The owner spoke no English and so I was forced to rely on my basic German to convey to him what we wanted… which he assumed to be a full crate of beer! This wasn’t quite what we were after so, after a rummage in a cupboard, he offered a pack of six beers (six of the same, Schwamendinger Hopfenbräu) which was also a little excessive for our needs! He suddenly beckoned us into another room with a few tables and a bar as if he’d realised we only wanted to drink a few glasses; well, we did, but we also wanted to find out if he actually used the tiny brewplant and where his bottled beer came from, which isn’t an easy thing to ask when your German is as basic as mine!
I managed to ask him whether he actually brewed his own beer and was amazed when he told me that the draught beer on sale was brewed (allegedly!) on the tiny 60-litre plant and all the bottled beer came from, as I’d expected, Stadtbühl in Gossau; this was a result as, if I could manage to convey what we wanted, we could score three beers here and one would be absolutely massive! As I explained he nodded in agreement and then, smiling, beckoned us back into the bottle store and went through the tiny brewplant’s key features in detail and even posed for my camera with his mashing paddle pretending to stir some fictional mash! I’m still not absolutely convinced that he brews all the draught beer there, although I’m about 90% sure and that’s good enough for me, but in his defence there were bags of Weyermann Bamberg malt and hop pellets stacked next to the kit and it did look used…
Our two bottled scoops secure we trooped back to the tasting room, or “party room” as he called it, and sat down whilst we were supplied with glasses of the “haus gebräut” beer which came from a cute 20-litre keg stored in a fridge which had a pipe emerging from a hole in the top and feeding a standard tap; very Heath Robinson but also very effective! The beer was a refreshing pale lager, reasonably hoppy in taste, with a bitter, malty body and a balanced finish; moreover, it actually did taste microbrewed and not “big brewery” (I know this a purely personal view and it’s hard to pin down exactly what a big brewery beer tastes like… sorry for being so nebulous and vague, but sometimes it’s just a gut feeling).
We supped the tasty beer whilst the owner rambled on to me in German and, despite understanding perhaps 50%, I managed to ascertain that Back und Bräu was definitely closed and he didn’t know where Linde were to get their wort from now – if indeed they were going to source a new supply at all. We tried to leave when our glasses were empty but he simply refilled them without asking and, helping himself to yet another half-litre of beer, sat back contentedly in a chair; I would bet that this is all he does, drink his own beer and sell the odd bottle! It’s certainly a very relaxed and enjoyable way to run a business!
I engaged the owner in conversation again and asked him why he didn’t brew a dunkel to which he replied that there was no market for such beers these days; thinking about this, we hadn’t seen many at all thus far and I can only conclude that the Swiss don’t like dark beers! With our beers finished yet again he went to refill the glasses but, fearing we’d be stuck there all night, I managed to persuade him that we’d had enough and we needed to go; the bill was then added up and came to the grand total of four francs including pfand, and this was only for the bottles – the draught was waved away with a laugh and a cheery “on the house!” As we bade our farewells and climbed the steps back into the blinding sunshine, the owner refilled his glass from the fridge cum bar and settled back down into his chair to continue his quality control…
Blinking in the dazzling sunshine after our protracted subterranean sojourn, we decided to return to the hotel and dump our new batch of bottles and then scoop some more trams before our evening visit to Turbinenbräu, the last of our beery targets on the list. Studying the transport map it soon became obvious that the easiest way back would be via trolleybus 72 and so, never ones to turn down such rare traction, we quickly made our way via tram 14 to the trolleybus’s terminal and then took the beast all the way to the station on the neo-Stalinist flyover by our hotel; the trip only took 15 minutes and was a model of efficiency!
We were soon back out with a much lighter rucksack, making a tactical detour around the strange geezer dancing on a bench and admiring himself in the hotel’s mirrored windows, and off for some more wandering around Zürich and scooping a few more trams. The afternoon passed quickly and before we knew it was time to make tracks for the Turbinenhalle, Turbinenbräu’s newly-refurbished brewery tap, where we hoped to scoop all three of their standard beers and, hopefully, the seasonal unfiltered pilsener which we’d seen in Brasserie Bernoulli the evening before… and if not, we knew where it lived!
We alighted from the tram opposite the surprisingly large brewery and were initially concerned that it looked shut up for the weekend with no sign of life anywhere. After nosing around the site for a while we eventually found the bar along the left-hand side past the loading bay although despite us having checked the opening times on the brewery’s website we still came up against a locked door – open at 18:30 said the sign so, with only 15 minutes to go, we decided to wait and loitered around outside noticing that some hops were trained up strings by the car park which was a nice touch for a fairly large brewery to show they still appreciated where their ingredients came from.
Eventually the doors opened and we headed inside. I’ve visited quite a few brewpubs abroad during the last five years and, even allowing for the fact that this was a brewery tap (a brewery with a bar attached, not a bar with a brewery attached), I don’t think I’ve seen one as modernist, industrial and I suppose “contemporary”, although I’ve no idea what this word really means and append it here as everything modern or new seems to be classed as such and, therefore, I wanted to give the impression I know what I’m talking about and be thought of along similar lines as Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen… hang on, maybe not…
We slumped into a very squishy leather couch and leafed through the menu. The place was clearly aiming at the higher end of the market judging by the prices, although the beer wasn’t too extortionate, so we ordered our first scoops from the friendly waiting staff and sat back in the all-consuming furniture to await developments. Whilst we waited I cast my eyes around our surroundings and suddenly saw the brewery through windows at the rear of the bar, and it was a lot bigger than I’d expected; think at least 50 barrels in brewlength and all kitted out in shiny, functional and very industrial stainless steel. There was none of the frippery of wood-cladding or copper kettles which is seen in the majority of brewpubs in Europe – this was a working brewery first and a showpiece firmly second although that’s to be expected in a brewery tap in contrast to a brewpub.
Our beers arrived and we got stuck into them to quell the thirst that a couple of hours of tram bashing had brought on. Gold Sprint (5.2%) was, as expected, a golden brew with a toffee-malt and honey aroma which followed into the taste with it’s mellow honeyed maltiness and balanced finish; nothing special, but a tasty and easy-drinking brew with plenty of taste. Rekord (5.2%) came next and it’s rich malty/toffee aroma and copper-red colour hinted at good things to come. Sadly, the flavour was too restrained for my liking with a sweetish caramalt taste over a dry grainy finish and all too easy-going for my liking.
I wasn’t going to bother with the weissbier, the strangely named Start (5%), but a sudden rush of desperation came over me and it was soon on the table along with the far more droolable unfiltered pilsener. As much as I dislike German weissbier as a style I try to judge the beers I happen to drink on their merits and although the intense banana and clove flavour almost made me wretch I must admit that it tasted like a pretty good German hefeweiss – if you like such things!
I was desperately hoping that the Pilsener unfiltriet (%) would possess sufficient flavenoids to sluice the weissbier’s gloopy residue from my protesting tongue so imagine my glee as I brought the glass up to my face and the unmistakable aroma of spicy, resinous Saaz hops billowed into my nostrils; this smelt good – very good! I took a cautious sip and immediately knew that I’d found the brewery’s best beer: a sociably bitter, hoppy and deliciously fragrant brew with lots of fresh, zesty and piney hops which mellowed into a balanced malty and hoppily bitter finish; this was first-rate stuff, and what a shame it’s only a seasonal!
A final round.
Temping though it was to sit in the Turbinenhalle all evening and sup this lupulin-loaded treat we had far more beers than was sensible waiting for us back in the hotel and so, with great reluctance, I drained the last of the delicious brew (still smelling and tasting delicious) and paid up. We took a tram back to the hauptbahnhof for a final beer in the Brasserie Federal before returning to the hotel but, in an amazing contrast to the morning, the place was packed with dubious-looking characters from what I assume was the outfall of a football match. We weren’t going to let them deprive us of scoops, however, and so bagged a table and ordered some scoops in the form of Karbacher Maisperle (5.2%) and Rugenbräu Lager hell (4.8%).
The Karbacher was a strange but very interesting brew; it’s made with an unspecified percentage of maize and consequently had a sweetish corn flavour balanced by a deftly done hoppy twang that resulted in an interesting and unusual concoction. The Rugenbräu wasn’t as complex but was a straightforward golden lager with a reasonably bitter and hoppy flavour and was above the usual standard. As we supped, the dodgy geezers proceeded to wander in and out in a very suspicious manner and we wondered at one point if a football riot was about to kick off! With this in mind we rejected a second round and set off for the hotel to try and plough through the mountain of scoops we still had in our room.
A quick tram journey back to Escher-Wyss platz later and, despite a slight delay caused by some of the pissed-up footy twats lurching around making us keep our distance, we were soon ensconced in our room gazing upon our collection of bottles with unmitigated horror; we had eight to drink, two of them 75cl bottles, and the time was already 21:00! Realising that we’d better get sharp I arranged the bottles into a semblance of drinking order and so commenced the final tasting session of the trip.
Stadbühl Schwamendinger Fluglärm (4.8%) wasn’t a particularly good start as it was a pale, thin and boring standard lager with little character so, as a result, most of the 50cl bottle went down the sink; we’d paid bugger all for it anyhow and didn’t have the capacity to drink dross with so much else to scoop! Stadbühl Schwamendinger Hopfenbräu (4.8%) came next and this was a full-bodied malty beer, reasonably hoppy, and it was with relief that I realised it tasted different than the draught beer we’d had in the cellar out at Oerlikon – so maybe he did brew the stuff himself, although I doubt much gets past his glass to be consumed by anyone else…
Our remaining bottles looked quite interesting with a dunkel, some strange honey beer, a hemp ale, some other random brews and a 75cl bottle of 10% barley wine; this brought back an experience I had in Buenos Aires the year before when I walked into the Rubia y Negra brewpub after scooping a fair few beers during the evening and saw – to my consternation - there were eight brews to score; a tasting tray put paid to five of them, but when I went to get my glass refilled the jovial barman asked me, very reasonably, why an Englishman was drinking in his bar; he seemed to be fascinated by my scooping book, what I was doing there, and why I was writing stuff about the beers brewed ten feet above our heads.
“I’m here for the beer!” was my – probably slurred by this point – response, to which he laughed uproariously and handed me a half pint of 12% barley wine on the house! I supped my way through the very well made Madeira-like brew and was about to leave, feeling as if I’d had my quota for the night, when the barman collared me again and offered me another beer… the decision took about one second as the Smiths’ classic album “Hatful of Hollow” had just begun to drone from the speakers in all it’s morose glory and so I reasoned I’d better hang around to hear it out… a half of “Belgian Abbey beer” and another (free) half of Barley wine later I decided it was time to leave and stumbled down the steps to street level. Despite my hotel being a mere ten minutes walk from my location, when I looked at the map all I saw was a writhing mass of lines which meant absolutely nothing to me and I may as well have been staring into a plate of spaghetti… taxi! I remember shuffling through the hotel reception trying to appear sober (or at least not as spectacularly pissed as I was) and – so I’m told by Herbal – I burst into the room and proceeded to tell the same story about the barley wine at least half a dozen times, interspersed with “I’m dead pissed, me”, before dossing out. Then I fell out of bed…
Apologies for that shooting off at such a boozy tangent, but it just came out in a mad rush… catharsis, I think it’s called? Right, back to Zürich… our next beer was Wädi-Bräu Hell (4.8%) from the customary stoppered bottle which was just as good as their dunkel we’d enjoyed the previous evening and was a very suppable and hazy pale ale with a complex grainy bitterness, giving way to a fairly hoppy yet still grainsack-malty aftertaste, and was one of the best Swiss beers we had during the weekend.
Buoyed with enthusiasm for Wädi-Bräu we unbunged their Hanfbier (5%) next; I’ve had a few hemp beers, mainly in Austria, and haven’t been that impressed with their distinctive taste that I think is very redolent of dandelion and burdock, but their other two beers had been very good so maybe this would be too…? It was okay, I suppose, but the peculiar taste I described above was very prominent and, added to the sweet maltiness, it soon became a tad sickly but was saved by some dryness in the finish which left us gargling with water in a vain attempt to remove the strange taste from our palates before the next beer!
In hindsight we’d have been much better leaving our tongues coated with hemp (THC free, of course) as the Sternen Honey Brown (6%) was one of the most repulsive fluids I’ve had the misfortune of tasting; a light amber colour, it was awash with a sickly sweetness that didn’t taste totally natural with an accompanying strange and frankly unpleasant flavour which meant most of the bottle was jettisoned down the sink! Cue more gargling with Alpine water…
In an attempt to drown the flavour we immediately opened Falken Schwarzbier (5.5%) which was much more in keeping with what we were after; a spritzy, treacly beer with a good balance of sweetness/dryness/caramel and toffee that gave a respectable - if not exceptional - flavour although, compared to the last abomination, it was pure nectar! As we supped this dark brown brew I was getting rather whipped up about the last two beers in the big 75cl bottles; we’d originally thought they were from some massive micro but further investigation (reading the labels) had revealed that they were in fact from Sternen – hopefully they wouldn’t be as bad as the previous filth – surely not, being a 9% bitter and 10% barley wine?
Wartmann’s No.2 Bitter was de-capped and poured but immediately I knew I’d be disappointed with the results: a pronounced boiled sweets aroma and taste totally dominated the flavour with a hint of hops and fruity malt behind it but so far buried by the sweeties taste as to be unimportant; how the fuck can they brew something at 9% which has so little character, I fumed, and a bitter ale with no bitterness to speak of? Cheers then – what a waste of €10!
With such a poor beer in such a nice-looking bottle I wasn’t hopeful for the second beer, but still I convinced myself that no-one could possibly make a mess of a barley wine… could they? Well, Sternen can! An amber beer, Wartmann’s No.1 barley wine was strong and sweet in a fairly blunt kind of way with some spiciness from hops but more of the sugary boiled sweet taste which ruined the flavour, as well as a growing fiery alcohol burn and an overly-sweet malt and sugary finish; not the best end to the evening’s drinking…
Sunday 20th May 2007.
Make it a round 40.
Sunday was our last day in Switzerland and so, sad to be leaving such a lovely city as Zürich but sure that with the aid of easyJet’s new route there we would return, we had a final walk around the river enjoying the beautiful morning; the weather forecast had been grim to say the least but thus far there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, all was good, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many fish in a river before! After cashing in the CHF3.50 pfand on our bottles – and, for once, not buying any more – we stocked up on breakfast items from the sociable supermarket on the station before taking the next train to Basel – on which I somehow contrived to fall arse over tit whilst climbing the stairs to the upper deck!
During the trip I busied myself by counting up the scoops we’d consumed thus far and was withered to find that they totalled 39! Bloody hell, I just had to have one more beer, although I didn’t really want to resort to drinking a scoop from the bottle – no, I’d rather find one in a bar at some point during the day… we busied ourselves with a mammoth walk around Basel, which showed us just what an attractive city it was, before it was time to try and scoop one of the city’s trolleybuses. We’d seen lots of overhead wires but only one actual trolleybus and assumed (correctly) that they had almost all been replaced by normal buses for reasons unknown but which baffled us; why, when a city’s got all the infrastructure in place to run trolleybuses, would it want to get rid of them for less environmentally-friendly and more costly diesel buses? The UK public transport disease reaches Basel…
We arrived at the terminus of route 31 in the attractive square of Claraplatz to discover we’d just missed a trolleybus - although it did prove that they were still operating! We had a look in a Chinese restaurant by the stop for something to do and saw that, as well as very scrumptious looking food, they served quite a few beers from the local brewers including the whole Unser range; so my 40th beer was secure, even if it had to be the weiss! We scooped the city’s final trolleybus line, the 31, all the way to it’s terminus for a tram back to Claraplatz and then trooped back across to Lily’s restaurant with it’s outside tables for a quick scoop.
We managed to resist ordering some of the drool-inducing oriental food and stuck to an espresso and half-litre of Unser Weiss (5%) which was very wheaty (never!) and extremely bubblegummy in the German style and surprisingly refreshing on such a lovely day despite the inherent sweetness of the beer and had a dollop of bitterness in the finish which kind of made up for it being a touch thin in body; overall, despite my dislike of the style, this was a respectable attempt at it and is probably Unser’s finest beer. Annoyingly I later recounted my scoops and found that, in the frenzy of excitement (and maybe being a bit drunk didn’t help) of Zürich, I’d managed to undercount our scoops by one… so Unser Weiss was in reality scoop number 41!
The rest of the day was spent exploring the city and scooping as many trams as possible before we took the unique bus-with-trailer back to the airport along the surreal fenced road; the airport experience was strange as cheap airlines don’t seem to be allocated gates until as late as possible, and our flight (plus another one from the UK) were half an hour late, however we realised which terminal we were leaving from and camped out in the huge and rather relaxing departure hall there before the predictable last-minute rush to board the flight. These issues notwithstanding, Basel airport was actually quite a decent aeronautical experience and we may well use it again to reach some of the southern German cities, although now that easyJet are expanding their Swiss route network we will probably use Zürich for our next scooping trip to Bern and Lucern – partly for another excuse to scratch some more Zürich public transport… now just how sad is that? Scoopergen sad, that’s how!
As far as the beer goes the German-speaking sector of Switzerland is (somewhat predictably) far superior to the French part in both beer quantities and flavour although there doesn’t seem to be many brewers willing to take flavour risks – much the same situation as in Germany. The overall beer quality seems to vary depending on whether you choose micros or larger concerns, but even some of the micros were disappointingly bland although the larger brewers were uniformly dreary despite the liberal use of words such as “naturtrüb” and “hefe”. So, sadly, paying more for a micro beer isn’t necessarily a guarantee of quality although it does gives you a much better chance than with the bigger boys.
Brewpubs are noticeable by their scarcity with only one in Basel (plus a brewery tap) and none in Zürich (depending on whether Linde find a new supplier for their wort or, indeed, decide to mash for themselves), although the many micros scattered around can be found if you look hard enough – for example both Käppelijoch in Basel and Hirnibräu in Zürich are both scoopable if you’re prepared to put in a bit of work. One major plus with both Basel and Zürich (plus Bern and Luzern too) is the existence of the “Beers of the World” beer shops on the stations which offer a decent range of brews from all over the world which veers from appalling to excellence within each shelf! Okay so there are probably better shops if you really looked for them, but these are very handy for the stations (and therefore public transport) and carry a good range of Swiss brews – and don’t forget to take your bottles back for the deposit, or pfand.
Both cities are very attractive with huge rivers slicing them in two, although Zürich just shades it from Basel on account of the amazing views of the Alps that can be seen all around. Being so close together means both can be visited with minimal effort (at least one train an hour) letting you scoop all beers available in each city. Couple this with at least a few hour’s sightseeing in both cities – there’s plenty to look at – and you have the basis for a trip which will please both the scooper and lover of eye-catching cities in one fell swoop and it’s only a short hop to the Alps proper which holds some of the most amazing railway journeys and views in Europe. Swiss railways’ tickets and times website is here, the main one here.
Getting there and getting around there.
Basel airport (BSL) was until recently mainly a business destination, although easyJet are upping the number of UK cities from which they fly meaning that us non-twatty-suited people can now reach the city a lot easier than we used to be able to. The airport, 10 km away and physically in France, is actually called Basel-Mulhouse-Frieburg and has both a French and Swiss exit! It’s quite a relaxed experience as far as airports go and the transport links are decent too; see the excellent to and from the airport website for the latest details.
The No.50 direct bus from the airport to Basel hauptbahnhof runs every 20 minutes from just outside the arrivals terminal and tickets are available either from the change bureau just out from baggage reclaim or a machine by the bus stop. It only takes 20 minutes or so and deposits you just alongside the Beers of the World shop at the front of the station; quality! The bus also conveys a trailer for those trolleys of bottles that you may be taking home. There are buses to Mulhouse in France and to Fribourg in Germany although these are less frequent; your best bet for onwards transit is probably the Basel bus and thence onto a train – Basel is a major national and international transport hub.
easyJet fly to Basel from Luton, Stansted and Liverpool and there are plenty of other flights on flag carriers if you really want to pay at least three times as much.
There is also an airport at Zürich (ZRH) which is one of Europe’s major interchange hubs yet, apparently, still manages to win regular awards for clearness of signing and the general experience; easyJet have commenced flights there from Luton (with maybe more to come) whilst Air Berlin go from Stansted so we may try the airport sometime in 2008! There are regular trains (S2 and S16) into Basel from the airport and, as it’s only 8 miles away, this doesn’t take very long.
As is to be expected with a country as close to Germany as Switzerland the public transport is good – but there’s a difference between Basel and Zürich as whilst Basel’s was only “very good” Zürich’s was “superb” and must be one of the best transport systems I’ve ever ridden on. Both cities have extensive tram systems (one line in Basel actually ventures into France for one stop!) and the day tickets are cheap too; surely someone in the UK must realise that the way we do things is absolutely fucking useless? Obviously not… maybe the heads of all our transport authorities should be sent to Zürich to see how one should run!
Basel has a decent tram network which centres on hauptbahnhofplatz just outside the main station (well, that is what it means…) and also little “chain ferries” which traverse the fast-flowing Rhein simply by means of rudder direction – I think! The wire above simply keeps the boat in the correct place and doesn’t provide any tractive power; these aren’t included in the day ticket although the fare isn’t too excessive. For those who care about such things the city has a pretty much standard tram fleet with some old vehicles remaining in service, although at a June 2007 meeting the city decided to abolish the final trolleybus line in favour of standard buses – quite why I don’t know but it shows stupidity isn’t restricted to the UK. Day tickets for the network (tageskart) is currently CHF8, but note that if you stay in a hotel you should get a free all-line ticket for your whole stay in Basel which is a superb idea.
Zürich has a magnificent transport system – fact – which will get you just about anywhere in the city and beyond but, more importantly for the Aspergers-afflicted, it manifests itself in a massive variety of transport forms such as trams, trolleybuses, funiculars, a cog-wheel railway, ordinary buses and ferries… not bad, eh! Standard 24-hour tickets (tageskart, CHF7.80 for the city zone 10) are available from the machines found at all almost tram stops (they are pre-stamped from the time bought) and from the tourist office in the main station which must be stamped in the slot provided in the ticket machines labelled “entwerten” or something like that!
You can reach almost everywhere in Europe (within reason and within a reasonable timeframe!) from Basel hauptbahnhof as it is one of the major hubs of the European rail network with trains departing to exotic-sounding places at regular intervals as well as within Switzerland. The station itself is pretty decent with a good supermarket, the Beers of the World shop and an attractive ticket hall with a very high ceiling adorned with paintings. It also has a most amusing door labelled simply “France”! Zürich station is almost as big yet far more relaxing and has trains to all over Europe leaving with Swiss punctuality and efficiency.
A great online map for all of Switzerland is available here which lists tramlines, tramstops, bars, restaurants and just about everything you could possibly wish to know when trying to locate some scoops; pity more countries don’t have something like this!
Staying around there.
Both cities have a wide range of hotels to “suit all budgets” as travel guides put it, which generally means most are expensive chain expressions of blandness for business knobs who usually just want to sit in their room, do some work and wank off all evening rather than get out and see the city they’re in. First of all, let’s get this straight; Switzerland isn’t a cheap country and therefore you’re going to have to do a bit of research in order to secure somewhere both close to the centre and of a reasonable price; we managed it after a few false starts although we had to go for the bland Ibis in Zürich to keep costs down.
Basel’s hotels are mainly high-end although there are some cheaper ones if you look. One which sounded superb was the Brasserie au Violon, a converted prison, close to Barfusserplatz although, sadly, it was full on our night of stay so we ended up with the decent enough Spalenbrunnen (tram 3 - destination Burgfelden Grenze - to Universität) which had all the necessary things such as comfy bed, shower that worked, a TV to watch whilst scooping our bottles and was only CHF145 a night. I booked it through the ever-useful hotel.de site which seems to beat most others hands down wherever I look and has never let me down thus far… okay, so the Spalenbrunnen wasn’t the most luxurious hotel I’ve ever stayed in, but it fulfilled it’s purpose well and the lurid eggs in the curry house for breakfast were well surreal!
Zürich is even more of a business destination than Basel and, looking at the hotel reviews in the Rough Guide, we gravitated out to what’s optimistically called an “up and coming district” which sounds like someone’s attempting to sprinkle glitter on a turd to me, but this being Switzerland it’s nowhere near as dodgy as it sounds; yes, there are lots of factories (working and derelict) around and the main road is covered by the hideous neo-Stalinist concrete flyover, but the area around the schiffbau is easily reached by tram or trolleybus plus it seemed safe to me, and I’ve stayed in a lot less safe places in my time I can assure you! It’s downside is the 20-minute tram ride into the centre of town but, with excellent transport connections, this isn’t really a problem unless you’re the kind of tourist who likes to be ferried around by taxis and courtesy coaches with tour guides aboard… if so, choose somewhere in the centre you sad fuck!
The huge hotel complex includes three levels of Accor’s hotels in one so you get to choose between the cheap Etap, mid-range Ibis and superior Mercure; we decided to spend the extra and stay in the Ibis which was the same as most other Ibis I’ve stayed in with all the essential stuff in the room and, as a bonus, a great view over the flyover and therefore the trolleybuses swooshing across it with the snow-capped alps beyond. At CHF117 a night it was certainly a bargain for Zürich and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly, it’s just a shame the nearby Back und Bräu has closed but in it’s place you can visit the industrial chic of café Bernoulli just a few stops further on tram 4 for Turbinenbräu, Bier Paul and Hirnibräu beers!
The scores out of five () given correspond to my usual scoring system...
Google maps for Basel and Zürich are here.
Käppelijoch Bier, Basel. ()
Available, if they've got any, on draught in the Lällekönig bar, Schifflände 1.
Unser Bier, Laufenstraße 16. Bräustube is open Thursday and Friday evenings from 17:00 - 24:00. ()
The brewery tap is Bräustube, Laufenstraße 16: take tram 10 (destination Dornoch) or 11 (destination Aesch) southeast from the station to Munchensteinerstraße and Laufenstraße is across the road with the brewery a short distance down on the right or, alternatively, trams 15/16 (destination Brudenholz) to Heilinggeistkirche. The tap is in the brewery yard along with the Paul Ullrich wine shop (closes around 18:30) which has a good beer range.
A co-operative brewery with it’s own bar which brews 4 core beers plus specials. The beers are available all over the city in bottle and sometimes on draught. Regrettably average beers, a bit restrained for my liking, but certainly not bad. Apparently Basel milkmen can deliver the beers… just how bizarre is that?
Unser Vereinsbräu, Hochstraße 64, Basel. Open Tuesday only from 17:30 to approx. 20:00.
Tram 15/16 (destination Brudenholz) to Tellplatz or 10/11 (destinations Aesch/Dornoch) to Peter Merian, next stop from the station, from where you cross the railway via the metal bridge and the pub is right there to your left.
An “own-brew” offshoot of Unser with limited opening hours, this strange place seems to be a homebrewer's club which sells the beer during the times above along with basic food. With the very restrictive hours this must be one of Europe's rarest beers to get in the book!
Fischerstube (Ueli bier), Rheingaße 45 (North bank of Rhein). ()
Trams 6/8/14/15/17 over the Rhine bridge to the Rheingaße stop, follow Rheingaße (on your right as you exit the tram) for around 250 metres and the pub is on the left.
A long room with the kit out the back, this place does fairly good beers and excellent food to match although you need to get in early to have any chance of a seat! Three brews are usually on tap; Spezial, Lagerhell and Robur Dunkel, plus occasional specials. All beer in bottles is brewed in Germany by Brauerei Lasser.
Contract by Lasser, Germany.
Lällekönig, Schifflände 1.
Take any bus/tram to Schifflände, walk to the river, and the bar faces it on the corner.
Bar which bills itself as "Haus zur Basler Bierkultur" and claims to have beer from all Basel's breweries on tap, although all week I was there there was no Käppelijoch on sale as it had run out! Run by two sisters from the Fischerstübe bar which is presumably why the beer range is so good - eight on tap including Ueli unfiltered, Unser Schwarz, Warteck (ah well...) and, if you're lucky, Käppelijoch! if you see something called "Baseler Bier" on tap this is a contract beer from Locher and, apparenty, not that good!
Pinguin / zum Bier-Huus - Schützenmattstraße 21
Tram 3 (destination Burgfelden Grenze) to Universität, carry on in the direction you were going (out of town) then, as you see the hotel Spalenbrunnen and the fountain itself on your left, turn down this road and, after 100 metres, you'll find the bar set back in a strange kind of arcade-type construction. Opposite the bar is a small shop where you can buy beer glasses and all manner of breweriana.
Strange bar with a huge menu containing 100 or so very safe beers with a few highlights; imagine an example of a crappy beer from a selection of countries and you'll get the idea! Not really recommended...
Drinks of the World, Basel hauptbahnhof. Open daily from 9am to 9.30pm (except on Sunday, to 8pm). ()
The shop is actually in the station and can be accessed from both the interior passage and the front of the station from Hauptbahnhofplatz.
It sells loads of beers including many Swiss winners so is well worth a visit for the eclectic range of brews. Some are crap, yes, but some are right whoppers! Don’t forget to take your bottles back for the deposit (pfand)!
Paul Ullrich - Laufenstraße 16, in the same building as Unser.
Tram 10 (destination Dornoch) or 11 (destination Aesch) southeast from the station to Munchensteinerstraße.
This excellent chain of shops (there's a centrally-located one at Schneidergaße 27) majors on wine and massive stocks of rare-as-fuck whisky but they all carry a growing range of beer, including Unser, Trois Dames and BFM, and are therefore highly recommended for stocking up with some "room beers"!!
For a food recommendation you could do a lot worse than the Stadtkeller, just around the corner from Lällekönig at Marktgasse 11. An atmospheric wood-panelled bar with crappy beer but absolutely superb food; the Rostis are amazing...
ECM Bräu (also known as S-Bier), Flühgaße 8.
Brewery sales on Saturdays 10.30 to 12.30 down the coast at Zollikon. (near the station).
Sadly we didn't get a chance to try this brewery's beers, which are apparently very good. Maybe next time…
Hirnibräu, Winzerstraße 79. ()
You can scoop their lager blond at Brasserie Bernoulli, Hardturmstrasse 261 (tram 4 (destination Werdholzi) to Bernoulli-Häuser, 3 stops past Escher-Wyss-Platz, almost opposite stop on the left), or le Divan, Zweierstrasse 106 (trams 9/14 (destination Triemli) to Zürich Wiedikon Bahnhof).
We had a 75cl bottle of Lagerbier blonde in the Bernoulli, which also has 4 Türbinen Bräu beers on draught and Bier Paul in bottle, and quite liked the industrial décor of the place. The beer was quite refreshing at the end of a warm day and had any more been on offer I may have got them in too - I’d like to try some more of their beers!
Schwamendinger Hopfenbräu, Schaffenhauserstraße 273, Oerlikon. Brewery depot opens Saturday 13:00 – 16:00 only for visits. ()
Trams 10 (destination Bahnhof Oerlikon) or 14 (destination Seebach) to Berninaplatz (north of the centre in the Oerlikon district) and it’s behind a building along the main road – it is signposted!
Billed as "small brewery north Zürich" and it certainly is that! Come for the chance to try and speak German to the jovial owner as he force-feeds you the Hopfenbräu he makes in the 60-litre kit there! All the bottled stuff is from Stadtbühl (Hopfenbräu and Fluglarm) but the draught Hopfenbräu in the “party room” is made there (apparently!) and is pretty good. The owner assured me he uses the little plant (to be honest it did look used and there were all the required bits there such as Weyermann malt and hop pellets) and it's dispensed from a "party room" where a fridge holds a 20-litre keg of the stuff! It was definitely one of the surreallest moments of my Euro-scooping career being fed free beer in a cellar in suburban Zürich...
Contract-brewed by Stadtbühl.
Türbinenbräu, Badenerstraße. 571, the Türbinenhalle is the brewery tap. Opens Monday 11-1430, Tuesday-Friday 11-1430 and 1630-2330, Saturday 1830-2330, Sunday closed. ()
Tram 2 (destination Farbhof) to Kappelli, the brewery is 50m back towards the centre on the right-hand side of the road.
Has some nice shiny kit behind the strange retro bar/restaurant (it's around the left-hand side of the building, past the loading bay and not that obvious), and in addition to the three regular beers currently has a cracking unfiltered pilsener on; it was excellent, which is more than can be said for their other beers which play quite safe. The beers are available in a large number of outlets in town, see here.
Back und Bräu Steinfels, Heinrichstraße. 267.
** This brewpub has apparently re-opened in 2008 **
Very close to Ibis City West and Escher-Wyss-Platz, just off Hardstraße. Trams 4 (destination Werdhölzli) or 13 (destination Frankental) or trolleybus 72 (destination Triemli) to Escher-Wyss Platz.
This has now closed; the situation of the brewery is unknown, but the place was just bare concrete with no sign of any kit present. No idea where or if the brewery has relocated, but it's definitely not where it was and this was confirmed by the brewer at Schwamendinger and also the nice young lady in the dance studio upstairs!
Linde Oberstraß, Universitätsstraße. 91. Open 08:00–24:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00–24:00 Sat, 10:00–24:00 Sun. ()
** No gen on the situation here; reports please! **
Tram 9 (destination Hirzenbach) or 10 (destination Oerlikon) to Winkelreidstraße (near the Rigiblick funicular).
With the closure of Back und Bräu I’m not convinced that this “brewery” is still active; as Linde used to get their wort from Back und Bräu (they only have fermenters, no mash tuns or coppers) I've no idea what will happen when their current supply runs out; as we didn't know the situation at Back und Bräu when we were there, we didn't ask. Updates please!
Beers : (were mashed at Back und Bräu, fermented on-site)
Züri-hell – beers are contract-brewed, maybe by Türbinenbräu? Don’t get too excited, it’s just cheap fizzy lager in bottles - don't bother.
Amboss – Contract brews previously from Back und Bräu, Zürich and/or Baar from south of Zürich and now from Sonnenbräu of Rebstein. Try at the IQ Bar, Hardstraße 316, near Ibis City West and Escher-Wyss-Platz. IQ didn't have any on our visit and we didn't have chance to look anywhere else. Should be available from Beerplanet Löwe, Badenerstraße 74.
Brasserie Fédéral, Bahnhofplatz 15, Zürich hauptbahnhof. Open 11:00–24:00 daily. ()
Despite the address hinting that it’s outside the station this bar is physically in the station hall close to Quai tramstop.
A very turn-of-the-century bar on the SBB station with 100 Swiss beers! It was a bit busy at night but during the day it's recommended for a quiet drink from the list, which veers from bland dross to fairly decent microbreweries. The food is good (and quite cheap) so overall, given it's location (on the concourse at the Quai end), it's definitely worth a visit.
· Rugenbräu Lager hell (4.8%) – This was a straightforward golden lager with a reasonably bitter and hoppy flavour and was above the usual standard. ()
Drinks of the World, Zürich hauptbahnhof. Open daily from 9am to 9.30pm (except on Sunday to 8pm). ()
The shop is downstairs in the station’s shopping mall – check the maps. The steps at the Landmuseum end of Quai tramstop take you very close to it!
The shop has loads of beers with, in my opinion, a better range than the Basel outlet; a great little shop with around 30-40 Swiss beers with some big scoops and a load of other stuff from all over the world; some right dross but conversely some big winners too. Take your bottles back for the pfand (deposit).
Beerplanet Löwe, Badenerstraße 74.
Trams 2,3,8,9 or 14 to Stauffacher.
A beershop with, by the looks of their website, mainly foreign beers; we didn't get chance to look in owing to a surfeit of scoops elsewhere… maybe next time!
A great resource for all things Swiss and beery is Bov’s excellent website here.
Beers and Bars of the trip.
With 41 beers scooped and a good deal of pubs and bars visited on this very intensive trip it’s going to be hard to choose the best, and then there’s the unusual circumstances of very few of the beers scoring particularly high marks… Ve haf vays, as Hollywood Germans are prone to say, and so - with that in mind - here are the results of the UK jury;
© Gazza 26/01/09 v1.1
|Unser Bier, Basel||Fischerstube, Basel||Linde Oberstraß, Zürich||Linde Oberstraß' plant.||Hirnibrau scooping in brasserie Bernoulli, Zürich|
|Back und Bräu being gutted, Zürich||Schwamendinger's entrance, Zürich||Schwamendinger's brewer doing his stuff...||Turbinenbräu, Zürich||Inside Turbinenbräu|