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Rendezvous of the Swiss beer fanatics

Drinking your way through disparate beer styles and sampling all of them? Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Identifying and describing 150 different beer styles and suggesting the right food to go with them? Hmmm – that’s rather more difficult. It’s precisely this challenge that some of our Swiss neighbours have now accepted.

Last week, Bern hosted the third Swiss Beer Sommelier Championships, where Krones was one of the principal sponsors. In what role, Herr Lienert, were you involved?

The Swiss Brewery Confederation (SBV), as the patron of beer sommelier training in Switzerland, was the organiser of the event. In my function as Deputy Director of the SBV, I was the Project Manager for the Swiss Championships, and made sure that both onstage and behind the scenes everything ran smoothly.

The participants in the championships were all of them beer sommeliers from Switzerland or Liechtenstein. How many sommeliers took part? And how do the figures from previous years compare?

This year, 40 beer sommeliers from all over Switzerland took part. At the inaugural event in 2015, there were 23, and in 2017 33 participants. That’s a very respectable growth rate!

The path to the winner’s podium led through numerous tests. Could you briefly outline the modalities and constituents of the event?

In three preliminary-round disciplines, the competitors had to prove their abilities. First of all, the participants’ theoretical knowledge of beer was examined in a written test. This examination featured questions on the attributes of various beer styles, the history of beer, but also on the craft of brewing. The second preliminary round focused entirely on the different aromas that may be encountered in beers. Here, the beer sommeliers had to identify typical beer tastes and odours, but also any defects. In the third discipline, all competitors received samples of various beers and had to assign them to the right beer style – worldwide, there are more than 150 different of these, with numerous variations and subcategories, which is why this task was not to be underestimated. The ten best beer sommeliers from the preliminary rounds then went forward to the semi-finals.

Things got really exciting in the championship’s semi-finals at the beer presentation, the premier discipline for every beer sommelier. Here, the participants had to correctly deploy their practical skills and their specialised knowledge themed around beer. For this purpose, they presented to the jury and the public a well-known beer, incl. correct serving, tasting and sensory description, suitable food combinations, etc. Two beer sommeliers at a time competed against each other. The jury of experts awarded ratings, and of the two beer sommeliers the one with the better presentation won and went forward to the finals. The five finalists each received three beers to choose from, and were asked to present their favourite to the jury. After they had been rated by the jury and the public, Martin Droeser emerged as the Swiss Champion of the beer sommeliers in 2018.

So some highly disparate skills are examined. Very briefly: what in your view makes a good sommelier?

To put it very simply: a good beer sommelier has to be enthusiastic about beer as a product and be able to communicate this enthusiasm to as many people as possible.

What happens next for the winners of the championships?

The top four in the Swiss Championships, Martin Droeser, Patrick Thomi, Lukas Porro and Gregor Völkening, constitute the Swiss national team, and will be representing us at the world championships in Italy next. This means that there’s plenty of training in store for the national team, since we aim to secure the title for Switzerland!

Besides this training, the national team will indubitably also be receiving numerous inquiries from the media or requests for tastings, since now Switzerland’s beer fans will want to participate in the abilities of these beer sommeliers.

Switzerland is not a particularly large country, but nonetheless it’s home to a very respectable choice of beers. What’s your perception of how the craft of brewing has evolved in Switzerland over recent year?

It’s a very exciting, highly dynamic story. As from 2012, the number of registered breweries veritably exploded, and has meanwhile reached 1,000. To be honest, this needs to be seen in perspective though, since private individuals who brew more than 400 litres of beer (clubs: 800 litres) annually, are registered and have to pay beer tax, and are thus classified as breweries. Besides the increased number of breweries, the diversity of beers at all Swiss breweries has also risen perceptibly, with more specialty beers being brewed. Since 2011, moreover, an intensive seminar called “The Swiss Beer Sommelier® – discover beer, sample it and sell it successfully” has been offered by GastroSuisse in close collaboration with the Swiss Brewery Confederation. All these points went hand in hand with an enhanced perception of beer as a luxury product: for instance, many different beers are now available in more and more restaurants, bars and in the retail sector, and are being correspondingly explained and recommended. This trend means that beer is being perceived not only as a thirst-quencher, but increasingly as a luxury product that suits a wide range of different occasions.


Photos: Eliane Beerhalter


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