Black Beer Soup
According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, in 1890 there were 500 domestic breweries in Switzerland. By 1998, there were only about 24 breweries left.
So what happened?
The last decade of the 19th century was a golden era for beer brewing in central Europe. Beer had been brewed for centuries, but gained popularity as new technology and discoveries (such as the invention of the steam engine, thermometer, and hydrometer in the late 1700s, and Pasteur's research on yeast in fermentation) made the brewing process easier.
The reign of the Swiss Beer Cartel
Switzerland, like its neighbours, had a rich brewing tradition. An association of brewers, or the Schweizerischer Bierbrauerverein, was founded in 1887. After the financial collapse following the First World War, the association worked to impose high taxes on imported beers. They continued to grow in power and by 1935 they had enough control of the market to write their own convention. The organization worked as a cartel controlling everything from beer distribution, to the ingredients used and the size of bottles. Restaurants, hotels, shops, and supermarkets were forced into exclusive contracts.
What was initially seen as a protection of the Swiss beer craft eventually became its undoing. With no reason to change and no competition, innovation suffered, and so did the beer. Finally, in the 1990s, the cartel collapsed and foreign beers flooded the market, providing consumers with a better choice and product. Ironically, many of the breweries were bought by foreign companies like Heineken and Carlsberg, the very thing they had tried to avoid less than a century ago. Although things are improving, repercussions are still felt throughout the industry today.
At their weakest, the breweries may have numbered 24, but the rebuilding of the Swiss beer market, in tandem with a worldwide surge in craft beer sales, has meant a growth of microbreweries, as well as a resurgence of some of the smaller historic brands. According to the Swiss register of brewers, there are curretly 574 active breweries registered in Switzerland today.
One of the breweries that managed to survive the rise and fall of the Swiss beer industry was Locher Brewing, makers of Appenzeller beer. A brand reliant on traditional brewing methods, it is once again an imposing force in the Swiss beer market, and a delicious alternative to the mass produced, pedestrian beers from the larger breweries.
In my opinion, one of their best beers is the Schwarzer Kristall. This is a bitter, black stout with very light notes of vanilla. It's great with chocolate desserts, as well as in cooking.
This might be the easiest soup you've ever made. It's not for the faint of heart, it is rich and bitter, but perfect on a cold day.
Big knob of butter
3 heaping tbsps flour
a 330 mL bottle of your favourite dark beer
a bouillon cube
3 generous tbsps cream
a squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in the pan. Once it is spluttering, gently shake over the flour, whisking thoroughly. Allow to cook for a moment, until it becomes lightly browned.
Slowly add the entire bottle of beer while still whisking—it will splutter. Bring to a boil.
Fill the empty bottle with water and pour this in as well. Add the bouillon cube. Bring to a boil again and let cook for a few minutes.
Take the pot off the heat and add the cream. Stir well, then add the lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Be careful when bringing it to a boil and keep your eye on on the pan. It can quickly bubble up and boil over.
- This can be very bitter, depending on what kind of beer you use. The cream will soften this, so if it is too strong, give it a splash more.
- For a lighter soup with the same brown colour, try using a dark lager. Any beer will work, it will just have a different taste.
- Instead of croutons, just smash some Zwieback and sprinkle on top. They add a nice sweetness.