Saturday, March 08, 2008

 

Where is Welschland?

Belgium is not the only country split along linguistic lines in Europe, but there is a country that tackles it much better. Whereas the best Swiss microbreweries are looking to Belgium for inspiration, the reverse should have been true for Belgian politicians. But then again, copying the Swiss model would leave many of them without a job, so I suppose it is out of question.

Switzerland has as many as four official languages with Romansh having the same marginal role as German in Belgium. Meanwhile, in Switzerland the German-speaking region, Deutschschweiz (mind the consonants if you are drinking!), is by far the biggest.

Welschland is a schwützerdütsch (the Swiss dialect that can frustrate any student of Hochdeutsch) nickname for the Swiss French-speaking region (which prefers to be called Romandie).

The is nothing derogatory about Welschland in Zürich, however. A wealth of artisanal products from the Western, French-speaking part of Switzerland is competing for your attention (and luggage space), including sausages, wine, cheese and, of course, beer. At the time of my visit they had only 10 beers, all lined up in the picture, far less than the major beer supplier in town, the centrally located Drinks of the World. Unless you have a particular liking for similar-tasting blond lagers though, you will find the beers of Welschland far more rewarding.

In fact, I encountered surprisingly few memorable beers from Deutschschweiz despite its proximity to Germany. The friendly co-owner of the Welschland delicatessen explained that the poor growing conditions for grapes, especially in the cooler Jura canton, paved the way for beer brewing there. It cannot fully explain why all the best craft beers are made in that region.

One of them, BFM- Brasserie des Franches-Montagne, occupies 10 of the top 20 twenty ratings for Swiss beers on Ratebeer, a position resembling that of Nøgne Ø in Norway. The decent beers of the Trois Dames brewery of the nearby Vaud canton do not reach that high only because they are generally rated by too few people. Both give a successful Swiss twist to beer styles originating in Belgium and beyond.

La Salamandre by BFM was among the beers in my luggage that managed to escape the destructive efforts of the SAS Ground Staff at Copenhagen Airport- for their careless and beer-hostile luggage handling I wish they be served Bud Light in all eternity. In contrast, La Salamandre is orange golden and cloudy with an admittedly minimal head. The nose is acid and complex, revealing lemons, orange zest and spices. Flirting with geuze characteristics. The sour lemony and orange zest flavours find balancing honey sweetness. An outstanding beer - a flavourful ambassador for this otherwise neutral country.

Unlike the Belgians the Swiss always preferred to perfect their own little world rather than conquering the rest of it. Unfortunately, perfectionist Switzerland seldom turns out beers that deviate from the main. But when they actually do, their craft beers should feature high among enthusiasts worldwide. Finding the good stuff remains a challenge, though.

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