“If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would become the owner of a craft brewery, I would have laughed out loud,” says Daniel, whose previous roles included 15 years in the field of marketing. While organising a large-scale event, he was looking for a custom beer. “I heard through the grapevine that a friend had recently taken over a brewery.” He then worked with him to create the beer for this event. After the event, Daniel was spontaneously asked: “Don’t you want to hop on board?”
«“Among all the breweries that pop out of the ground like mushrooms, we have the niche of sustainable beer production. Our key trait is a beer that aims to offer added value,”»
Daniel, who had actively promoted the topic of sustainability in his previous role, was quickly faced with the following questions: How is beer produced? What type of product is it actually? Where do the raw materials come from? The realisation: as was the case for him at the time, the average consumer has no idea about any of this. “Most people just enjoy it – you drink it and that’s that.” This is exactly what Daniel wants to change with Birtel. In 2017, he took over the operational management and has been putting all his energy into the business ever since.
Easy, thought Daniel, we’ll simply procure the raw materials locally. However, it is more difficult than you’d think: raw materials for beer – barley, hops, malt, yeast – are obtained through international markets. “You don’t know where exactly these raw materials ultimately come from, particularly when it comes to hops.” These raw materials are grown as monocultures and treated to such an extent that they can be easily processed and the beer always tastes exactly the same. For Birtel, one thing is clear: a natural product cannot and should not always taste the same. “Organically grown hops, for example, tastes differently depending on whether the year was particularly dry, sunny or rainy.”
«When it comes to wine, for example, a consumer awareness has developed which considers and accepts the vintage of the natural products. The same actually applies to beer as well.»
The journey there began two years ago with the search for a suitable parcel of land to grow their own raw materials. This was followed by the search for a farmer, a malting plant and a specialist to oversee everything. “We planted brewing barley on a parcel of land in Reinach (Basel-Landschaft) for the first time this year. It is untreated and has not been irrigated. We are all excited to find out how the barley turns out.”
Daniel has a clear objective in mind for the future of Birtel: “I want a beer brewery like a winery. I know exactly where I have which plantation with which raw material. I can then extract the best for the product year after year. Eventually, we will have a beer on which we can print the vintage, and the customer will understand that the flavour changes according to the natural raw materials.”
With Birtel, Daniel wants to inspire other breweries and farmers: “So much is consumed that even small changes will have a big impact.” Birtel therefore also advocates for raw materials for beer production to be largely grown in Switzerland and gives rise to discussions with farmers and policy-makers. “We actually have outstanding conditions for growing hops and barley here. We must not forget that Switzerland is a beer nation – we drink more beer than wine. At the moment, the only Swiss element in our beer is the water. This also applies to brewers such as Feldschlösschen.”
In addition, Birtel is a member by conviction of One Percent for the Planet and thus primarily supports the Summit Foundation, which campaigns against the contamination of our countryside and bodies of water with waste. Together, they are organising numerous clean-up days. The first will be held on 5 September – do come along!
In addition to their focus on raw materials, Birtel also aims to make its own brewery more efficient. “We currently require four litres of water for every litre of beer. A lot can be optimised here, for example with a self-sufficient brewery and via heat and energy recovery.” The site at Dreispitz will also be further developed. Daniel looks forward to the future with Birtel: “Get ready, there’s so much more to come.”