I spent the Christmas and New Year holiday in Switzerland, visiting a friend who lives in Geneva. There was plenty of opportunity to sample the good, the bad and the mediocre of the local beers so you can expect a full week of guff on the subject.
As always, my first priority was the brewpubs and I'd been warned in advanced not to expect anything out of the ordinary. Local practice appears to dictate that every brewpub must produce a blonde, a blanche and an ambrée, and that variations outside this are rare.
And it was certainly the case at venue 1: Brasserie des Grottes, situated in, and named after, what passes for a bohemian quarter in straight-laced Geneva. From the barroom at the front it rambles back into a vast sequence of chambers including other bars, kitchens, service areas but as far as I could see: no brewery. There's even a big empty front window, the kind of place that pubs like this often use to display their shiny equipment. So, I have my suspicions about whether or not they're actually brewing on site.
The other thing that had me suspicious was, having heard their beers were undrinkable rubbish, finding them actually quite palateable. Grottes Blonde is approachable and dry like a lager rather than sticky and sweet the way continental blonde ales often are. Its strength in being clean and lagerlike is also its weakness: it gets boring very quickly.
Grottes Ambrée wasn't too exciting either. Sweet, with shedloads of caramel but that's it. The dark malts aren't overdone, but they don't offer any real depth or complexity either.
Pick of the bunch was Grottes Blanche. It's jam-packed with loads of spicy coriander, which is just the way I like it. No off flavours again, and the bonus of something to hold my interest.
It's this bland absence of flaws or character in any of these beers which, in combination with the invisible brewkit, have my alarm bells ringing. I find it hard to believe that a small scale brewer with this level of technical expertise would make such one-dimensional recipes. But then, the brewer is probably Swiss. I'm not a racist but...
Across the river and nestling quietly among the high-end designer shops and blingtacular watchmakers is Brasserie du Molard. It was an English theme pub in a recent life and still has lots of the knick-knacks that come with that playset. They're definitely turning out their own here, and the character shows through.
There's a slight haze to Molard Blonde. I thought it was going to prove difficult to finish, from its big perfumey aroma and massively thick mouth-coating texture. But the hops come to the rescue, dialling in oodles of bittersweet orange and lemon notes. Such thirst-quenching power is unusual in such a heavy beer and I really appreciated it.
Molard Blanche is another spicy one. It's quite similar to Grottes's, in fact, though heavy, like the blonde. I wonder have they a problem with their mashing regime, to be turning out such big-bodied beers? If so, I hope they don't go fixing it.
And lastly, Molard Ambrée. Proof that they're human, this was quite badly oxidised: the musty backdrop not doing anything to complement what seemed to be a very sweet amber beer.
We retrace our steps up towards the station for the last of the central city's three brewpubs: a branch of the Les Brasseurs chain found all over Francophone Switzerland. There was a blonde, a blanche and an ambrée *yawn* but there were seasonals! Hooray!
L'Agave et Citron Vert? You mean you've microbrewed a Desperados clone? Seriously? I'll have one of those please. It's far from Desperados, however, I'm sorry to say. While there's not much trace of the underlying beer there's lots of lime and some tasty spices which are not at all what I'd associate with the agave. The main thing is it's very drinkable and refreshing and not alcopoppy at all.
And they had a Bière de Noël on too. If there was an attempt to give this some festive seasonings they didn't really take, with just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon in the background. Mostly it's quite a plain murky brown beer with some dry roast elements and a bit of caramel banana in the aroma. Not particularly warming, as it goes, but passable.
Passable is about the best summation I can give of Geneva's brewpub beers generally. But there's plenty more beer produced in the vicinity...