One of the biggest homebrew challenges facing me since arriving in Europe is securing proper brewing ingredients (See “Stress Brewing Part 2). On two occasions I have placed online orders with a homebrew supplier in the UK. While this is relatively timely German shipping companies are less than gentle, resulting in yours truly scraping ingredients from the bottom of the box. On at least one other occasion a personal “courier”, risking deportation and other heinous acts by German customs officials, delivered desperately needed priming sugar. Sensing my frustration (probably the direct result of my incessant swearing) my “Navigator” of more than 30 years discovered an alternative. Switzerland?
It was a cold dreary February morning, like most European mid-winter mornings, when we struck off for Switzerland in search of a brick and mortar homebrew shop. My pulse quickened as I plugged the address into the Geo Positional Satellite thingy, affectionately dubbed Garmin B*tch. At long last I was going to an actual homebrew shop! According to Garmin B*tch, my holy grail of homebrewing was only two hours away. Mother Nature had other plans. What started as rain quickly turned to snow, then rain again, preventing me from taking full advantage of the unrestricted sped on the Autobahn. Rain and/or snow be damned I would not be discouraged!The Swiss town of Wald is approximately an hour’s drive from the German border, approximately 30 kilometers east of Zurich. Home to approximately 9,000 residents Wald is also the home of SIOS Homebrewing; if I knew nothing else about the town that would be enough. Pulling into the parking lot I immediately began questioning Garmin B*tch’s guidance. The building looked abandoned. My heart sank like a little boy who just lost his puppy. Struggling to keep my emotions in check I exited the car, opting to explore the building on foot. Walking around the corner of the building my jaw dropped and my knees trembled. A sign on the wall directed me to a door on the back side of the building. Opening the door my nostrils tingled with the greatest aroma any brewer can experience. MALT! My eyes fluttered as I took a deep cleansing malt filled breath. Nirvana.
SIOS Homebrewing is not unlike any homebrew store in the states with the standard brewing systems, homebrewing trinkets, bottling supplies, and of course malt. Bags and bags of malt. The staff is very knowledgeable and fluent in English. Like most other things in Switzerland SIOS prices are not for the faint of heart. I dropped the equivalent of 120 dollars for ingredients I would have payed half as much for in the states. The folks at SIOS are also fellow homebrewers and apparently if you drop enough coin they will give you a couple of complimentary bottles of their beer. The beer also came with an ominous warning. “Don’t try to cross the Austrian border”. “Germany good, Austria bad”. I have yet to discover why, but I will take their word for it.
Last weekend I returned to SIOS, purchasing ingredients for an IPA that I have affectionately dubbed “Twister Swisster”. Not surprisingly the staff recognized me and remembered my name as I’m likely only one of a few American customers to have visited their shop. Most of you are probably wondering why I would go to such great lengths to visit a homebrew shop instead of just ordering things “On the line”. The answer is simply human interaction. While internet orders are convenient there is no substitute for talking to fellow beer lovers and homebrewers, sharing experiences and learning about their native beer culture.
United we brew, divided we fall.