When British bar manager Tim Sutton first arrived in Switzerland back in 2000, he was pretty disappointed with the range of beers available. From the famous English brewing town of Burton-on-Trent, Tim was used to the ales and dark beers that Britain is well-known for, but in Switzerland he only found lagers and wheat beers.
After some time running bars in Champéry and Lausanne, Tim arrived in Lucerne to take up a job in finance, and started home brewing on the side – just for his own pleasure.
“Dark beers were impossible to find in bars,” he says. “I started home brewing with the aim of recreating some of my favourite English brews.”
Tim’s beers proved popular with friends and family, and so in 2014 he decided to set up a business and sell commercially, Brauerei Sutton. He found an old butchers’ premises just outside Lucerne, which he shares with another local craft brewing company, and began to approach pubs and bars in the area.
Setting up a small business in Switzerland was surprisingly simple, he says. He used startup.ch to help him tackle the paperwork. “It isn’t that difficult, but it is nice when you are in a foreign country to have someone tick the boxes for you, rather than you making a mistake and having to do it again,” he says. “They also give you lots of links to their commercial partners for accounting and banking, which was very useful.”
Photo: Tim Sutton
When the Shamrock Irish Pub in Lucerne decided to take his beers, Tim quickly had to increase production from 50-100 litres a month to 200 litres. However, the business was still very much in its infancy when Tim was suddenly made redundant from his job in 2018.
He credits the “fantastic” Swiss unemployment system for being there when he needed it, not only supporting him financially, but also allowing him to continue developing his business part-time. The RAV (unemployment office) also sent him on a language course and another training course about how to start your own business. “It was great to get input and feedback from ‘non-friends’, and I learnt a lot about accounting and AHV [social security] rules etc,” he says.
It all paid off. From April this year, Tim has been able to focus full-time on his brewing business. His beers are now stocked in several bars in Lucerne and he is aiming to increase production to 1,000 litres a month over his range of products, which include English Best Bitter, several IPAs and even a Swiss Chocolate Roasted Stout.
He also sells at festivals – he will be at the Sursee Beer Market in September and the Zug Craft Brewfest in October – and his High Hops IPA recently won second prize in the largest beer brewing competition in Switzerland.
So what’s the key to his success? “I focus my powers on a niche that I hope I can dominate as a market,” he says. “Over the past five years craft beer brewing in Switzerland has gone a bit crazy and there are lots of different styles of beers, but it is noticeable that there are not many people doing the same styles of beers as me.”
Unlike elsewhere in Europe right now – Brexit, anyone? – Englishness is still appreciated in Switzerland, he feels. “The Swiss like English products. James Bond is loved in Switzerland – that sort of English panache that the rest of Europe doesn’t grant to England any more, but Switzerland still does.”
Photo: Tim Sutton
The Swiss also enjoy speaking English, he says. Despite being fluent in French and Spanish, the 48-year-old has always struggled with Swiss German, but thankfully it hasn’t held up his business. “Most Swiss are very proud of how well they speak English, and when they find an actual English person to speak to, they enjoy it even more,” he says.
And there’s one more reason why brewing English beers in Switzerland is bound for success: the water. While Tim imports English hops, he has to use local water – and luckily the quality of water in Switzerland is extremely similar to that of his home town of Burton-on-Trent.
“The water is absolutely crucial, since it’s 95 percent of the product,” he says. “Burton-on-Trent is most famous for its water. It’s relatively hard, exactly right in PH and contains lots of minerals and no chlorine, which together makes a very good brewing liquor. And the water here [in Switzerland] is extraordinarily similar. It’s fantastic, as clear as it comes in the world.”
It’s a water/hops combination that allows him to recreate English style beers very accurately, bringing a little taste of England to the alpine country. And it’s clearly one that’s much appreciated.
“If I am doing an event, I find a lot of the older Swiss will take a sip and say 'Oh I was in London in 1982' and you can see it’s reminding them of being in England,” he says.
Thankfully, in Switzerland, that’s no bad thing.