Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wine, Beer & Spirits Memo: Organic and Biodynamic Swiss Beer Vollmond is Only Brewed When There's A Full Moon

Appenzell, in North Eastern Switzerland, is a picture-perfect rural setting. There are rolling hills with steep mountains in the background. The region contains scores of neatly-tended small farms, along with postcard-perfect wooden Swiss chalets, each with its own well-manicured flower beds and vegetable gardens.

The town (or canton as the Swiss call it) is the smallest of all the cantons in the area. Important civic decisions aren't decided by a city council in Appenzell. Rather, if you can believe it, such matters are decided by an assembly of the canton's residents in the town square, who then vote on the issue at hand by just that: a show of hands. The vote wins the day.

The North-Eastern canton of Appenzell also has a recent history of gender discrimination and is very masculine in its approach to most things. For example, the canton's official seal is a huge coat of arms depicting a giant and ferocious black bear, sporting...a massive erection. Yes, that type of erection, we kid you not.

Further, the tiny Swiss canton of Appenzell was, until 1991, a bit behind the times in gender equality as well--to say the least. It was only in 1991 that the woman of Appenzell were allowed a vote during those town square majority takes-all hand raising votes.

With this bit of background about tiny, rural Appenzell, it shouldn't surprise those who have read thus far then to learn that one of the dominant enterprises in the male-dominated culture of the Swiss canton is beer (beir) making.

But, not just regular old beer making mind you. Rather, Appenzell is home to an artisanal beer called Vollmond, made by the Locher family brewery. Vollmond beer is produced using 100% organic hops, barley and yeast, along with pure spring water from a local natural mountain spring.

but that's not all...The organic and biodynamically-produced Vollmond beer (beir) also is only brewed when there is a FULL MOON. (Notice the dog barking at the moon on the beer's label at left.)

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly.

So, why brew Vollmond beer only when there's a full moon? And isn't that form of production difficult in terms of inventory control? You know, Meeting supply with demand and all that logistical stuff.

Well, listen to the explanation Karl Locher, the owner and president of the Locher family brewery which produces Vollman, has for the full moon-only brewing process, and you will soon learn the reasons why it's essential to the process:

"The moon is like a watch," Locher says. "It doesn't make time, it marks time, telling us when to do something, such as eat or sleep. It governs the tides and the way things grow. I cut my hair, for example, on a waxing full moon. There's simply a right time to so everything," entrepreneur and brew master Locher says.

See what we mean? Absolutely essential and integral to the biodynamic process:)

Among the unique aspects of the organic ingredients that go into the full moon only-brewed beer is the fact the barley that goes into Vollmond beer is grow at an altitude of nearly 5,300 feet. As a result, this "sky high" barley crop has no need for fungicides because the insects and other pests die at that altitude.

Appenzell and Locher's isn't famous just for its Vollmond beer. In fact, the tiny canton--and Locher's --is so famous for the premium quality beers it produces it has it's own appellation: Beers produced in the canton are called Appenzeller beer.

Locher family brewery also produces such beer varieties as Weizenbier (wheat beer), malty-tasting, oak-aged Holzfassbier, Schnuggebock, which is a unique beer infused with pine needles, a chestnut-flavored beer named Castegna, and last but far from least, the brewery's famous Hanfblute, which is a beer made from hemp.

Regarding the latter specialty beer, Karl Locher says it happens to be one of the brewery's current best selling specialty varieties, among the many it produces.

"Our customers love it for its soporific, relaxing, health-inducing qualities," he says with only a slight grin. "In fact," Lochner adds, "insomniacs absolutely crave it."

Least you think because the Locher family brewery is located in the smallest canon among lots of generally small canons in North-Eastern Switzerland, and as a result is merely a tiny mom and pop brewery, think again dear readers.

It's currently either the third (depending if you count Heineken and Carlsburg) or the fifth-largest brewery in Switzerland. Locher produced about 1.54 million gallons of its various varieties of beer last year.

Not only is the brewery one of the country's largest today, but it's believed to be the nation's oldest as well. Karl Locher's distant relatives bought the Appenzell canton-brewery in 1886. It's been operating continuously since then. He and his cousin Raphael are the fifth generation of the family to operate and make beer at the brewery.

Further, Karl Locher says he has evidence and documentation the brewery was in operation as far back as 1712, which would make it far and away the oldest established brewery in the nation.

The tiny canon of Appenzell, with its pristine farms, rolling hills and lush green pastures, is famous for artisanal foods as well as the fresh-brewed products made at its famous Locher brewery.

For example, dairy farming is one popular form of agriculture in the region. As a result, because of the abundant supply of fresh, high-quality milk available, Appenzell has become a famed center of artisanal cheese making.

Appenzeller cheese, which is produced in small batches by numerous entrepreneurs in the canton, is considered one of the best artisanal cheeses, not just in Switzerland, but throughout Europe and in the U.S. as well.

Additionally, because of the rural and agrarian nature of the region (including lots of organic, sustainable and biodynamic-based farming) numerous other foodstuffs are produced in Appenzeller and the general area by small, quality-minded artisanal food producers.

Unlike Karl Locher and his team at the brewery however, who only make Vollmond beer when there's a full moon, these other quality food producers prefer to work primarily during daylight hours.

Vollmond organic and full moon only-brewed beer is being marketed in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, as well as in Switzerland. We're told it should hit the United States soon, if it's not currently already in the states at limited retail outlets in limited quantities.

One of the beer's distributors in the UK is that country's division of U.S.-based (St. Augustine, Florida) Tree of Life, Inc., which has distribution facilities located throughout the United States. Vollmond beer is primarily being distributed by natural and health food distributors in Europe. Tree of Life is owned by the Dutch food company Royal Wessanen NV, which also distributes natural and specialty foods and beverages throughout Europe.

As they say in Appenzell: By the light, by the light...of the silvery moon...We will drink, we will swoon. And, if you drink too much "full moon only-brewed" Vollmond beer tonight...We won't see you tomorrow until at least noon.

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