The Brewing Industry in Switzerland


The following paper was read and discussed:—


by H. Hūrlimann, Ph.D.

The brewing trade holds a modest position in the Swiss business life.  In a.d. 800 the famous Abbey of St. Gall, which was founded by an Irish friar, had a brewery.  There were three brewhouses, one for the monks, one for the servants, and one for guests.  Charles the Great had sympathetic leanings towards the brewers.  The Romans introduced wine-making into Switzerland, and the brewing of beer was neglected and forgotten during the following centuries.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century many Germans imigrated to Switzerland, and reintroduced the art of brewing.  They built small brewhouses, and in many cases brewed only for their own taverns.  In the early part of the nineteenth century there existed in Switzerland about 600 of these small breweries.  Beer-drinking spread all over Switzerland, and the breweries had golden times.  But soon a period of competition came.  In the second part of the nineteenth century the brewers began to buy estates, lent money to the inn-keepers, gave furniture to the taverns, and indulged in many other ruinous operations.  At the beginning of the Great War only about 200 breweries were left, and that number declined still further during the war to about 50. During the war the lack of raw materials, and especially the control exercised by the Entente over the Swiss trade, forced the breweries to form a syndicate.  That trust still exists, and embraces all Swiss breweries except two small firms.  The crisis brought about by the war forced the trade to reform the methods of dealing, cleared the atmosphere of ruinous competition, and set up well-defined rules of trading.  Nowadays it is not permitted, or is at most very difficult, to buy estates, lend money and give furniture. The wholesale and retail prices of beer are strictly observed.  The inn-keepers themselves recognised the advantage of these agreements, and their organisation became a partner to them.  After the war the price of raw materials fell, and it became possible for the brewers to make profits.  But the Federal Government, needing money, began to deal with the matter, and succeeded in getting a law passed with the object of taxing beverages.  As the raw materials became cheaper, the taxes on beverages were raised.  Only the beer tax is now left, and the income derived from it amounts to about 23 million Swiss francs a year.  Compared with Great Britain the taxes are not high, but the profit left to the Swiss brewer is much smaller.  The consumption of beer per capita in Switzerland is 11 gallons, as compared with 14 in Great Britain.

There are no classes at the universities for the teaching of the scientific side of brewing, and those interested have to attend at Gorman or French universities.  But the Swiss breweries have their own research institute.  There the materials are tested, the methods of brewing are studied, and technical assistance given if required.  Mainly pale and dark Lager are brewed, and for Christmas and Easter bock-beer and “Marzen.” There is also a special beer sold at a higher price.

Only a few of the Swiss breweries have maltings.  Usually the malt is purchased from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Denmark and some from England.  Generally, malting is not profitable in Switzerland, as railway freights are more expensive for the barley, which is heavier than malt.  The difference in freight is greater than any profit due to malting.  Hops are usually bought in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia.  Old hops cannot be used.  The green colour of hops seems to be not so important for the Swiss as for the German brewers, but the lupulin must have a fresh yellow shade.

Malt is usually crushed in 5 or 6 roller mills.  High initial mashing temperatures are not used with the decoction of thick mash, and as a rule two or three mashes are made.

The Swiss breweries brew only with barley malt.  Other ingredients, such as rice, corn, manioc, etc., must be declared by means of large placards in the taverns.  Tuns are employed for mashing, and in some places mash filters.  The brew kettles are made of copper, have a spherical shape, and are steam-heated.  The evaporation is rather slow, and is accelerated by special cookers.  The wort, after leaving the hop back, is pumped on to a surface cooler, which is a shallow iron or steel pan, of a length and width large in proportion to its depth; there is but little danger of infection owing to the purity of the atmosphere.  The wort is cooled to 122° F. During the winter the wort may be kept on the surface cooler over-night.  The wort leaves the refrigerator at a temperature of 41° F.; for the upper part of the refrigerator supply liquor is used, and for the lower part liquor cooled nearly to 32° F.

In the fermenting cellar the yeast is mixed with the wort, and some breweries allow the sediments and dead yeast cells to settle.  Then the fermenting beer is pumped to the fermenting tuns, where it remains at a low temperature for about 8 or 10 days.  In the second part of the fermentation the beer is artificially cooled by attemperators made of 2-in. copper tube coils, either round in shape or straight with return bends.  The large breweries use pure yeast cultures, smaller breweries buy the yeast from larger ones, or get their pure yeast from the Swiss Institute of Brewing.  For pale Lager a small-celled yeast of high attenuative power is preferred.  In the case of dark beer the cells ought to be larger, and settle down more quickly.

The fermenting vessels are usually made of aluminium, sometimes enamelled steel, or concrete coated with a lining of pitch and rubber.  Recently, stainless steel has been employed.

The beers are stored for 30 to 200 days.  Beers of the Munich type are rarely stored for more than two months, but Pilsen beers often are kept for 150 to 200 days.  The storage vats are usually made of enameled steel, aluminium is also used.  In many breweries large wooden barrels are still to be seen, and whilst they need much attendance, the writer prefers them for beers for which a good Pilsen flavour is desired.

The bottling departments of breweries are modern and well designed, as the consumption of bottled beer is considerable.  The brewery with which the writer is associated sells about half of its output in bottles.  The beers are not pasteurised.  On account of the short distances over which distribution takes place, many breweries sell most of their output only in one town and its neighbourhood.  Beer of other breweries is sold all over the country, thus entailing a great number of depots.  Most of the beer is usually sold to the inn-keepers, but a little goes to private customers, and in that case the brewery has to pay a small allowance to the syndicate of inn-keepers.  Difficulties in making deliveries, especially in the mountains, frequently occur, and that means that the stability of the beer must be exceptionally good.  Only a very small quantity of Swiss beer is sold in foreign countries, mostly in France.  Switzerland has about 60 refrigerator railway cars, which belong to the different breweries.  Most of the beer is distributed by motor lorries.  Electrically driven lorries, in spite of the cheap electricity, are not often used.  For local deliveries, horse-drawn conveyances are customary.  The writer has always found horse-drawn vehicles cheapest for short distances.

Generally, wooden kegs are used as containers, but a start has been made with aluminium barrels.  They are cheap, clean, need no pitching, and a low temperature is maintained better than was anticipated.

For every 11 gallons of beer, 1 cwt. Of ice is supplied free of charge.  If the customer has a refrigerating plant he receives 2 francs cash per 22 gallons in lieu of the free ice.  Bills are settled at the end of the month, and payments made within 15 days are allowed 2 per cent, discount.  Each customer is allotted to a certain brewery, but he can appeal to an arbitration committee if he desires a change.  That, however, seldom happens.  The various regulations and agreements concerning the selling of beer are strictly observed, and a special commission of lawyers watches over the interpretation and application of such agreements.

The regulations dealing with the welfare and the protection of the workers are numerous, nevertheless, many things are left to the employer.  The insurance of the worker against accidents is controlled by a federal institute of insurance.  In the canton of Zurich, everyone with less than a certain income must be insured against illness.  The unemployment insurance for labourers is compulsory.  Usually the labour syndicates have their own insurance funds for unemployment, which makes the syndicates powerful.  The breweries have created a special fund for paying wages during sickness, for insurance to provide for old ago, for widows and orphans.  These insurances are expensive, but the funds are tax free.  The private insurances of the breweries are often guaranteed by insurance companies.  The existing insurance provisions regarding old age pensions often prove an insuperable difficulty to an elderly unemployed man who may be seeking a job: he becomes an expensive hand, owing to the high insurance premium payable by the employer.  It is a problem that must be tackled sooner or later by the State who even itself does not employ old people.  In the writer’s brewery a man who has worked 30 years gets, when he is 60 years of age, 2,400 Swiss francs per annum (£111 12s. 6½ d.).  For a shorter service the pension is proportionately smaller.  The pension of a widow is half that of a man, and for an orphan who has lost the father, it is 10 per cent., if both parents are lost, it is 20 per cent, of that amount.  The labourers and the brewers usually are members of the trade union, which includes those who work in firms associated with the food and transport industries.  As the breweries pay high wages, there is but little unrest among the workers.  Many of these men own their own house, are landlords who have apartments to let, and are thus small capitalists.  In an agreement concluded between the Swiss breweries and the trade union, standard wages have been fixed for the whole of the country.

The working agreements between different groups of industries and their workmen on the one part, and between the industries and their customers on the other part, are based on a mutual principle of voluntary cooperation.  They are not enforceable by law, but have their foundations in the deep rooted desire for liberty of the Swiss people.

A cinematograph film of plant in Swiss breweries was shown.

The Chairman (Mr. F. G. Burdass) said that he had hoped Dr. Hūrlimann could have devoted rather more attention in his paper to the plant and equipment of Swiss breweries.  There had, however, been compensation in the very fine film, which illustrated most parts of the plant.  A number of interesting matters had been dealt with in connection with the management of Swiss breweries.  He was surprised that, in spite of the fact that a syndicate of the breweries had been formed in Switzerland, the price of beer had not been advanced, although there had been increases in taxation.  He should have thought that with such a syndicate the brewers would have been in a position to raise prices as taxation was increased, and so maintain an even profit.  It was of interest to note that all the yeast was taken to a central depot to be dried.  It seemed to him that if private trade was done direct from the brewery, it was only fair to compensate the inn-keeper.  He should like to know what was used instead of caustic soda for the washing of bottles.

Prof. R. H. Hopkins said that he was much interested in Dr. Hūrlimann’s paper, although quite a large part of it was perhaps of even greater interest to the practical man, who had to consider profits and losses, distribution, taxes and so forth.  Only a comparatively small part dealt with the purely technical and scientific side of the subject.  Nevertheless, Dr. Hūrlimann did touch upon one problem in which his compatriots had been making some strides in recent years, and he (the speaker) was hoping that the author might have discussed the subject of methods of bringing about coagulation of sludge (break) in the cooling wort.  He believed that Dr. Kutter had been doing work on the subject, and that he advocated stirring the wort during the earlier stages of cooling.  It would be of interest to know if anywhere in Switzerland large-scale experiments on Dr. Kutter’s suggestion had been carried out, and if the indications were favourable or the reverse.  It happened that Dr. Kutter’s proposals were opposed by a patent, put forward by Dr. Jakob, who contended that infection would take place during the process of stirring the wort on the coolers.  While it was quite probable that in the pure air of Switzerland Kutter’s methods might work well, probably special precautions would be necessary in the average German or English town. Jakob advocated filtering the wort bright immediately from the copper, and getting rid of the coarse sludge at that stage, and virtually suggested that the fine sludge formed on further cooling might be ignored. Possibly Dr. Hūrlimann would know whether the Swiss technical brewers and research workers had arrived at any conclusions on the point.  It was a matter of great practical importance, and was perplexing American brewers considerably at the moment.  He would further like to ask Dr. Hūrlimann how satisfactory the settlement of the sludge was in his own system.  He understood him to say that the wort was sometimes allowed to stand on the large open coolers all night, and that it cooled right down to ordinary temperature, although that was not probably the normal procedure, as the film indicated.  But it would be instructive to know what kind of sludge separation took place when the wort was allowed to stand until cold on a large open cooler.

Mr. Walter Scott asked how long the 1 cwt. of ice supplied for each 11 gallons of beer lasted. He presumed that the Lager principle of selling the beer cold was followed.  Was there any particular reason why the metal at the top of the vertical refrigerator was copper, and at the bottom stainless steel?

Dr. A. Slator asked whether Crown cork bottles were used in Switzerland, and also if Dr. Hūrlimann had any preference for colour of bottles.  It would be of interest to know whether aluminium suited Swiss breweries, and what other metals were found satisfactory for brewery vessels.

Mr. T. E. Grant said they all regretted to learn that the Swiss brewing trade was passing through a rather, bad time, and they sincerely hoped that before very long it would run into smoother waters.  He could not quite follow Dr. Hūrlimann on the point, because he understood him to say that although they were not doing very well, the breweries were actually giving more gravity than they were required by the State to give.  He should like to know the reason for the difference in the length of storage of beers of the Munich and Pilsen type.  In following the films he noticed that some of the malt storage silos were constructed of concrete, and others of iron.  They would welcome Dr. Hūrlimann’s views on which method of construction he found most satisfactory.

Mr. B. Wood referred to the author’s account of the use of a centrifuge for the removal of sediment, and his subsequent statement that in the case of special beer, better results were obtained by cooling all night on the cooler, the reason being that the settling of the sludge was more satisfactory.  He (the speaker) could not appreciate the difference between the two processes.

Dr. Hūrlimann, in reply, said that the Government fixed the price of beer, and the syndicate could take no action in the matter.  The Government threatened, if the price of beer was raised, to advance the tax at the same rate.  If the Swiss breweries had raised the price by even ½d for a glass of beer, the consumption would have dropped about 40 per cent., because, not only would the people find the beer too expensive, but they would regard such action as being taken in opposition to the Government.  The premium paid to inn-keepers amounted to about £1,500 a year, and the money was expended on the Inn-keepers’ School.  With regard to cleansing bottles, it had been found that the sharp edges of the crystals of calcium carbonate scratched the bottles, and that effect had been overcome by the use of trisodium phosphate.

It had been found in practice that coagulation took place during a certain period, after which it was dangerous to disturb the wort.  There were three coagulations in all, the first in the copper, and a second and different coagulation on the surface cooler.  When the wort had been filtered from the hop back and cooled down, it again coagulated, and became hazy.  That being the case, the wort was stirred until the surface cooler was full.  The film showed the apparatus for stirring. There was a third coagulation when the wort became cold.  An interesting experiment had been made a short time ago.  Using a Laval centrifuge, the sediment was centrifuged from the wort coming down from the surface cooler to the refrigerator at a temperature of about 122° F.  More sludge separated and was removed by centrifuging a second time at 41° F.  No effect was observed by this procedure; both beers had the same taste.  But cooling down during the night in the winter was certainly advantageous.  Probably coagulation continued all the time from boiling-point down to 41oF.

The duty on beer was 12 f. 27 c. per hectolitre, or 16s. for a 36 gallons barrel.  The duty was based on volume, not gravity.  The average gravity which was compulsory was 12 to 13 per cent., Balling (1053°-1057o). The contents of a normal cask were from 20 to 30 litres, or about 40 to 60 pints.  The aim was to supply a cask that would be emptied in 24 hours.  The largest casks contained 100 litres.  The stainless steel at the bottom of the refrigerator was adopted because, formerly, the wort was cooled with brine, and the copper became corroded.  The use of brine, however, had been discontinued.

The matter of bottle-closing in Switzerland was an old problem.  At one time they tried to introduce the use of Crown corks for their special beer, but they were not liked by the working classes, who preferred a bottle that they could close easily.  Difficulty was experienced in the stoppers at present used owing to the caustic soda dissolving the zinc in the galvanised iron, and the metal now used was an alloy of nickel and manganese   In the case of the special beer, the closing was made of aluminium, and could be torn off by hand. This stopper, however, was not suitable if the beer had to be pasteurised.  He did not consider that the colour of the bottles was important so far as the visibility of scratches was concerned.  As to the use of metals in the brewery, aluminium was satisfactory, but it was necessary to ensure that the water used did not contain chlorine, and that the tank was insulated in a concrete wall.  Copper was not possible for bottom fermentation vessels, as some of it dissolved.  That had been the experience in Belgium.  Nickel also dissolved. Stainless steel, however, was suitable, and the yeast settled a little more quickly in stainless steel as compared with aluminium vessels.

The difference in the storage time between Munich beer and Pilsener was important.  The dark beer should have at least 30 and not more than 60 days.  If the period was shorter there was a risk that the attenuation had not gone far enough.  For ordinary Lager the period was between 60 and 90 days to reach a suitable attenuation.  In the case of special beers containing three times the normal quantity of hops it was necessary that the beer should remain in the cellar longer so that the desirable hop flavour could develop.  Such beers were not sold under 100 days.  The material from which silos were constructed was governed by price.  At one time concrete was more expensive, and at another time steel.  In the case of malt, the material used for the construction did not matter, but for barley he would not use steel because it got very hot.

He supposed that the centrifuge as a device for separating sludge was an improvement.  It had also been tried for finished beer with satisfactory results.

The Chairman, in thanking Dr. Hūrlimann for his paper, said they appreciated, not only his courtesy in coming to Birmingham and delivering such an interesting address, but also his friendly services when brewers from this country had the pleasure of visiting his breweries in Switzerland.  He thought they all envied the Swiss brewers the purity of the air in their country, which enabled them to make experiments with impunity which English brewers would not dare to try.

He asked Dr. Hūrlimann to accept a silver tankard as a mark of their appreciation of his visit to Birmingham, and he hoped that Dr. Hūrlimann would express to his fellow-countrymen the good wishes of English brewers, and assure them of the desire that existed to return the hospitality received in Switzerland should an opportunity offer.

Dr. Hūrlimann acknowledged the vote of thanks, and expressed his appreciation of the graceful gift of the silver tankard.

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