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ready to tackle the peak of any one of the quaintly-named mountains surrounding this astonishing region which lies an hour’s train ride from Zurich.
The massage bath is part of the Hof Weissbad’s Ninkasi treatment applications – Ninkasi being the ancient goddess of beer – which offers all-over body cleansing with beer residues and malt grist blended with wheatgerm oil and peppermint oil. If you prefer, an energetic massage with hop flowers relaxes muscles and nourishes the skin, while a peat poultice and scalp treatment – also laced with beer – invigorates muscles, joints and organs. The rediscovery of long-forgotten treatments using beer products fits neatly with the philosophy of the Appenzell health resort – a quest to soothe body, mind and soul. The ultimate therapy is a four-day Ninkasi organic beer course, combining personal wellbeing with the diverse treatments and a beer-based diet to match.
For 6,000 years beer has quenched thirsts, nourished bodies, healed skin, strengthened bones and brought pleasure through its high ratio of complex B vitamins, amino acids, minerals and trace elements. Beer is low-fat, cholesterol-free and has a low sodium content. There is more to it than bubbles and alcohol – beer in Appenzellerland is a drink with altitude.
Karl Locher, master brewer and fifth-generation owner (with his cousin Raphael) of the neighbouring Brauerei Locher in Appenzell not only brewed the first organic beer in Switzerland, but has developed body treatments using beer and its by-products, combining traditional recipes with up-to-date research in nutrition and health science.
Appenzeller Vollmond Bier (5.2% abv), only brewed on a full moon, has a surprising and superb maltiness to its aroma and flavour. Its label reads: “Only when the moon is full is the time truly right. By its silvery light, our master brewer descends into the vaults to work his wonders. Blessed by the mythical powers of the celestial body in all is glory, within Vollmond Bier lies the magical force of nature.” Helpfully, it also lists all the full moons until the best-by date
“There’s a whole world you can do in beer,” says Karl Locher, assuming we all know how to drink the stuff. “Shampooing, cooking, body lotions and skin treatment. Six thousand years of experience can’t be wrong.”
Brauerei Locher produces seven different beers and exports to 130 customers in 35 countries. A family-run business since 1886, it has always been known for its high quality and innovative approach. It is currently one of a very few Swiss breweries that produces a wooden barrel-stored lager matured for a full year and it still uses open fermenters and classic horizontal lagering (storing) vessels. The family’s definite New Age leanings are in tune with the belief that certain phases of the moon benefit living organisms and are central to biodynamic farming methods.
Appenzeller Hanfblute (5.2% abv) is brewed with hemp leaves and flowers to produce a distinctive flavour bordering on ginger. Appenzeller Naturperle (5.0% abv) is made with barley from the Engadin Mountains, Europe’s highest crop-growing area, in an ecologically and biologically-controlled regime.
Appenzeller Swiss Mountain (4.8% abv) is soft, well balanced and slightly bitter. Castegna (5.0% abv) is a chestnut beer with a musty, slightly sweet nuttiness which takes more than three months to mature and about two sips to appreciate.
“It would be so boring if you just produced the same thing every time,” says Karl Locher. “We have our own well and also use water from a source in the mountains piped straight to the brewhouse – with nothing added. It has six degrees of German hardness which is perfect for making beer.”
With each new product, he invites local musicians to compose tunes – and perform them – to reflect their various characteristics.
“Vollmond beer is good for your body, it’s unfiltered and organic – just nature working,” he says. “We use three different yeasts in the brewery which give completely different tastes. The brewmaster – we have six – decides what he wants for fermentation. Some yeasts produce full-flavoured beers – if you want to produce a hamburger like McDonald’s you’d choose a yeast with no character.
“We’ve been family brewers since 1886, but the brewery itself had 13 owners before us. It was founded in 1712, according to the books, but in other documents it’s 1778.”
The Appenzellerland is a beer and food-lover’s paradise, with the region basking in great places to eat and drink. More than 600 restaurants and inns operate in its 26 villages – an average of 23 each. Rolled oat soup served with spicy Appenzeller cheese is an utter butter-infused delight, as is pork steak served with a layer of smoked ham, blanketed in cheese, topped with sliced ham and served with potato croquettes, fresh vegetables and a cream sauce. Astonishing.
Beer shampooing – with Karl Locher’s beer – even extends to the canton’s cattle. An ingenious couple, Sepp and Magdelena Dahler Grunder, pamper their 18-strong herd of Limousin, Charolais and Hereford cows twice a day with a massage of the brewery’s first runnings and its beer yeast mixed with Swiss rapeseed oil. They are also fed on spent malt grains and other beer by-products (an old tradition was to feed beer to cattle with stomach problems).
In 1996, Sepp Dahler Grunder decided to specialise and become a niche producer simply to survive. But beer is an acquired taste for cattle; calves turn their noses up until they are older (and perhaps wiser) and it’s only when they start to develop good muscle structure that they begin to really enjoy it. They are allowed water too, but as long as there’s beer in the trough they’ll nose it out.
Sepp worked out the human equivalent of safe beer consumption, calculating weight and other factors until he found out how much malt and yeast to feed them. By the time the beer reaches the cow’s fourth stomach there is no alcohol left – as regular blood samples show.
Then, in a country where all roads lead to a restaurant, the hotel Hof Weissbad and the Restaurant Traube in Appenzell present this Kabier beef on their menus. The beer doesn’t have an overwhelming influence on its flavour, but has a noticeable effect on texture and tenderness. Kabier beef – akin to Japanese Kobe-beef, sliced into small ovals and delicately pink inside – is an unbelievable and thrilling culinary and cultural experience.
Sepp Dahler Grunder also raises a rare breed of pig, brought from Hungary to rescue from extinction. They, too, are fed with brewers’ waste. A natural cycle begins with the grain grown on his farm going to the Locher brewery and ends with the animals fertilising the land. Little wonder schoolchildren visit from all over Switzerland to learn about biodynamic farming.
Appenzellerland is a haven for lovers of brilliant food, terrific beer, welcoming people, wonderful sights, breathtaking walks, but is punctuated by moments of total relaxation.
It’s also good for the hair and skin. Get the pitcher?
A WHIRLWIND SWISS TRIP
The water in the whirlpool bath is hot; there’s a metre of snow outside; you’re completely naked, but you’re perfectly relaxed and utterly content, so what is the Swiss spa masseuse about to do with her huge pitcher of organic beer?
She’s going to pour it all over you and turn on the jet stream flow to circulate bubbles over every millimetre of your skin. And, after 20 glorious minutes of wallowing in nutrient-packed malt and yeast, breathing in the aromas you thought could only exist in a brewhouse, you glow with haleness, heartiness and general wellbeing. A grin of self-satisfaction isn’t too far away, either. “Beer is good for the hair and the skin,” says Kathi Fassler, head of the beauty and wellness centre at the hotel Hof Weissbad, near Appenzell in Switzerland. And the mind, I think, feeling exhilarated, madly creative and
IT'S ABOUT EVERY AGE GROUP
More than ever we need pub owners with the vision and determination to do something that will persuade people to venture out on a wet Tuesday when Holby City might seem the better option. We have plenty of them around the North East and the better ones are doing very well, thank you very much.
Entrepreneurial publican Dave Carr is one such chap.
Alastair Gilmour writes about beer and breweries and pubs and people from a variety of perspectives. Media outlets include The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne; Brewers’ Guardian, and Cheers North East.
Meet and Drink writer Alastair Gilmour regularly conducts beer events throughout the UK and internationally – tours and tastings that have included a platform suspended 30 metres above the River Tyne and a real ale festival in a Moscow nightclub – and was for several years on the judging panel of the Pilsner Urquell International Master Bartender programme. [READ MORE]
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